On a night when the Minnesota Wild honored Minnesota hockey legend Tom Kurvers, who died of lung cancer this summer at age 58, players and coaches alike couldn’t help but suspect some sort of divine intervention was in play during the final moments of Tuesday’s incredible 6-5 comeback victory over the rival Winnipeg Jets.
Like when video coaches Jonas Plumb and T.J. Jindra called down to the bench , imploring Wild coach Dean Evason to challenge the empty-net goal scored by Jets center Mark Scheifele. There were so many things that could have gone wrong, from assistant coach Brett McLean not relaying the word to Evason in time, to the officials potentially ignoring the fact that Jets winger Kyle Connor was offside.
Ultimately, the officials ruled that Connor did indeed enter the offensive zone before the puck, negating his goal and giving the Wild new life with 74 seconds left. If Kurvers — a former Minnesota prep hockey star from Bloomington, NHL player and Wild employee — was still around, one could imagine him watching stoically from his perch in the press box, knowing the job wasn’t finished quite yet.
Maybe he was still watching from above on this particular night. That’s the feeling winger Marcus Foligno started to get when the empty-net goal was overturned, and it only intensified when teammate Joel Eriksson Ek scored a ridiculous goal less than 20 seconds later, whacking a puck out of midair to tie the score 5-5.
“Honestly, I’m a big believer that tonight we celebrated the life of Tom Kurvers, and I think he had something to do with that,” Foligno said after the game. “When (the empty-net goal was overturned), on the bench I actually thought about Tom, and then Ekker whacks a puck out of the air. I mean, great goal, but it’s fluky. You’ve just got to believe that there’s a guardian angel over you tonight.”
That same feeling came over veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski at various points in the game. Never mind the dramatic series of events down the stretch. Forget the fact that Eriksson Ek scored the winner in overtime to emphatically complete his hat trick.
That the Wild were even within striking distance in the final minute was pretty unbelievable. They erased 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 deficits during the first two periods, then a 4-3 and a 5-3 deficit in the final period to send the game into overtime.
“There were some weird bounces throughout the whole game, and for it to end like that, where we think we’re down and out, and there’s an offside, and then we score,” Goligoski said. “Just one of those nights. I think definitely someone was looking down on us tonight.”
After the raucous celebration in the Wild locker room postgame, in which Eriksson Ek’s teammates doused him with water bottles, Evason gathered his players and reflected on Kurvers for a couple of minutes.
“What a great man,” Evason said with his eyes visibly welling up. “He touched us all. He’d be excited about that hockey game, for sure. Hopefully he’s happy with that one.”
For the rest of this season, the Wild will wear “TK” decals on their helmets in memory of Kurvers. They could feel him throughout Tuesday’s game, the team’s home opener, and maybe, just maybe, their guardian angel will show up again at some point this season.
“That’s the way we felt all night,” Foligno said. “We had someone watching us, and then pushing us, and although we felt like, yeah, we were down in the game at some points, we always knew we could get back and win.”