Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Posts about Gophers players

Wild's 7-game winning streak ends; Kuemper sent down; Haula, Schmidt scuttlebutt

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 29, 2013 - 11:48 PM


The Wild’s seven-game winning streak overall and five-game road winning streak came to an end tonight in Dallas when the Wild succumbed 5-3 to the Stars.
After battling back from a 2-0 deficit on goals by Devin Setoguchi and Jared Spurgeon, the Wild gave up two goals 68 seconds apart in the first 2:10 of the third period.
The second goal of the period was the killer, but the third goal you can bet is what aggravated coach Mike Yeo the most. The Wild battled back to tie the game and felt it was taking over. But then the third line of Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck and Dany Heatley got a little too exuberant and got way too deep in the offensive zone.
The Wild lost its third guy high and Erik Cole scored the go-ahead goal off his own deflected shot 1:02 in after Heatley couldn’t make it back to the slot in time.
Then, 58 seconds later, Mikko Koivu tripped Eric Nystrom. At the same time, Ryan Suter was called for cross-checking Jaromir Jagr across the elbow. He didn’t fall or anything. At worst, it was the type of love tap that occurs a gazillion times a game. If you’re going to call it, very rarely would it happen when you’ve already rung up another.
Nope, in a 3-2 game, referees Dan O’Halloran, who had a run-in with Koivu last weekennd in Minnesota, and Frederick L’Ecuyer sent off Koivu and Suter and gave Dallas a 2-minute 5-on-3. Ten seconds later, Jagr to Ray Whitney to Jamie Benn, and 4-2.
“A 3-2 game, and they call that,” Suter said. “They miss a high-stick in the first period [on Tom Gilbert] that [if it] puts us on the power play for four minutes, it’s probably a different game. It’s too the bad the refs don’t have to answer to anyone. I don’t want to get fined, but I feel we’re accountable. If we do something wrong, we have someone looking after us. I feel the refs need to have the same accountability.”
Ultimately, frustration boiled over, and Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka tried to put Reilly Smuth in the Wild bench. Four players totally 36 penalty minutes in that sequence, with Rupp, Konopka and Antoine Roussel hitting the showers. Rupp gave O’Halloran a mock applause as he left the rink.
Soon after, Justin Falk took exception to Nystrom’s high hit and fought his former teammate. Later, Cody Eakin, who would add a power-play goal, cross-checked Cal Clutterbuck. Later, Aaron Rome took a penalty and Kyle Brodziak hog-tied him to the ice.
Was a frustrating game and it showed by the Wild’s play late. Torrey Mitchell did score on a delayed penalty in the final minute after Brenden Dillon punched Clutterbuck in the jaw.
But the Wild’s penalty kill, usually so flawless, was scored on three times. The Wild struggled in its own zone at times. Clayton Stoner, a plus-5 here on Monday, had some real tough moments, one on an odd-man rush that led to a Koivu minor and Whitney power-play goal in the first period, the other on a turnover, then slip and fall before Tomas Vincour’s first-period goal.
I’ve got to think at least Brett Clark makes his Wild debut against Los Angeles on Saturday. Most likely that would come for Justin Falk if it happens. If Nate Prosser gets in, Tom Gilbert would have to be the guy to come out because no chance Jonas Brodin or Spurgeon comes out.
The third line had some rough moments tonight, especially Heatley. Unless you’re pulling somebody there, no chance that can change though because Yeo’s not going to alter the first or second lines I don’t think.
Hackett had no chance on four of the five goals. He made some huge saves to keep the Wild in this game. Darcy Kuemper will be sent down obviously as Backstrom returns Saturday. Most likely, a forward will come back up for Kuemper. We will find out Saturday.
Setoguchi now has 12 goals and 20 points in the past 23 games. Matt Cullen now has 23 points in the last 21. Spurgeon now has five goals, four on the power play, which is tied for fourth in the NHL among defensemen. Koivu had an assist and now has 19 points in the past 16 games and a six-game point streak.
The theme of the postgame locker room was they’ve been playing good hockey. Don’t get down. Bounce back Saturday.
On a couple other subjects:

Erik Haula -- The Wild will let him decompress and then talk to him to see if he wants to sign. If so, the contract would start next year almost certainly and the team would look to sign him to an amateur tryout with Houston.

