Ryan Reaves had himself a night on Sunday. With a goal, assist, and fight, the fourth-liner completed the prestigious Gordie Howe hat trick. It’s exactly the kind of energy that the Wild need when Kiril Kaprizov, their top player and best goal-scorer, is out for another few weeks.
First came the fight, where Reaves squared up against Arizona’s Bokondji Imama. It wasn’t much of a fight, though, and it might just be the worst fight in the NHL this year. Reaves and Imama spent most of the ‘fight’ glaring at each other as they spun around the ice with their fists up. Reaves didn’t even get any punches in, as Imama fell as soon as he tried to throw a punch.
Reaves’ Gordie Howe hat trick might end up being the funniest and most unconventional in NHL history. Instead of five minutes for fighting, they both should’ve gotten two minutes for delay of game.
Reaves delivered a punishing hit three minutes into the game, and Imama took exception and took one for the team, facing off against Reaves. Imama has only played five NHL games, so props to him for taking on someone who most players in the league wouldn’t dare fight.
“He was talking to me before the warmups,” Reaves said. “I figured after I buried that guy, he was going to come after me. It was a little wild throwing I guess.”
Then came the goal. Reaves deflected a shot from Mason Shaw for his second goal of the season.
Last came the assist. Reaves tallied the secondary assist on linemate Connor Dewar’s goal. Add all that up, and it’s a Gordie Howe hat trick. Although the Wild ended up losing the game in overtime, this kind of effort and energy is exactly what Minnesota needs as they vie for postseason seeding.
Surprisingly, it was Reaves’ first Gordie Howe hat trick
“High school?” Reaves said. “No, you can’t fight in high school. I don’t know if I’ve ever had any.”
Maybe, then, it’s not really all that surprising that Reaves has never completed a Gordie Howe hat trick until Sunday night. He’s always been a bruiser of a player and has never been a core offensive player. His personality and role as an enforcer have kept him in the league for 14 seasons. Therefore, when he tallies points, it’s a bonus for a Wild team that has been starved for goals and production from players not named Kaprizov. Fortunately, Reaves’ line carved up the Coyotes. Dewar ended up with a goal and assist, and Shaw scored two assists and also had a fight.
For a team that has largely relied on Kaprizov and the top line for scoring, seeing the fourth line end up with a combined six points in one game is a panacea for an ailing offensive team.
The Coyotes play a very physical game, which is perfectly suited for Reaves. He ended the night with five hits. And in addition to Reaves and Shaw’s fights, Marcus Foligno and Jake Middleton also dropped the gloves for a total of 40 fighting penalty minutes in the game.
“We got some big bodies that love that type of game,” Reaves said in an intermission interview. “We got the bodies for that if anyone wants to match it.”
Reaves is always going to thrive in physical games. Therefore, it’s nice for the Wild to have a mix of physical and skilled players on the roster. Without Kaprizov in the lineup, Reaves is going to have to continue to bring his A game and be a presence on the team. He delivered on that in Sunday’s game.
“Everybody’s gotta step up, for sure, I’m sure that lands a lot on me,” Reaves said, laughing.
Minnesota has some tough opponents in their upcoming schedule, including Saturday’s matinee against the Boston Bruins, the league’s best team. That game could be similar to the Coyotes game – extremely physical and high-scoring.
The rematch with the Winnipeg Jets is another big one. Winnipeg’s Logan Stanley injured Kaprizov, so we should expect some kind of response that could start with Reaves.
Reaves could potentially be a big player in those tough matchups. He’s got the ability to help grind out those games, and he can land a hit and drop the gloves when the time is right. Reaves is the kind of guy that everyone wants on their team, and the Wild are lucky to have him.