CHICAGO — Gone are the fleet feet of Marian Gaborik, but does that translate into a deficiency in speed that prevents the Wild from thriving under coach Todd Richards’ more aggressive system?
No, says Wild center Eric Belanger, who says that in his case, speed “is probably my strength.”
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Belanger, who has picked up a share of the offensive load for Minnesota with two goals and seven assists in 10 games going into tonight’s matchup against the Blackhawks at United Center, said speed “is a mind-set. When you get the puck you are moving instead of getting the puck, looking and then start skating. That way, you’re pulling away from people.”
He noted that players forechecking aggressively need to believe that teammates will jump in for support, causing turnovers.
“It’s a belief system, and I think we have the players to do it,” he said.
Certainly Gaborik — who makes his lone return to the Xcel Energy Center this season on Friday night wearing a New York Rangers sweater and owning big numbers, with eight goals and 15 points in 11 games — was plenty fast, Belanger noted. But, because of injuries last season with the Wild, “he wasn’t there that much anyway.”
Skaters with the speed of Gaborik, winger Andrew Brunette said, “are hard to come by.”
Therefore, Brunette pointed out, “regardless of what system you play, you need different parts. You need some speed, you need some hockey sense, you need a little bit of everything. If you just have speed, it’s not going to work.”
The Wild’s leading scorer with six goals and three assists, Brunette admits to never owning the swiftest pins on ice, dead-panning that rather than blowing by a defender when he was a kid, “I had to skate around the same guy four or five times.”
But, fast or not, Brunette pointed out, “I feel I can get to places I need to get to.”
Martin Havlat might be Minnesota’s fastest skater, and he doesn’t believe the Wild lack the speed to be successful.
“That’s just somebody’s opinion,” he said. “You need speed with the changes in the rules. If you can skate fast, it’s much easier to play the game. Speed is one of the things you should have, but if you have only speed, it doesn’t mean you will play in the league.
“In the end it doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow; you have to find a way to win.”