Nate Schmidt -- From corresponding with his advisor today, everything is too early and fresh after today's loss. They will talk over the weekend about his future.

In terms of the Wild, yes, the Wild has interest, but so should many teams and know this: I do get the sense from talking to people that Schmidt may look to avoid playing at home.

Schmidt will also have to be smart and analyze each team's depth chart to see where he'd fit if he chooses to leave school and where there's a clear route eventually to the NHL.

You don't want to get trapped behind six cemented defensemen and a horde of prospects. Lots of teams need good, young D (especially in the East), not just the Wild. Also, I think most teams will view Schmidt as somebody who needs time in the minors to grow. NHL scouts feel he has certain qualities that are very NHL ready -- one, namely, his shot -- but other things that must be groomed in the minors.

As you know, from covering him during the lockout, I'm a big fan. I think he's a quality player, terrific kid and a GREAT quote. But if you're a Wild fan, I wouldn't get your hopes up.

One correction: I wrote a few times this week the Wild had a season-high 42 shots in Dallas on Monday. They actually had 43 against Edmonton on March 3.

Lastly, again: if you didn't see this afternoon, I decided to make my Sunday Insider on the Jarome Iginla trade. The blog Q and A, barring something unforeseen, will appear in Monday's paper.

I will be on Beyond the Pond Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. and also on Fox Sports North Saturday night.


OK, very early flight. Talk to you Saturday. There may not be a morning skate – in fact, I’d be surprised, so we will find out the lineup later in the day than usual.

Mike Reilly, Brady Skjei, Mario Lucia named to U.S.A. world junior preliminary roster

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 4, 2012 - 9:31 AM

Gophers freshmen defensemen Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei were two of 27 players selected this morning to the U.S.A. preliminary roster for the upcoming world junior championships.

Also selected was Alaska-born but Wayzata-raised Mario Lucia, the 2011 Wild second-round pick, Notre Dame freshman and youngest child of Gophers coach Don Lucia.

The full roster can be found here.

Lucia has four goals and an assist in six games for the 11-4 Irish. Lucia is coming off a 2-goal performance in a pounding of Lake Superior State and was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week. He was second on the champion 54-5-2 BCHL Penticton Vees last year with 42 goals and 52 assists for 94 points in 56 games. He had 14 power-play goals and was winner of the Bruce Allen Trophy as the Interior Division's Rookie of the Year.

From the Gophers' press release:

A 2011 fourth round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets (98th overall), Reilly leads all Minnesota freshmen with eight points this season and tallied his first career goal on Nov. 11 in a 5-1 win over Vermont. Prior to joining the Gophers, Reilly helped the Penticton Vees set a North American junior hockey record with a 42-game win streak en route to RBC Cup and Doyle Cup championships last season. The Chanhassen, Minn., native led all BCHL defensemen in goals (24), assists (59), and points (83) and won the BCHL Interior Conference Best Defenseman Award. Reilly previously skated for Shattuck-St. Mary’s and the Academy of Holy Angels.

In 14 games this season, Skjei has recorded two points for the Gophers including his first career goal on Oct. 13 against Michigan State. A 2012 first round draft selection by the New York Rangers, Skjei spent two years with the U.S. National Development Team Program in Ann Arbor after two seasons at Lakeville North. The freshman defenseman already has plenty of international playing experience, having helped the U.S. win gold at the 2012 Under-18 Men’s World Championship and bronze at the 2012 Under-18 Five Nations Cup. The Lakeville, Minn., native also competed in several international tournaments with the U.S. Under-17 team.

The U.S. coaching staff is mostly Minnesotan. Phil Housley is the head coach. Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki and Gophers assistant Grant Potulny will serve as Housley's assistants, as well as University of Denver assistant David Lassonde.

The tournament is Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia. Training camp is Dec. 16-18 in Tarrytown, N.Y. and continues in Helsinki Dec. 19-23. The final roster will be announced Dec. 23.

Also, I wrote a Wild notebook for Tuesday's paper. That can be read here.

There's some good quotes from Zach Parise and Matt Cullen on the lockout and their optimism or hope of a deal getting done.

I've gotten a lot of questions as to which players are still skating here. Off the top of my head from Monday at least: Parise, Cullen, Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Mikko Koivu, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Matt Kassian, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Stephane Veilleux, Andrew Alberts, Jack Hillen, Matt Hendricks, Ryan Carter, Ryan Jones, Erik Johnson, Keith Ballard, Kyle Okposo, Chris Porter, Jim O'Brien, Matt Carle, Tim Jackman and Stu Bickel.

