Wild coach Todd Richards sends a grueling message to his players to improve their work ethic

Wild players received a gospel of
fire and brimstone from Todd Richards on Sunday morning at the Xcel
Energy Center.

On the morning after what Richards termed an “unacceptable”
performance during a 3-2 home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets,
the coach gathered his boys for a few words of wisdom, then ran
them through an intense “bag-skate” that began with numerous fierce
battle drills and concluded with more than 10 minutes of skating
laps without pucks.

When practice was over, captain Mikko Koivu called it “a tough
one.”

Although the
Wild are 1-2-1 through four games,
this moment had been looming, according to veteran winger Andrew
Brunette.

“It’s not a good time right now,” he said. “There’s been a storm
brewin’. There’s been a cloud over this team from the start of the
year. We’re hoping to find the sunny sky, and we haven’t found that
yet.

“We’re still stuck in this little bit of, you could say, a
little thunderboomer overhead here.”

Things seem rocky right now for a
Wild team just one point ahead of
its awful start through four games last season. But, Brunette
noted, “We’ll find the sun somehow.”

Veteran defenseman Nick Schultz said the workout, probably the
most intense of the team’s year and four games under Richards, was
warranted.

“We didn’t work last night; we worked today,” he said. “I think
we need that. We need guys buying in, being committed every night.
We’ve got to do it in practice, games. We need to do it every day
to be successful.”

Richards started the proceedings by pointing out that the team
“didn’t win a (bleeping) battle” against the Blue Jackets, so say
hello to a series of battle drills right now. Players jumped in
full throttle, and there was plenty of hard checks plus pushing,
shoving and even a few words exchanged. Tempers will cool quickly,
Brunette said later, but there were no smiles in the dressing room
after practice.

“It’s not fun,” Schultz said. “You don’t have to do it against
your teammates; it’s obviously a little more enjoyable if you
compete in games against people you don’t care about or don’t know.
In practice guys get fired up. It’s nothing guys take
personal.”

Richards has been preaching that to be successful, players need
to make a focused effort every night, stressing that if the effort
is there he can even accept a loss.

The effort was there Sunday morning.

“We had some emotion in practice, and that’s the type of battle
we need in the games, right there,” Richards said, adding that
whether the message soaked in won’t be known before Tuesday’s home
game against Vancouver “and from here forward. It can’t be just one
game.”

The
Wild have exhibited a penchant under
Richards for taking 20 minutes off during some games, and the coach
has had enough. On Saturday, for example, Minnesota had one shot on
goal through the first 18 minutes and just two shots on goal in the
first period.

Any thoughts of having the morning off Sunday vanished.

“I think we knew after the game we deserved it,” Brunette
said.

It’s about competing, Shultz said.

“Regardless if you’re good or bad,” he noted, “you can still go
out and compete and battle hard. We need to do that. That was the
point of doing that battling; it’s something we have to get better
at in games.”

Late in the workout, things became eerily silent at the rink as
20
Wild players in four groups stood
immobile in the corners while Richards leaned casually on his
hockey stick at center ice.

Was he finished?

Finally, after someone broke the silence with a somewhat timid
shout, Richards pivoted and sent a foursome out to begin another
series of laps. No, he said, he hadn’t been waiting for a sign. “I
was just giving ’em a chance to catch their breath.”

Up next:vs. Canucks, 8 p.m. Tuesday, FSN, WCCO-AM830