Consistency is key for Minnesota’s Gaborik
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008
By Lucas Aykroyd
For years, Marian Gaborik has been the most exciting player on arguably the NHL’s most boring, defensively minded team.
It’s shocking that this speedy Minnesota Wild right wing has never earned more than 67 points in one season (2001-02). But with 25 goals and 25 assists so far, Gaborik should be on pace to surpass that if he stays healthy this year. He missed more than a quarter of his team’s games over the last four seasons. He’s now strengthened his long-suspect groin muscles and receives regular massages to help him stay limber.
Is 50 goals within reach? The 25-year-old native of Trencin, Slovakia wowed the entire hockey world when he tallied five goals in one game versus the New York Rangers on December 20. It was the first time anyone had accomplished that feat since Detroit’s Sergei Fedorov in 1996. Still, Gaborik’s previous best output was 38 in 2005-06.
“I’m not thinking too far ahead, but yeah, it would be nice to win some games and get some more goals too down the stretch,” Gaborik told Eishockey News after a 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place on January 21. “Fifty goals would be great, but it’s a big task.”
He’ll need help from Pavol Demitra, who typically accompanies Gaborik on Minnesota’s top line. The 32-year-old Slovak center is having a quiet offensive year by his standards, but did notch an assist in each of the four games he played before confronting the Canucks. Gaborik is confident his friend will soon round into form.
“Pavol’s a great playmaker,” said Gaborik. “He sees the ice very well, and when we play together, we seem to find each other out there.”
Gaborik is also delighted about the return of Finnish center Mikko Koivu, who missed 24 games after having his leg fractured by a slash from Vancouver’s Mattias Ohlund on November 16.
“Mikko makes a difference when he’s out there,” Gaborik said. “He’s great defensively as well as offensively, so it’s great to have him back.”
The victory over Vancouver temporarily gave Minnesota top spot in the Northwest Division, but the Western Conference standings are so tight that the seedings change on an almost daily basis. It makes you wonder how much winning the division will actually mean in the end.
“We have a lot of games ahead of us,” said Gaborik. “We just have to be ready and try to win as many games against top teams and teams from our division as possible.”
Even though Gaborik has done some marvelous things this year, that doesn’t exempt him from criticism by head coach Jacques Lemaire. Gaborik saw his ice time cut earlier in January when Lemaire didn’t feel he was putting out enough of a solid effort. Special players are always judged differently.
Anyone who witnessed the two spectacular third-period goals Gaborik scored in a 5-3 win over Russia at the 2006 Olympics will never forget the sight. When the seven-year veteran uses his explosive speed, he’s like an on-ice version of his car-racing hero Michael Schumacher, almost impossible to catch. He was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for January 14, and no single player means more to the Wild’s success, except perhaps when goalie Niklas Backstrom is performing at his peak.
Even though the Wild take slightly more offensive chances than they did in the pre-NHL lockout era, they’re still not a pleasure to watch, unless you’re an ardent Minnesota supporter. But Gaborik can be worth the price of admission, even though it’s hard to get him to admit it.
“I’m just going out there to work hard and do my best every night. As long as the team wins, that’s the key.”