ST. PAUL, MN -- Kurtis Gabriel may not be known to light up the lamp, but he certainly can illuminate a players bench and when he does so he ignites winning streaks.
The Minnesota Wild seems to have finally found their groove and it appears the young 23-year-old from Newmarket, Ontario has been a major catalyst to their winning ways.
His energy and physicality he brings to Minnesota’s fourth line has brought the character, size and the relentless forecheck that Head Coach Bruce Boudreau has been looking for all season.
Gabriel, recalled on Dec. 2 to face the Calgary Flames in Alberta was on ice to keep cooler heads after talk surfaced from the Flames that the game may turn exuberantly physical. It was just 17 days earlier on Nov. 15 that Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau left the game with what turned out to be a broken finger that required surgery after a slash by Wild forward Eric Staal.
The Flames touted that Gaudreau was targeted by Minnesota and that prompted the call-up for Gabriel to keep the game from escalating. After a 3-2 shootout loss in a high energy game that did not turn ugly the Wild turned around and have won four-straight games pushing their record to 15-8-4.
Boudreau, who loves a big and physical fourth line, has lauded the play of Gabriel, Tyler Graovac and Chris Stewart who have pressured offensively incredibly well.
Kurtis is not known for his soft hands or dangerous shot still has quick feet and uses his speed to pressure opposing defensemen in the offensive zone and then uses his size to grind away and keep the puck in the zone to maintain a forecheck.
In their recent game against the Toronto Maple Leafs the line racked up over nine minutes of ice time as they were able to shut down the young offensive juggernauts on the Leaf’s young and skilled roster.
That amount of ice time in a tight one-goal game is a measure of the coach’s trust and confidence in his players, including Gabriel. He, however, brings another element to the ice that separates him from his fellow teammates, and that is his willingness to fight.
During Sunday night’s victory against the St. Louis Blues Gabriel fought a big, tough and veteran pest in Ryan Reaves who is also no stranger to dropping the gloves. At the conclusion of a lengthy, spirited bout Gabriel, throws his hands up screaming to the crowd “Let’s Go” and without question that energy rippled throughout Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and certainly found its way to the Wild bench.
This is the spark that Gabriel has brought and certainly if he continues to bring it game-in and game-out, there is no reason to believe he will be leaving the state of hockey anytime soon.
It couldn’t be a more perfect time to find a winning streak than now as the Wild approach a tough part of the schedule where it will face the top teams in the National Hockey League and a crowded 13-game January.
Nick Maxson is the Minnesota Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.