There were others, but that's all I can remember. I know guys like Dustin Byfuglien and Paul Martin have been skating as well, but I at least didn't see them Monday.

Gophers, minus Warning, prepares for weekend series vs. Minnesota State

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 31, 2012 - 3:51 PM

Welcome to Day 46 of the NHL lockout. We’re a day or so from the Winter Classic being axed off the schedule, but reportedly the NHL and the NHLPA No. 2’s had another long conversation yesterday.

No meetings are planned, although my guess is they’ll get back to the table soon – maybe early next week – and hopefully some momentum can be created.
Hopefully you took a look at today’s lockout story, which quotes some nervous players regarding how the lockout may affect careers. Of players who played 40 or more games in 2003-04, 121 didn’t play a shift after the 2004-05 lockout.
Things are quiet with the Wild: Only news is Devin Setoguchi signed with ECHL Ontario, where he’s probably making $500 or $600 a week.
The Aeros play Friday and Saturday at Oklahoma City. Jason Zucker is still out for the Aeros, although he is skating.
Just got back from Gophers availability. The University of Minnesota plays a home-and-home this weekend with Minnesota State, which is coached by longtime USHL Omaha Lancers coach and former Gophers and Nebraska-Omaha assistant Mike Hastings.
I talked with Hastings today and a story will be in Friday’s newspaper. 7 p.m. starts this Friday (Minneapolis) and Saturday (Mankato). Both games will be aired on Fox Sports North and KSTP 1500-AM.
Blake Wheeler was down at the rink for a workout when I was there. He is scheduled to leave tonight for Munich, Germany, where he will be playing for the rest of the lockout.
Below are some quotes from Gophers coach Don Lucia and defenseman Nate Schmidt, who is quickly becoming a go-to quote because he lets his personality shine and is thoughtful about what’s going on out on the ice.
Lucia said today that second-line left wing Sam Warning is week to week with an undisclosed injury. For the time being, Lucia said defenseman Ben Marshall will stay at wing on that line alongside Erik Haula and Zach Budish.
Lucia wouldn’t say which goalie is starting this weekend (more below), but again, my guess is freshman Adam Wilcox starts Friday (coming off a 20-save shutout over Canisius, one in which he secured with a monstrous save with 30 seconds left). And then if Wilcox plays great Friday or isn’t overly peppered, my guess is he plays Saturday in Mankato over Mike Shibrowski. Again, just my guess.
Lucia also confirmed that freshman defenseman Brady Skjei, who didn’t play last weekend due to injury, will return this weekend.
Portion of Lucia’s media scrum
On Minnesota State’s young team, but not age-wise: They’re not 18-year-old freshmen and sophomores. Last year, they get devastated by injuries early in the year, their top players are all returning. Chase Grant missed all of last year and is one of their better players. Even though last weekend [at St. Cloud State] they didn’t score [a lot], I think they have a real deep and talented group of forwards. … They’ve a good job with their program. They’re a hard team to play against, they’re usually physically a pretty good sized team.
On Marshall (played forward and D in high school) playing wing: We have such a surplus of defensemen, I said at the beginning of the year we want our best 18 skaters playing on any given night, so that’s what we’re going to do. After I watched the video, he did a lot more good things even than I thought he did during the game, and that’s really without a practice. If you’ve got to talent and you’ve got some skill and you can skate, which Ben does, … . The hard part for us was Ben was probably one of our top two defensemen based on how he was playing, but we think that this move makes our team better for the time being.
Do you feel like you’ve corrected the defensive breakdowns you had at Michigan Tech: I can’t say that we’re 100% in-sync. We’ve been throwing guys with different partners, I think we’ve got some veterans that can probably play a little better than what they’ve played so far this year, but we think they have the ability and now it’s just getting that back together. We didn’t give up a goal [against Canisius], we gave up very few scoring chances. The good thing I like is we’re not giving up very many shots. There’s some areas of our game that we’re trying to identify and get better at, in our end and supporting underneath in our breakouts. I think our D at times are getting too far ahead of the play and it cost us I think both goals on Friday night [against the U.S. Under-18 team]. We showed them some video clips yesterday and then we’ve got to get a little hunger factor around the net. We’re supporting too much in the offensive zone in areas you’re not going to score. If we’ve got possession of the puck, we need a guy in a scoring area if we’re going to get one.
