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Sonmor says it's difficult to compare Wild with Stars

ST. PAUL -- As the Minnesota Wild prepared to take the ice Saturday afternoon in their first Stanley Cup playoff game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Glen Sonmor sat in the press box and visited with cronies.

Sonmor is no stranger to playoff hockey in Minnesota, both on the professional and college levels.

Now a scout for the Wild, and a radio broadcaster for Minnesota Gopher hockey games, the former coach of the Minnesota North Stars and Gophers, has pretty much seen it all.

Yet his enthusiasm for the game remains. Sonmor is a youngster at heart when it comes to hockey.

He coached the North Stars when they made their first Stanley Cup playoff run in 1981. Want hockey stories? Visit with Sonmor for a few minutes and all those events come rolling out, tempered with a smile and ever-present good humor.

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He says you can't compare the Wild situation today with the way the North Stars were when he coached.

Back then, for example, there weren't Eastern and Western Conferences. There were 21 hockey teams and 16 of them made the playoffs. No. 1 would play No.16 and No. 2 would play No. 15 and on down the line.

Whereas the Wild this year have hardly anyone, other than Marian Gaborik, who would be well-known outside of Minnesota, the North Stars back in '81 had a lot of high-profile players, said Sonmor.

He likes how the Wild have come together.

"It's a team that really applies the "team" concept," Sonmor said. "You have to give (coach) Jacques Lemaire and (general manager) Doug Risebrough credit for that.

"They've got the players giving their best effort every night, all the way to the end."

Sonmor said the Wild's reputation as a "trapping" team, one that is all defense, is "nonsense."

"They are one of the best skating teams in the league. And they never give up on defense."

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Those North Stars of Sonmor's surprised hockey people in 1981 by making it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals before losing in five games to the New York Islanders.

Can the Wild continue their improbable journey through the playoffs this year? Lots of people have written them off, only to see them come back time and again.

Lemaire said the team made only one mistake Saturday against the Mighty Ducks and it cost them when the Ducks won 1-0 in two overtimes.

"We've lost games before," Lemaire said with a smile, when a reporter asked him how tough was this loss. He didn't seem too concerned. After all, his team plays its best when it is on the brink of elimination.

Steve Webb is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be reached at webb@postbulletin.com

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