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