After shocking the hockey world when they loosened their purse strings this past offseason, the Minnesota Wild have gotten off to a torrid start early into the 2006-07 NHL season. The team has gone 6-1-0 through seven games, sparking talk that the Wild may be the Cinderella of the Western Conference.
“We have more talent,” said Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire, “so the guys move the puck a lot better and by moving the puck better we haven’t changed much but [it] is why we get these chances.”
But as talented as the Wild have proven to be early in the year, that talent will be put to the test as they have already been hit by the injury bug. The team has lost four players to injuries including star forward Marion Gaborik, who was injured while on the team’s first road trip of the season to Anaheim.
The injuries gave Minnesota prospect Matt Foy a chance to crack the line-up when he was recalled on Oct. 17.
Foy was favored to open the season with the Wild, just as he did a year ago, but hernia surgery late in the offseason managed to sideline the 6’2, 219-pound forward for the bulk of training camp.
For Foy, the hernia surgery came as a major disappointment after spending the entire offseason training with good friend Matt Stajan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I tried to work out with him and get some tips off him,” said Foy. “You train the same way if you’re playing in the NHL or the AHL. They’re both professional hockey leagues. I like going home and training with someone, being close to my family and just try to work as hard as I can.”
Foy’s hard work was all for naught as he was forced to miss three weeks while recovering. He was sent to the Houston Aeros (AHL) to continue his recovery. Despite the injury, the Wild remain very high on Foy and his ability to contribute this season.
“He’s a guy that has a lot of speed,” said Lemaire. “He takes the man, finishes his checks and he’s got a good scoring touch so hopefully he can get some goals at the odd times cause he can really shoot that puck.”
The Oakville, Ontario native has proven he can score in the past. He scored 132 points in his lone season at the OHL level and he seems to have rediscovered that touch after two seasons at the AHL level. Last season, Foy played in 19 games at the NHL level and scored two goals and five points in 19 games before being reassigned to Houston. At the AHL level, Foy continued to find the net recording career highs in goals (15), assists (25) and points (40), despite playing in 18 fewer games than the previous season.
“You’ve got to bide your time down there in the American League and I did that my first two years and fortunately enough last year I got to play with a couple good players,” said Foy.
Foy has carried that goal scoring success from last season into the 2006-07 season despite missing training camp. He’s already notched four points in five games and is on pace to record another career season at the AHL level.
The right wing’s fast start in the AHL helped lead to his recall by the Wild on Oct. 17. But Foy didn’t expect that the change in scenery to affect his play.
“I’m not really going to change my play,” said Foy, “I’m just a kind of third line grinder, try to put some offense up, skate hard, forecheck, use my speed as best I can and finish some checks and hopefully help out on the scoreboard.”
The Wild have always had a reputation for being well prepared and not surprisingly, cracking Lemaire’s line-up has meant sticking to and adhering to his strict system.
“You’ve got to buy into the system,” said Foy. “You’ll play if you play his way … he’s a very good teacher and he knows the game very well.”
The 2002 sixth round draft pick played in two games for the Wild during his call-up and played especially well in his second game. He went scoreless but earned a +2, with a shot on goal that helped lead the Wild to their first goal of the night against San Jose.
Foy’s speed and physical play allowed Lemaire to shuffle him throughout the line-up giving him time on the fourth line as well as the top line with Pavol Demitra and Marion Gaborik.
“They came up and told me just before warm up,” said Foy, “that I was going to start there. I probably wouldn’t stay there — just to mix things up. It was exciting.”
“I thought he would help [the top] line get a little more forechecking,” said Lemaire.
While Foy’s stint on the top line may have only lasted a few shifts, it speaks volumes about Lemaire’s confidence in the 23-year-old.
Speed and size are what the new NHL is all about so although Foy was reassigned to Houston on Oct. 22, there is little doubt that he’ll be back in Minnesota in no time.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.