Most fans were excited when Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Charlie Coyle, Darcy Kuemper, and then Jason Zucker and Johan Larsson got their call ups to play for the Minnesota Wild this season. I was terrified. Not because I thought any of the players were bad, or couldn’t handle the rigors of the NHL. It was because I knew what each player brought to the table. And even though there was no question in my mind that they would be fine in the game, I was worried that other fans would expect more than the players were able to give so early in their careers. I was worried they would be butchered by fans and media if they didn’t come out and "save" the team.
Covering a farm team is a lot like being a parent. Watching each player progress really is akin to watching your kids grow up (or siblings/nieces/nephews if you’re kid less like me). Through a trial and error process, you watch and learn their mannerisms, their skill set, and their production level. Much like a parent learns how their child talks, walks, and plays with others. You watch them grow, and in some cases they bloom into players that blow you away with just how skilled and poised they are. Sometimes, they hit too many bumps in the road to live up to their own potential. But either way, you are proud of your kids, because you’ve seen just how hard they work day in and day out to do what they love.
Each time a player that I followed and reported on has gotten called up this year, I’ve been a nervous wreck. I damn near puked when I heard that Kuemper was in Vancouver. I was so nervous for Zucker and Larsson on Sunday that I was ready to leave for the game 5 hours early. I had flashbacks of the night that Granlund and Brodin both were injured in Oklahoma City. Add in Kuempers last minute addition and I’m pretty sure my seat mate has bruises on his arms from me gripping them so hard every time one of the three faced a shot or had the puck. But every time one of the call ups has made a great save, a smart play, or done anything excellent, I’m thinking/saying/screaming "that’s my boy".
It’s not nerves that the players are going to be busts. It’s knowing how hard each and every one of them have worked this year to get to this point. It’s wanting every fan out there to see what you’ve seen all season; that these kids are so skilled that they have the ability to blow you away with how they play the game day in and day out, for years. It’s the joy of seeing the work they’ve put in pay off in that first goal, first win, first puck stripped from one of the best players in league. It’s the fear that injuries might slow down their progress, or end their career. You watch these kids from the beginning of their professional career, and if you’re lucky through their NHL debut and career. And just like a proud parent, you beam with joy when everyone else realizes what you’ve known all along; your kids are fucking awesome.
Starting tomorrow, Hockey Wilderness will be getting weekly Wednesday updates on how the "kids" are fairing in Houston from myself and Andrew. Make sure you check out the Aeros blog that he runs with Heather and a few other Houston folks down there (make sure you check out the latest post there for some more insight on how it feels to cover a farm team).