Minnesota Wild Connections to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final

The Stanley Cup Final is officially set to begin between the Colorado Avalanche and the defending champions for the past two seasons, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Minnesota Wild actually have some connections to both teams with some more recent than others. While it’s hard to watch other teams play in the Final and not your own, it’s sometimes fun to see former players have success especially if they were fan favorites.

This Final is much anticipated as it puts the Avalanche, who’ve been number one or two in the league nearly all season, against the Lightning, who as everyone knows, already have two straight Stanley Cups and would continue to set history for their franchise if they win a third. Both teams are capable of taking the series and with the amount of offense both teams have, it may be a long one.

Wild’s Avalanche Connections

Darcy Kuemper

The first connection the Wild have to the Avalanche goes back a little bit to the 2012-13 season and a goaltender by the name of Darcy Kuemper. Most Wild fans probably remember him from his rookie season when he backed up then-starter Niklas Bäckström. His first six games weren’t the greatest, but he obviously proved something to the coaches as he was brought in more and more.

However, Kuemper was no longer backing up in his second season, as he was added to the rotation of goaltenders with Bäckström and Josh Harding. When they couldn’t rely on Bäckström or Harding, they threw Kuemper in and he did pretty well with a record of 12-8-4 in 26 games played. The next season he had more game time and while he had a winning record, he wasn’t spectacular, and that was also the time when the Wild got their new starting goaltender, Devan Dubnyk.

Darcy Kuemper Colorado Avalanche
Darcy Kuemper, former Minnesota Wild, current Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Dubnyk taking most of the spotlight, Kuemper returned to being a backup and struggled. He had a winning record in his final season with the Wild but it wasn’t enough for him to get back into the starting rotation. He became a free agent at the end of that season and decided to take his play elsewhere. In the five seasons he played for the Wild, he went 41-34-14 in 102 games played.

Related: Avalanche’s Darcy Kuemper Trade Full of Risk and Reward

After the Wild, Kuemper joined the Los Angeles Kings for a season, then spent the next four with the Arizona Coyotes before finding his current home with the Avalanche this season, where he had somewhat of a career resurrection finishing with a 37-12-4 record in 57 games played. Obviously having a strong team in front of him has been a big help, but he’s improved as well. This is his fifth playoff stint and also the best of his career thus far. He’s played in 10 games and gone 6-2, helping the Avalanche make it to the Final. Though, he has been battling an injury as of late.

Nico Sturm

Now to the player that many newer Wild fans should recognize, Nico Sturm. His first season was in 2018-19 as he joined the Wild right out of college after he decided to not play his senior year at Clarkson University. His first couple of seasons were a handful of games each and only one with a small number of points. However, things changed quickly for him in the seasons that followed, as he went from a handful of games to 50 with 17 points.

It was expected that Sturm would eventually find his scoring touch – at least everyone hoped he would. However, as time went on, it became clear he wasn’t going to be able to do that with the Wild. After another year of playing over half the season and only scoring 17 points, he had one more chance to step up. This season he played 74 games with 20 points before he was traded to the Avalanche.

It wasn’t a surprise that Sturm was traded, the actual surprise was who he was traded to. The Avalanche seemed to have all the pieces they needed to make a deep Stanley Cup run. However, the trade was a good thing for both teams involved. Each team had a player that was struggling to score and rather than lose them in free agency, they decided to make a trade and still get a decent return, which sent Sturm to the Avalanche and brought Tyson Jost to the Wild.

Nico Sturm Minnesota Wild
Nico Sturm, former Minnesota Wild, current Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sturm only had 21 games to get adjusted to his new team and finished the season with three points. He’s playing in his third postseason, and if he gets time in the Final, he may tie or beat his career-high of two points. Obviously, that’s not a huge number, but prior to this season, he’d only played two and seven games respectively per postseason. He’s currently at seven games through three rounds of the playoffs with a single point. It’ll be interesting to see if he can find his way into more games and score some more points.

Minnesota-Born

While the Avalanche only had two players who actually played for the Wild in the past, they also have a couple of Minnesota-born players. Erik Johnson is a veteran who many will recognize, as he’s originally from Bloomington, Minnesota. He played both his high school and one year of college hockey in Minnesota and went on to have a stint with the St. Louis Blues before heading to the Avalanche.

The other player is rookie Ben Meyers. He followed the same path as Johnson, as he played his high school and college hockey in Minnesota. Both of them played for the University of Minnesota, which is one of the top schools in the state for Division I hockey.

Wild’s Lightning Connections

Stacy Roest

Unlike the Avalanche, the Lightning’s section is going to be a bit shorter, as they have just one former Wild player in Stacy Roest. He joined the Wild in their inaugural season back in 2000-01 after spending two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. He ended up playing 76 games in the Wild’s first season and put up 27 points.

Tampa Bay Lightning Prince of Wales Trophy 2022
The Tampa Bay Lightning pose with the Eastern Conference Prince of Wales Trophy (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The following season Roest played 58 games and tallied 21 points. Those two seasons were the only ones he played with the Wild, as he went back to the Red Wings to play two more games and ended his career after just five seasons. He’s now both the assistant general manager and director of player development for the Lightning. He must be doing something right, though, as he has two Stanley Cup rings and is looking for a third.

Minnesota-Born & a Former North Star

Ryan McDonagh

The Lightning only have one Minnesota-born player and that’s Ryan McDonagh. He’s from St. Paul, Minnesota, and like many players who grew up in Minnesota, he played his high school hockey there as well. However, for college, he went to the neighboring University of Wisconsin, a direct rival to the University of Minnesota. He and Johnson missed playing each other in college by just a season and now they’re playing for the Stanley Cup against each other after McDonagh spent most of his career with the New York Rangers.

Rob Zettler

The next connection jumps to the Lightning coaching staff and assistant coach Rob Zettler. His connection goes back to the first franchise to call Minnesota home, the Minnesota North Stars, now known as the Dallas Stars after their relocation in 1992. He began his NHL career with the North Stars back in 1988-89 and spent three seasons with them, amassing 80 games and 13 points before moving on to the San Jose Sharks.

Zettler spent 14 seasons in the NHL before he moved into coaching. He bounced around in both the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) before joining the Lightning as an assistant coach at the beginning of the 2021 shortened season. He’ll be looking for his second consecutive Stanley Cup with the Lightning.

Iowa Wild Connection

Derek Lalonde

The final name on this list is another assistant coach in Derek Lalonde. His connection to the Wild is with their AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, as he was their head coach for two seasons before he left to join the Lightning. He coached the Wild to quite a few records in just his second season and in those two seasons he had a record of 69-58-17-8. He spent a lot of time coaching in many different leagues before joining the Iowa Wild and then jumping to the NHL with the Lightning. He’s currently in his third season as an assistant coach and will be looking for a third straight Stanley Cup victory.

Wild’s Numerous Connections

It’s interesting to see how many connections teams have to each other especially when it’s down to the final two. Clearly, the Wild have a bit more connection to the Avalanche with former players who are a bit more recent, especially being from the same division and conference. It’s hard to say who Wild fans will cheer more for, but hopefully seeing some former names pop up makes the decision a little easier. Regardless there’s going to be a lot of fun, exciting hockey between these two teams, and at least one former Wild player will get to hoist the Stanley Cup in just a short amount of time as we enter the last games of the 2021-22 season.


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