The Best Goal Scored At Xcel Energy Center
Image courtesy of Nathan WellsWhat was the best goal scored at Xcel Energy Center?
St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter and former Wild beat writer Chad Graff raised this question the other day when Kyle Rau, who scored a state title game triple OT goal in 2011, returned to the state as a member of the Florida Panthers.
It’s a tough question to answer. At times seemingly still the new kid on the block, a shiny new toy on the grounds of the old St. Paul Civic Center, the X is closer to the end of its second decade. There have been a ton of big-time goals on Xcel’s ice.
But the best? Well, let’s first take a look at the candidates.
Darby Hendrickson scoring the first regular season Wild goal at Xcel Energy Center (10/11/2000)
In terms of writing up a story for Minnesota’s return to the NHL, Hendrickson scoring the Wild’s first goal would be seen as too well-written and unbelievable if it didn’t actually happen. The Minnesota Wild brand has been a reaction to the North Stars, one which is all encompassing of the fans and other levels of hockey. Earlier that night Minnesota had retired #1 for the fans. The building was already going nuts
Having a Richfield native, former Mr. Hockey Award winner and former Gopher dropping to one knee and tapping home a piece of history? Too good to be true.
Richard Park’s OT winner 2003 Game 6 vs Colorado
Park’s overtime shot past Patrick Roy kept Minnesota’s first-ever playoff hopes alive. While overshadowed in the history books by Andrew Brunette doing the same a couple nights later on the road, the home reaction to Park’s winner stood out on its own. For years during some dark doldrums, NHL lockouts and Wild malaise, it was a high point at home.
Marian Gaborik’s 2007 five goal night
By the time Marian Gaborik raced down the St. Paul ice for his fifth goal of the night the place had come unglued. Twice prior to becoming the first player in 11 years he batted pucks out of midair, turning in one of the all-time great performances in franchise history.
Jason Zucker's 2013 Game 3 winner vs Chicago
Mikael Granlund’s 2014 Game 3 winner vs Colorado
Down 2-0 in the series and desperately needing a win, Mikael Granlund’s individual effort brought the Wild back from the brink. A year earlier, so had Zucker. The difference between the two is that Minnesota turned things around in 2014 and not 2013 so the Bobby Orr-esque dive from Granlund gets more remembered.
These are all great goals. At the same time, the Wild have not been the only tenants at Xcel Energy Center. Annually several big high school and college tournaments take place. Amateur hockey players have made their mark just as much as the professionals.
Grant Potulny’s 2002 natty OT winner for Minnesota
Kyle Schmidt 2011 natty OT winner for Minnesota Duluth
When it comes down to it these are two goals of the same coin. Both overtime winners in national championship games (the only two NCAA Frozen Fours played at Xcel since opening). Both ending long standing droughts for the home state school. With Potulny Minnesota had not won a national title since 1979. Minnesota Duluth had never won one before Schmidt’s putback and snow angel celly.
Simply, both maroon and gold fanbases have their moments.
Matt Koalska game-tying goal in 2002
Last season for a story I asked Potulny about scoring the national championship-winner. To him the lasting memory of the game was St. Paul native Matt Koalska scoring the tying goal in the final minute when Minnesota had pulled the goalie. In his words:
“When (Koalska) came to the bench, I happened to be standing right on the bench when he jumped right into my arms. That to me is the one I remember the most. It was just euphoria. If you’re the guy scoring the goal you’re surprised and elated and some of those things. It happened so quickly when you’re playing.”
Potulny isn’t alone.
Blake Wheeler diving OT winner in 2007
Wheeler’s diving goal would have been remarkable if it came during the first period of the Ice Breaker tournament. It’s already a Sportscenter Top 10 finish. Instead his goal came in overtime of a sold out building during the Final Five championship against Minnesota’s biggest rival. And it was St. Patrick's Day too in St Paul, to add to the atmosphere.
The only way Wheeler's could be bigger is if it was for a national championship, which in a way it kind of already had happened.
St. Cloud State’s Tony Mosey in 2010 to break the Husky NCAA curse
Until 2010 SCSU had never won a NCAA Tournament game. Seven prior trips to the tournament had resulted in seven first round defeats. Playing against Northern Michigan it appeared that might be the case again after the Huskies blew a 3-1 lead in the third period, but Mosey came through in the opening seconds of the second OT for St. Cloud State’s first-ever NCAA win. Since that time the Huskies have reached the Frozen Four and reached three other regional finals.
This list could keep going with tons of highlight-reel goals and OT winners from tournaments ranging from Final Fives to NCAAs. Those left out include Jared VanWormer, Zach Saar, Mark Zengerle, Drew Brevig, Mason Jobst, Zac Larraza, Jack Connolly, Thomas Vanek, Grant Potulny (again) and that entire 8-7 Minnesota/SCSU game where Ryan Potulny scored 4 goals.
And even with all that I’m sure I left out one or two.
Kyle Rau triple OT winner
I remember watching Rau’s winner sitting in the press box of Mariucci Arena. Having just written a story on the Gopher season ending and seeing that the game was going to another OT, we sat and watched the incoming Gopher dive at a loose puck to give Eden Prairie a Class AA title. One of the other people watching with me noted the Gophers could use that hustle.
Nearly six years later that determination has taken Rau far, from high school to the NHL.
Tommy Novak last second winner vs Hermantown (2013)
This goal has 2013 written all over it between the Cadets still being in Class A and Novak celebrating by Tebowing. St. Thomas Academy and Hermantown met in the Class A final for the third straight season. The Hawks had lost both games to STA (the second and third of six straight title game losses; it took the team until 2016 to finally win) and led by two entering the third period. St. Thomas tied the game at 4 before Novak scored the game winner with 6.1 seconds remaining.
Aaron Marvin 2005 OT winner for Warroad
With the help of a bleached hair kid by the name of TJ Oshie, Marvin, who went on to play college hockey at St. Cloud State, helped give the Warriors its second Class A championship in three years by scoring the overtime winner against Totino-Grace.
So which one is the best goal in Xcel Energy Center history? For me, Wheeler and Koalska’s gems stand above all. Hendrickson and Rau would round out my Mount Rushmore. (Gaborik’s five goal game deserves its own monument. Potulny should get a lifetime achievement.) But that's one man's opinion, which has to do more with the moments, the memories and occasion of the goals.
More important, however, is all the things which make the list great.
One, Xcel Energy Center has built its own history. There’s a pattern of goals in big moments (overtime, playoffs) standing out over flashiness. In several cases the goals were precursors to players doing bigger things down the line. Wheeler now captains the Jets, Rau had a great career with the Gophers, and Granlund and Zucker's goals were key with both.
In perfect State of Hockey form, each of the levels going from high school to college to the Wild are represented on the list. That on its own more impressive than Rau’s, or anyone's, individual effort.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
Nathan Wells is a freelance hockey writer based in Minnesota. He covers college hockey for SB Nation and has had work recently appear in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota Hockey Journal, Bemidji Pioneer and Minneapolis Star Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @gopherstate.
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