Behind the Blog: Hockey Wilderness

This week's Behind the Blog features Nathan who is the brains behind Hockey Wilderness, the SBN Minnesota Wild blog formerly known as The State of Hockey. Please come by next Monday for the next installment of Behind the Blog.

Q.1 - SBN had a Minnesota Wild blog back in August 2007, but changed hands and names in September 2008 (if I understand correctly). Why did you start blogging and how did you find your way to SBN?

My good friend Jesse is the manager over at Twinkie Town and I've been an active member of his blog since before the big move to SBN. When he moved to SBN, i found what was then The State of Hockey, and wrote a few things here and there but it wasn't a very active community. During this offseason I decided to try to do my part to have some sense of community around Hockey Wilderness. I started by posting the ten big questions for the Wild this offseason that Michael Russo (the Star Tribune's beat writer for the Wild and host of Russo's Rants) posted, answered them from my perspective and was hoping to get some conversation going. Well, after the fourth or fifth, FrankD from Pensburgh dropped me a line and asked if I would be interested in taking over. He spoke to Blez, and I took over shortly after.
 
This is actually my first foray into sports blogging, my other blog endeavors have either been for work, or based around food & wine, books and film. Frankly, this is much easier, since for the most part, I'm reacting to what's going on rather than coming up with original content on original ideas.

Q.2 - When and why did you become a Minnesota Wild fan?

I was 15 when the North Stars were stolen by Norm Green to Dallas. Until that point, the North Stars were my second hockey love. (The Minnesota Golden Gophers will always have the sentimental top spot in my heart.) When the Wild came back on October 6, 2000, and the state fell once again in love with the NHL, I followed suit. A friend and I spent a ridiculous amount of money that year to get a 1/4 season ticket 7 rows off the ice in the corner the Wild shoot at twice. Those 11 games were the start of something special. Yeah, we only saw two wins and two ties but it was an entirely different feel than the college game. We also had season tickets for the Gophers, but the NHL game is so much faster that I was drawn to it. At that point, I drifted toward following the Wild much more closely than the Gophers, and it's been that way since.

Q.3 - The status of Marian Gaborik has arguably been the biggest storyline involving the Wild this season. Do you think Gaborik will be gone at the trade deadline? If so, where do you see him heading and for whom?

For a non-situation locally, it's an enormous situation nationally. The Gaborik issue has really fallen off the radar in the press here in the Twin Cities. He's become an affter thought in the recaps and coverage of the Wild. The team has really won the PR battle. Gabby has become the enemy, wanting too much money, and with his ongoing groin issues, people don't see getting much of a return on him if any at all. Personally I'd like to see him get healthy, play out his contract and re-sign with the team. However, that's a pipe dream at this point it seems. Ron Salcer has become the Scott Boras of the NHL in town here, and at this point the fans are willing to move Gaborik for a bag of pucks and some new sticks for Mikko Koivu. It's now Koivu's team, he's the face of the franchise.
 
Now, if Gaborik's not healthy, I don't see them getting much for him at all at the deadline. I didn't like the Montreal trade. I don't see Higgins fitting in, and Halak's a non-factor. This team doesn't need goaltending at all. The fear is that Risebrough will pull a Bill Smith and get prospects for Gaborik much like Smith got in return for Johan Santana. If it were up to me, Gaborik would be moved for one second-liner and two prospects or a prospect and a draft choice. However, he HAS to be moved to the Eastern division. He has much more value in the East. Maybe with a team like the Bruins or Canadiens. Of course, before Burke took over in Toronto, I would have said he would be a good fit there, but now he won't fit Burke's "style."

Q.4 - What do you hope to achieve with your blog over the next year?

