Kevin Fiala raced in on a partial breakaway on Saturday night at Honda Center in Anaheim and had to be thinking hat trick.
He had already flirted with it a few times in the game, and with the win essentially locked up, nobody on the Wild bench would’ve blamed Fiala for trying to dangle around Ducks goaltender John Gibson in close.
Instead, the 24-year-old budding superstar unselfishly dropped a pass to Ryan Hartman, who promptly found Joel Eriksson Ek for arguably the prettiest goal the Wild have scored so far this season.
“It was a clear 3-on-1, so I felt like I should drop it to Hartzy and see what happens,” Fiala said after the 5-1 win. “I felt like the possibility to score a goal was more if I dropped it.”
That answer exemplifies Fiala’s growth as a player. As much as he wanted the hat trick, he passed up the opportunity for the greater good of the team.
It’s the type of unselfishness coach Dean Evason has been trying to instill in Fiala since their time together in the Nashville Predators farm system.
Long before the Wild acquired him in a trade, Fiala was an up-and-coming player that was as stubborn as he was skilled. That stubbornness consistently manifested itself on the ice during Fiala’s time with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, and Evason was the man in charge of trying to a control those emotions.
It created a love-hate relationship between Fiala and Evason that has since grown into a mutual respect.
“I’ve been fortunate to see him work for a long time now,” Evason said. “When Kevin Fiala is a good teammate and he’s sharing the puck and playing within the system and doing all those right things, Kevin Fiala has success. We were very encouraged with how he played.”
While the unselfish assist got most of the attention postgame, and rightfully so, Fiala also continued his recent hot streak with a pair of goals.
His first goal came thanks to an incredible individual effort that featured him blowing past Ducks defenseman Ben Hutton before stuffing the puck past the goal line. His second goal was a little easier as he collected a rebound in front and wired a shot into the back of the net.
They weren’t exactly the prettiest goals, and Fiala was fine with that.
“They all count and I’m going to take them,” Fiala said. “You’ve got to find those bounces. You’ve got to go in front of the net to get tips sometimes. That’s the way it is. I’m happy no matter how it goes in.”
That statement also applies to if Fiala is assisting on a goal like he did on Saturday night. As long as the puck goes into the back of the net, he’s happy to be a part of the play.
“I’m going to try to make plays and find the other guys,” Fiala said. “I feel like I’ve always been that type of a guy that can do both.”
Perhaps a little tough love from Evason along the way helped Fiala further lean in to that part of his game. Now both men are seeing the fruits of their labor.
“When teams know he’s a gifted goal scorer, and know he can shoot as he can, he gets people drawn to him,” Evason said. “He can make those passes and make people around him better because of it. It’s wonderful to be skilled and have the opportunity to score goals. It’s also wonderful to make people better, and he certainly did that tonight.”