Thursday, April 22, 2010

One of the greatest goals ever....

Today is the seventh anniversary of the greatest goal in Wild history, Andrew Brunette's overtime game-winner in Game 7 of the 2003 Wild-Avalanche series.

I've written here and elsewhere about my admiration for Brunette, who scored 25 goals this year as a 36-year-old coming off knee surgery. He's a tireless worker who is willing to go behind the net and take abuse from opposing defensemen along the boards in order to set up a play. Just a terrific player and a good locker room guy who has been a great asset to the Wild.

As most of you will remember, 2003 was the first time the Wild made the playoffs, and the Avalanche were heavy favorites who won three of the first four games. But the Wild won Game 5 in Colorado, then evened the series in Game 6 on Richard Park's OT winner. The next night Brunette's goal gave the Wild their first playoff win ever. To me it will always be the greatest Wild goal ever, until the year some Wild player scores the Cup-winner.

Three somewhat forgotten facts about the goal:

1) It wouldn't have happened except that a minute or two before, Manny Fernandez made an incredible save on Rob Blake. Blake had blasted a low, hard slapshot just inside the post, but Fernandez made a full-split glove save to keep the game going.

2) The assist on the goal went to Sergei Zholtok, who made the slick drop pass to Bruno. Sergei was another hard-working guy that I had the privilege to meet once. He had a son that played for Eagan, and one night the kid's team was playing in Red Wing. I was helping coach a bantam team that had practice afterwards, and when I went downstairs to put my skates on, Sergei was sitting outside the locker room. We ended up having a nice chat about Russian hockey history....Tretiak, Kharlamov, Yukashev, etc....which Zholtok knew all about, even though he was Latvian. During the lockout year, Zholtok went to play in Russia, where he suffered a heart attack and died in the locker room. It's a tragic story, and the Wild has a nice display honoring Zholtok near Gate 3 at the X. It chokes me up every time I walk by.

3) It was the last moment of Patrick Roy's career. He retired, and Bruno is the last guy ever to score on him in the NHL.

I had the chance to meet Brunette a couple years later, when he was playing for the Avalanche. A mutual friend introduced us, and I said, "You scored one of the top 5 goals of my life." He seemed puzzled that it wasn't the greatest goal, and I said "A fellow named Eruzione scored a bigger one in Lake Placid." Later Brunette was kind enough to sign this photo for me, which now hangs in my office. Here's the goal:

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