DES MOINES, Iowa - It was Fan Appreciation Night at the arena and the Iowa Wild sent the faithful home on a high note with a big win over the Admirals to close out the 2017-18 season; breaking both attendance and home records for a single season. As a nod, the fans earned the “first star” of the evening behind Pat Cannone and C.J. Motte getting the third and second stars respectively.
“Our message to the guys (is) we’re going to play for our fans,” Head Coach Derek Lalonde said of the night. “We’re very fortunate to be this significant in this community. There’s just been huge momentum in the two years I’ve been here with the crows growing larger and more enthusiastic...they keep coming, and it was an opportunity to give back. A true fan appreciation night.”
With the organization opting to rest Niklas Svedberg in an emergency role, Motte (3-2-3; 2.21 GAA/.925 SV%) got another relief start for Iowa, stopping all 26 shots through the course of the game to keep the Admirals off of the board - tying Svedberg for most shutouts by a Wild goalie this season.
“I think it all started with a team effort. Coaches said ‘keep it simple’,” Motte said of the overall approach tonight. “There’s a little adjustment period...a few mishaps with handles of the puck maybe made it a little too exciting....I approach every game the same; trying to keep my team in a position to win.”
On the opposite end, Anders Lindbäck was in a similar situation as Svedberg, but for Nashville as Troy Grosenick (9-12-4; 2.87 GAA/.906 SV%) made the start for Milwaukee - stopping 23 of 25 shots in the loss.
Pumping up the Crowd
Plenty of back and forth to start the game, and while the Wild had some solid movement of the puck early on, it was the Milwaukee Admirals that had the majority of the shots and scoring chances early on. Still, the Wild showed persistence and an ability to get the puck in deep to dominate the OZ while getting a lot of help from utility back-up, Motte.
The first ten minutes saw no scoring, but it was a centering pass to nowhere that ended up being the first score of the game. Pat Cannone was down in the Milwaukee end and backhanded a pass through the slot that missed everybody and ended up going off of the half-boards near the blueline.
Fortunately, Alex Grant was the first to the puck who blasted a clapper towards Grosenick who made the initial save, but Cannone was there to pick up the trash and give Iowa the opening lead over Admirals (Grant; 10:50).
In the final ten minutes, the ice took a shift and the Wild were able to get the majority of the scoring chances but ultimately were unable to expand their lead as the horn sounded to end the first period.
Extending the Lead
To start the second frame, Iowa kept up the intensity and spent a lot of time in the Milwaukee zone to open up the second period. Also on their side was their first power play opportunity of the night, though there was nothing to show besides a few shots with the second unit struggling to keep the puck in the OZ.
Iowa got their second goal of the night following yet another bouncing puck and some solid positioning. Colton Beck, playing in his 200th AHL game of his career found a bouncing puck in the slot and took it out to the circle where he unleashed a wrister on Grosenick, who made the initial save but the puck launched up into the air.
With no stick to bat the puck in, Cal O’Reilly was just in the right place at the right time as the puck went off of his body and into the net to give the Wild a 2-0 lead (Beck, Grant; 5:11). Milwaukee protested, but there was not review to be had as the Wild doubled their lead and O’Reilly earned his 62nd point of the season - building on his team record for most points in a single season.
The Wild took complete control of the second period, taking the lead in shots on goal and expanding on their lead, but the O’Reilly goal would be their only of the second. Iowa also took care of two penalty kills before the second horn sounded with 20:00 to play on Fan Appreciation Night.
Closing the Shutout
In the final frame of the final home game of the season, the Wild kept up the intensity for over 8,500 strong at Wells Fargo Arena, dominating puck possession and keeping the game out of their own end. With a 2-0 cushion, and Iowa seemingly holding all of the cards, attention turned to their emergency call-up, Motte, who was nursing a shutout on 17 saves going into the period.
The St. Clair, Mich. native played tremendously, stonewalling all nine shots from the Admirals in the final period, including some point blank shots, some breakaways, and more than one tipped puck. Former Ferris State Bulldog was unfazed by the Admiral attack, flashing the glove and earning his second shutout of the season while wearing a Wild sweater.
Towards the end and with Grosenick on the bench, Gerry Mayhew won a key puck battle to get the puck to Kyle Rau who put the dagger in the Admirals with the empty netter and the final goal of Iowa’s regular season.
“I think he’s extremely valuable,” Lalonde said about Rau going into this offseason. “The thing about Rauzie is that he only knows one way, and that’s high compete.”
In a season that has more or less fallen in on itself, success is measured in terms of development and chipping away at the record books - something Lalonde has done well with in his second season at the helm.
“You’re battling for some small victories...with an opportunity to break our home win record, Newsy said in postgame. “I like the way we’ve played our last four our five games. As disappointing the last three and half weeks of gone, I like that we’re still competing, and it paid off tonight.”
As the playoffs are out of the picture, focus turns towards true development of Iowa’s ATO and PTO guys and Lalonde was pretty impressed.
“This is true tryouts,” As tough as it was as it was fielding our rosters with injuries and call-ups down the stretch, it’s an opportunity, and we’ve got a ton of looks...down the stretch.”
The Wild wrap up their season as they board the bus tonight and play Milwaukee tomorrow night in “The Good Land.”