Goalie decision: It’s an evaluation. What we decision to do Friday night, I think right now we’re more day-to-day than anything else. Both guys have a long ways to go to prove themselves that they’re the guy, but we’ll look at who plays Friday, and depending on how they play, they may play Saturday, too. (Russo note: Because of that last line, I think it’s Wilcox. If he’s saying the Friday goalie has a chance to play Saturday, too, no chance Wilcox doesn’t get to play this weekend after shutting out Canisius. My money’s on Wilcox for Friday at least). We’ll continue to evaluate today and evaluate tomorrow, and then after practice tomorrow, we’ll let the guys know who’s going to play Friday.
Lucia said even though they’re moving to the Big Ten next year, they’ve got a four-year commitment with all the state schools. No North Dakota though for at least four years after this season.
Some Nate Schmidt
Fun to get back into home-and-home WCHA weekend rather than last weekend’s weird schedule (exhibition/non conference game, Friday night/Sunday afternoon)?: That threw a little wrench in the old schedule and the old routine, too, having the Sunday afternoon game. You’ve got to be ready for anything the season throws at you, but yeah, it is exciting to get back into the real swing of things having a good series against a good Minnesota State team.
On the Mavs: They’re good. They’ve got a lot of older – maybe a lot of older in school – but experienced guys. I played with three guys in Matt Leitner and Chase Grant and Corey Leivermann, so I’m familiar with some of their guys. I’ve played with and against a lot of them. They’re a good team, they’ve got some skill. Matt Leitner is a good, skilled player. He’ll make you pay for your bad gaps if you’re a defenseman or if we don’t get back on the backcheck, so they’ve got some guys that can make plays.
Feel you’ve corrected as a team the defensive breakdowns at Tech?: Process of correcting, I would say (laughing). I don’t think we could fix everything in one weekend or one week of practice. But we are consistently working, especially this week as defensemen, we are getting a little bit more time with Coach [Mike] Guentzel (laughing), which is good in a lot of ways and scary in a lot of ways as well. We’ve broken down a lot more film as defensemen in individual meetings, talking about individual things that we’ve got to work on or even supporting our other partner. There were a lot of times where we gave up a lot of odd-man rushes, even last weekend getting too far up into the play. Just letting the game come to us is probably our most important thing going forward.
Learn about Wilcox Sunday? “Ahhh, 30 seconds left, (laughing), when he made that save at the end of the game to seal a win pretty much, you know he’s going to give you his best shot. He hadn’t been tested a lot all game. You’re afraid sometimes with a goalie that hasn’t seen a lot of shots, but to take a shot like he did at the end of the game and turn it away for us just solidified in our minds that he is a reliable source back there.
On Wilcox straying from the crease: I’ve played with a fair share of guys that have stayed in and fair share of guys that have moved around. I played with a goalie in juniors that can shoot a puck all the way down the ice, and I love it. For a D, you never get hit when a goalie breaks the puck out for you (laughing). I don’t know if the forwards like it as much because the puck’s usually coming down the wall, but I think it’s good. It keeps the goalies involved.
On lack of offense last weekend: I don’t think it’s a problem. Things just aren’t falling. You saw last weekend, Kyle Rau couple times on the back door hitting a skate blade or hitting a shin pad, like those things, they’re going to correct themselves. But we’ve got to get more traffic in front of the net and bang home some rebounds. We got a couple tip goals this last weekend, which is showing signs that we’re getting to those dirty areas, but it’s an ongoing battle. You can’t be complacent in those hard areas.

