ST. PAUL — Kevin Fiala wasn’t supposed to touch the ice again on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.
After watching him take three penalties in a row midway through the game, coach Dean Evason decided to bench Fiala to open the final 20 minutes of regulation against the Washington Capitals. It was a bold decision from Evason considering the Wild already were playing without nearly half their lineup regulars due to various injuries.
“It’s no secret why he did not play,” said Evason, defending the move to teach Fiala a lesson. “Our thought was he wasn’t going to play again. That’s what we were doing.”
In a past life, Fiala, a 25-year-old winger from Switzerland, might have sulked on the bench for the rest of the game, letting his emotions get the best of him as his teammates continued to play on.
That did not happen Saturday night. Instead, Fiala spent the period cheering on his teammates.
“You’ve got to think about the team,” he said. “It was a 2-1 game. We were a goal away. I’ve got to fire up the teammates.”
After giving fist bumps to a few of his teammates during a TV timeout, Fiala called Evason over during a stoppage.
His message? That he understood why he was being benched and he was going to support his teammates regardless of whether or not he played again.
“Meant a lot,” Evason said. “Maybe that’s another step in his development.”
In that moment, Evason changed his mind, and a few shifts later, Fiala hopped over the boards.
“If he’s going to say it, let’s give him an opportunity to prove it,” Evason said. “He did.”
Not only did Fiala end up assisting on Mats Zuccarello’s goal that tied the score 2-2 with 34.7 seconds left in regulation, he ended up scoring the decisive goal in the shootout to lift the Wild to a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Capitals.
“It’s not like I did it on purpose,” Fiala said of his three penalties. ” But I can’t do that. Hurt my team there. Just nice to get out there and show that I can do it differently. I was fired up to help the team, whatever it takes. It was a big win for us.”
Asked if he thinks Fiala would have been mature enough earlier in his career to bounce back the way he did, Evason smiled before giving his answer. Remember, they have a relationship that dates back to their time together with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.
“He’s been through every situation that a player could probably be through to try to get him to play the right way,” Evason said. “We have been through a lot of stuff in the minors that people don’t see, right? It’s not on ESPN or Fox or whatever. He hurt his team tonight with three really bad penalties, and he didn’t deserve to go back out and play at that point.”
That said, Evason agreed that he did deserve a chance to atone of his actions. As did the rest of his teammates.
“We want him to be out there,” Marcus Foligno said. “We don’t want him to sit on the bench. He’s one of our best players. It was a teaching moment, and he goes out there and because of his attitude he contributes right away. I’m really happy for him. He’s been playing great for us since the injuries. A guy that we need to have going every night.”