The news caused Gopher fans to exhale a collective sigh of relief. As the second leading scorer on the team (20 goals), Haula’s presence would have been missed at Mariucci. In his sophomore year, he led the team in points (48) and shots (151) along with some impressive game-winners and big-time plays when it mattered (video below).
His PP goal in the West Regional game against North Dakota, a team that had completely shamed the Gopher name when the Gophers coughed up a 3-0 lead and ended up losing 6-3 in the WCHA Final Five Semifinal game the week prior (March 16 at the Xcel Energy Center), proved to Gopher fans that Haula could hack it.
As a 7th Round Draft pick of the Minnesota Wild (2009), Haula has proven himself at multiple levels – World Juniors (Finland), Shattuck-St. Mary’s, USHL with the Omaha Lancers, and now at the University of Minnesota with the Gophers who won the regular season (MacNaughton Cup and made a run for the 2012 NCAA Championship). His playoff and championship experience, along with his ability to get pucks to the net and create scoring chances, is something the Gophers desperately needed this season.
But what about the Wild?
As the last-kid-picked at recess, the Wild certainly did not end their season on a high note. They held their heads high, but were the first to admit that last place is for losers and they don’t want to be losers. And their owner is running around telling people that they’re going to be in the Playoffs next year.
So, why did they let Haula go? Since Haula played Juniors, the Wild are playing with fire, risking free agency come 2013 (four years since he was drafted). Have the Wild seen too many of their young draftees completely wash out? Have they lost all faith in their draft picks? Does lucky number seven not exist?
Are they really hoping that an extra year with the Gophers will give Haula all the tools to succeed? Do they want to see more from him? Is Mikko concerned about having another Finnish player on the team? Would he prefer Granlund?
Because it seems as though Haula feels right at home here (read original interview)
“Why Minnesota? I felt I was most comfortable here.”
He appreciates the culture.
“We have the same cartoons as you do in the United States. There was a cartoon I liked when I was real young. It was Finnish. If I had to pick someone everyone would know he was like, it would be Mickey Mouse.”
He’s grown accustomed to the Breakfast of Champions.
“Growing up, I wasn’t a big cereal guy. It’s kind of grown on me since I moved here.”
He knows his way around the Twin Cities.
“I’d want my last meal to be Brazilian food from Fogo de Chao in downtown Minneapolis.”
And last, but not least, he told Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that “playing for the Wild would be a dream come true.” (all quotes taken from interview with Bob Sansevere).
While the Wild get all their ducks in a row and lay all their cards on the table, prepping to welcome all those UFAs they so desperately need, there are a lot of unknowns still up in the air. But this we do know: Erik Haula will play another year at the University of Minnesota. One more year as a Gopher. One more year in the WCHA (for him and every future Gopher player). One more year to make a run for a National Championship.
After that, who knows?
All we know is that the Wild made their choice. And if Erik Haula comes out of the 2012-2013 season and sees the choices the Wild made, Parise or no Parise, etc. he may or may not eat his last meal at Fogo de Chao before packing his bags for a more promising NHL team.