Column: Wild about the early returns

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The season couldn&8217;t have gotten off to any better of a start for the Minnesota Wild. The Wild are currently (as of Tuesday night) one of just three unbeaten teams left in the NHL.

The team generated a lot of excitement this offseason by spending some money to bring in offensive talent to supplement the defensive nature that has been the team&8217;s calling card under head coach Jacques Lemaire.

Pavol Demitra was the Wild&8217;s biggest acquisition this offseason and through five games you would have to say he is paying off with one goal and six helpers. Those six assists are tied with Pierre-Marc Bouchard for the team lead. Demitra&8217;s presence has also helped Marian Gaborik, who all too often seemed to be a one-man show in the the past, who has three goals and three assists.

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Add in strong play from Kim Johnsson, Brian Rolston and Mikko Koivu and there is plenty of excitement about this hockey season in Minnesota.

While the offense has been solid scoring a division-leading 19 goals in the five-game win streak, goaltending from Manny Fernandez has been equally up to the task. Fernandez has a 1.77 goals against average and a 93.5 save percentage after getting a firm grasp on the starting job last season.

The strong start also extends to the coaching staff as Lemaire has already signed a multi-year contract extension and has Wild fans thinking postseason after a couple of tough seasons in a division that will still give Minnesota plenty of tests with talented squads from Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Colorado lurking behind them.

But if we learned anything from the baseball season and the Detroit Tigers a fast start can carry you a long way.

The NBA is churning through its preseason schedule and the Minnesota Timberwolves are trying to sort through a roster of new faces, old standbys and a few unknowns.

This is the second year under head coach Dwane Casey and after going a couple seasons without the playoffs in the Land of 10,000 Lakes it is time to punch the &8220;Big Ticket&8221; back into the second season.

Kevin Garnett is in his 11th NBA season which is hard to believe since it seems just like yesterday he was a skinny high schooler who was considered a major gamble walking across the draft night stage.

This is a team that has a lot of parts but when you take a look at them it may be pieces that don&8217;t fit together well.

Big men after Garnett continue to be a problem for this team. Mark Blount, Mark Madsen, Justin Reed and Eddie Griffin all bring something different to the floor but not one of them would be confused for the complete package.

Ricky Davis, Mike James, Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson and Randy Foye are all guards who are of the shoot first variety. For the Timberwolves that may be a good thing but there is still just one basketball &045; no matter what it is made out of &045; to go around.

Everyone made a big deal out of the Flip Saunders firing and hiring of Casey when Detroit got off to a fast start. However, watching the Pistons implode in the playoffs has to make fans think that Casey deserves a chance to make this team a winner after years and years of first round playoff exits by the Wolves under Saunders.

Here is to hoping the collection of individuals makes a solid team.

(Sports editor Jeff Budlong&8217;s column runs every Wednesday.)