Some sports moments are just burned into the brain, good or bad.
For Minnesota Wild fans, there’s probably the Andrew Brunette goal against Colorado to win the playoff series during the 2003 run. The other big moment against the Avalanche should be the overtime goal from Nino Niederreiter in Game 7 of the first-round series at the Pepsi Center in 2014.
With the game tied at 4-4 about five minutes into overtime, then-Wild forward Kyle Brodziak and Niederreiter skated into the zone for a 2-on-1. Instead of trying to pass the puck over — which has been more of the Wild way in recent years — Niederreiter made a subtle move and blasted a slapshot past netminder Semyon Varlamov for the game-winning, series-clinching goal.
Brodziak seemed more excited than anyone at first, jumping up and down on his skates like a little kid.
That goal for Niederreiter will perhaps go down as one of the most memorable during his Wild tenure, and that was after he also assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s tying goal at 17:33 of the third period.
It’s the type of goal Wild fans should remember when looking back on the contributions the winger made to the team. Last week, Niederreiter was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes after five-plus seasons with the Wild.
Of course, Niederreiter already has a two-goal game with his new team.
For his first four seasons with the Wild starting in 2013-14, after he was acquired from the New York Islanders in exchange for heavy-hitter Cal Clutterbuck, Niederreiter was a durable player. He only missed three regular-season games. He was a 20-goal scorer three times and improved his season point total each year, finished 2016-17 with 25 goals and 57 points.
Then came 2017-18 and that third game of the year in Chicago where he suffered a high left ankle sprain. In a way, the good times for Niederreiter with the Wild ended there. He wasn’t quite the same even when he returned and played in just 63 games scoring 18 goals and 32 points and also went point-less in five playoff games last season.
But looking at a highlight, silver-lining moment again, Niederreiter scored his second career hat trick in his first game back from injury on Jan. 4, 2018 in a 6-2 win over Buffalo in St. Paul. He found himself in the right place at the right time near the front of the net to cash in on his chances. If only that would have happened more consistently.
This year had some carryover from whatever plagued his game or confidence last year. He went without a goal for the first 14 games in 2018-19 and added only six helpers before finally scoring a goal on Nov. 8. He did score four goals in three straight games in December during a successful stint with linemates Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle, but before the trade, he only had nine goals and 23 points in 46 games with the Wild.
For the most part, he just lacked the finish that seems to plague others on the Minnesota roster as well. Which is why Niederreiter was traded to Carolina for center Victor Rask, a guy without a lot of offensive firepower himself. He had one goal and five assists in 26 games with Carolina this season before being traded.
Yes, Niederreiter’s career with the Wild wasn’t everything fans might have liked. He only had one assist in his past two playoff series. He had a rough year last season and didn’t really seem to get back to form. He wasn’t able to turn into an NHL superstar that some might like to see.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t have his moments. He was a likable player and a durable one, for the most part. Whenever a player gets traded, it’s always a reminder that professional sports are a business. It’s not always fun to see a guy go, for some, but it’s also necessary to keep advancing a team in the desired direction.
Niederreiter wasn’t some player that came to Minnesota and was a total train wreck. A 20-goal scorer is a pretty decent return. It’s important to keep moves in perspective while also holding on to whatever good memories there might be. In this case, fans can think of where they were and how excited they were — as much as Brodziak? — when Niederreiter scored that overtime winner in Colorado.
- Mikko Koivu scored an empty-net goal to complete the Wild’s 4-2 victory in Vegas on Monday. The tally marked the 200th of his career. He’s the second player in team history to reach 200 goals; Marian Gaborik scored 219.
- Coyle scored the game-winner in Vegas after a hard-working shift from the entire line and great feed from Spurgeon on the play. It was his eighth of the season.
- Eric Staal also scored against Vegas, his fifth goal in five career games against Vegas. His name is one of the ones floating around the media and social media circles as possible trade bait if the Wild are looking to deal more. After a franchise-tying 42 goals last season, he has only 15 goals so far this season.
- Eric Fehr, who’s missed eight games with a lower-body injury, has practiced with the team again. There’s still a possibility he could be back for the game in Colorado before the break.
- The Wild plays in Colorado Wednesday night in the final game before the NHL All-Star Break and the Wild’s bye week. They won’t return to game action until a game in Dallas on Feb. 1.