Talk about excitement in the National Hockey League with the Minnesota Wild, this entire state has Wild fever and there is one main reason — because they are playing with heart. The Wild aren't highly rated, they're castoffs, but they continue to battle in every game. I thought I'd never see anything as exciting as this … and then I go to Vikings minicamp and, corny as this sounds, the energy, positive attitude and heart that I saw in those practices was equal to the Minnesota Wild.
During the draft this year, the Vikings placed the highest priority on player intelligence, second was work ethic and third was athletic ability. Those qualities of intelligence and work ethic were very apparent while watching practices, even though the players weren't in full pads. The Vikings are light years ahead of where they were during Mike Tice's inaugural minicamp as a head coach in 2002. During the one-on-one drills this weekend, the offensive and defensive linemen were going at each other hard while at the same time having a bundle of fun. The young players joining the team seemed to fit in right away, because when young athletes bring good work ethic, established veterans will accept them much sooner
Many times when young players come into their first practices they are intimidated, and intimidation doesn't make for early success. When I talk to each of the rookies, they all say, "I'll do what it takes. Whatever the coaches tell me to do, if they want to put me on special teams, I'm there." The No. 2 draft choice, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, says he will love playing behind Greg Biekert, as he knows he will learn a lot from the veteran. When I talk to Kevin Williams, the first-round defensive lineman, all he talks about is how much he'll learn from playing next to Chris Hovan. When you see how hard this No. 1 draft choice works, how strong his hands are and his good footwork, you know he will plug the middle just like director of college scouting Scott Studwell and his staff said he would.
The athletic ability and work ethic are upgraded from years past, but you can also tell that these new players — especially the new free-agent veterans — bring more experience and intelligence. Even in their first full-squad practices with the team they are often in position to make the big play, and when they aren't sure about a certain formation or play call they are asking all the right questions. The veteran leadership on this team will be able to eliminate many of the mental mistakes of the past few years and lead the talented draft picks in the right direction.
The Wild have that excitement going now, but I guarantee you that later this year you'll see a Mike Tice-coached team that will give you everything you ever wanted in football. The way they won their last three games last year, I can say that, come Dec. 28, you know who will be on top of the NFC North because intelligence, attitude and heart win in any league — from the NHL to the NFL.
Lurtsema's Reaction: Minicamp 2003
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