Hockey Wilderness is actually in a pretty interesting position. SBN is better than a typical blog because of the ability for interaction amongst the users. With the users being able to create their own content in addition to commenting on content created by others, it's much more Web 2.0 than most blogging platforms out there. I think that positions us well to develop an actual community rather than one voice speaking to many. However, there is a dearth of Wild blogs out there right now, and many of them have avid readership. My goal is to develop a community, not just build readership (we've added 42 members since I took over in September). Twinkie Town has really grown into a great community here at SBN, and that's my model. Right now we have three people adding content on a weekly basis. I'd like to get something closer to 10-12 by the end of the season, with the majority being developed in FanPosts and FanShots. If you look at Pension Plan Puppets, they have an incredible community. PPP and Chemmy have done excellent work over there and now their community members create far more content on a weekly basis than those two do, which I think is the ultimate key here at SBN. 

Q.5 - Minnesota is currently sitting second in the Northwest Division. Where do you see them in the standings by the end of the regular season?

Depends upon one major factor: Marian Gaborik. If Gaborik comes back healthy and plays out the season, they are still the favorites to win the division. No other team in the Northwest is impressive right now, including Vancouver. If they move Gaborik for talent that can step right in and add scoring, they will be in there at the end. If they add prospects only for Gaborik, they'll fight for a playoff spot. If nothing changes at all, and they go on like they are now, they'll stick around in the 6-8 battle and have another first round exit. If they have another first-round exit, the front office will hear it from the fans. Unfortunately there are so many fans on the waiting list for season tickets, that it isn't going to matter until they fail in the post-season for another few years.

Q.6 - When you're not obsessing over the Wild, what do you like to do in your free time?

I am a huge TV and movie fan. I have 33 shows on the TiVo season pass (though not all in season at the same time, and a couple are being canceled in January; DAMN YOU ABC!!!!). Aside from that, I read voraciously, love to cook and every Saturday and Sunday morning my wife and I watch the English Premier League games on Fox Soccer. We love to watch English football (though we're a divided household, she supports Chelsea and I'm a Manchester United fan since 1998). This was a tough summer with England not being in the European Championships, but it's only two years until World Cup 2010 in South Africa, and England will be back with a vengeance. Other than that, we work to travel. We try to take at least one European vacation a year. Next on our list is Brussels and Bruges.
 
Oh, and I love to play hockey. I played in a Wild Adult league until I blew my MCL and meniscus a couple years ago. Since then I haven't gotten out nearly enough. However, if someone is looking for an out-of-shape, immobile forward with decent touch and above average passing, let me know! I'm available. 

Q.7 - Do you attend many Wild games or do you primarily watch games on TV? Do you have Center Ice? If so, how do your broadcasters compare to others?

It's hard to get a ticket to the Wild, but I go when I can. That being said, I'm really lucky that the Wild has all but a couple games televised. Covering the pre-season was tough, having to rely on the radio, though our radio guys (Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid) are second to none. I wish out TV guys were half as good. They're just brutal, talk over the referee announcements and PA announcements of penalties and goals. It's irritating to cover.

Q.8 - The Wild have made it past the 20-game mark. What are your thoughts on the first quarter of the season? Biggest surprise? Disappointment?

If you would have told me that they would have the most November wins in team history, be in second place in the division and Marian Gaborik had only played two games, I would be happy beyond belief. However, looking back on it, they should have at least two more wins where they blew the games late in the third period, and the lack of offense cost them three times.

Biggest surprise thus far has to be Antti Miettinen. I don't think anyone expected this kind of performance from him.

Biggest disappointment has to be Gaborik, or the lack thereof. Fans are still wondering if the team and he are really telling us the whole story. is he really hurt, or is this some kind of punishment for not signing or refusing a move?

Q.9 - Who is your favorite hockey player (current or retired)? Why?

Neal Broten. Hands down. Broten is a Minnesota legend. State title at Roseau, Hobey Baker, Gold Medal, Stanley Cup. 

Q.10 - Is there any hockey blog or website that you look to for inspiration?

Hockey blog? Has to be Russo's Rants for information. The guy is fantastic, and has a huge Wild following. That being said, Pension Plan Puppets, Japer's Rink and Pensburgh do a great job of providing excellent information developing community and keeping everything civil.

Oh, and I hear that James Mirtle guy isnt' bad either.

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