Gophers (Top ranked; Michaelson receives scholarship) and Wild prospect news (Nanne injured, Graovac soaring)

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 15, 2012 - 3:02 PM

The Gophers men’s hockey team, No. 1 in last week’s USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, is now the top-ranked team in the nation in both polls considered to be the guide to college hockey.

This is thanks to annihilating Michigan State by a 12-2 combined score in consecutive wins Friday and Saturday. In the USCHO.com poll, the Gophers moved from No. 2 to No. 1. Defending NCAA champ Boston College, the previous No. 1 team who lost to Northeastern Saturday, fell to No. 3, while the University of North Dakota moved to No. 2.

In the new USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, it also goes Minnesota, North Dakota and Boston College. Minnesota-Duluth is ranked 13th. 

The Gophers’ women are also ranked No. 1 in the USCHO poll. For a look at the poll, click this link, and for more on the polls, check out Roman’s twitter at @romanstrib.
I also did a Podcast with College Hockey Inc. today on the Gophers. Here’s that link.
In other Gophers news, I talked to Lou Nanne today. He is actually in Dallas, where Mike Modano, the former North Stars great, is being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame along with Lou Lamoriello and Eddie Olczyk.
Three days before his son, Michael Nanne, died last month after a long battle with brain cancer, the Michael Nanne Endowed Scholarship was created. It will lead to an annual scholarship for a student-athlete on the Gophers’ men’s hockey team.
Lou Nanne said the endowment has received many generous donations already, and that the first scholarship will go to Gophers forward A.J. Michaelson, a freshman from Apple Valley that Nanne says happens to be good friends with Michael Nanne’s daughter, Lauren.
To donate to the Michael Nanne Endowed Scholarship, you can visit the Golden Gopher Fund page here or call the Golden Gopher Fund at (612) 626-4653.
In Wild news, they’re still locked out.
In prospect news, the Aeros lost their opening two games 3-1 (empty netter) and 3-2.
In Saturday’s loss to Charlotte, Jonas Brodin scored his first goal in North America. In yesterday’s loss at San Antonio, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker scored their first pro goals, with Mikael Granlund getting his first point in North America on Coyle’s goal. Coyle and Zucker had two points apiece, with Minnesota native Brian Connelly also assisting on Zucker’s goal.
Also, Wild 2012 seventh-rounder Lou Nanne, who played at Edina, was injured Saturday and taken to hospital after being checked in the boards while playing for BCHL Penticton.
As I mentioned, I talked to Lou Nanne’s grandfather, Lou Nanne, this afternoon. Nanne said his grandson needs to get an MRI, but he could have a broken bone in his shoulder or torn his rotator cuff. Nanne had gotten off to a terrific start for the Vees, including a hat trick Oct. 6 against Trail Smoke.
“I saw him play two weeks ago, and I told him after the game he needed to work on three things – deflections, driving the net and getting the puck and coming with speed through the neutral zone,” Grandpa Louie said. “His hat trick? First goal was a deflection. Second goal was a drive to the net. Third goal was a breakaway.”
Also, as TSN Bob McKenzie tweeted today, one of the biggest surprises this season in the Canadian Hockey League is Wild 2011 seventh-rounder Tyler Graovac, who impressed bigtime at July’s development camp.
He scored eight goals last season for the Ontario League’s Ottawa 67s. His career high is 10. Well, Graovac has nine in nine games this season, and McKenzie tweeted, “Graovac is 6-4 but has put on 30 pounds, now 204, since being drafted. Playing his way into legit prospect territory.” 

Gophers look for series sweep over Michigan State

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 13, 2012 - 6:26 PM

For the fifth time in the past six years, the Gophers opened the season with a win, beating Michigan State, 5-1, last night. Five different players scored goals, and Nick Bjugstad, Zach Budish and Mike Reilly had two points apiece.  

Mike's brother, Ryan, will make his collegiate debut tonight as the Gophers look for the sweep.

Ryan Reilly will play on the fourth line with Tom Serratore as coach Don Lucia comes back with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. That means A.J. Michaelson and Jake Parenteau will be scratched.

Justin Holl, scratched last night, will play and is listed right now as an extra defenseman, not a forward.

Unless something changed from last night, freshman Adam Wilcox will make his college debut in nets.

The lineup:



No. 7 Kyle Rau- 27 Nick Bjugstad- 26 Christian Isackson

11 Sam Warning- 19-Erik Haula- 24 Zach Budish

16 Nate Condon- 22 Travis Boyd- 17 Seth Ambroz

14 Tom Serratore- 9 Ryan Reilly


4 Seth Helgeson- 10 Ben Marshall

5 Mike Reilly- 20 Mark Alt

2 Brady Skjei- 29 Nate Schmidt

12 Justin Holl


32 Adam Wilcox

1 Michael Shibrowski

31 Ryan Coyne

Michigan State


8 Chris Forfar- 25 Brent Darnell- 21 Anthony Hayes

18 Kevin Walrod- 22 Lee Reimer- 86 Greg Wolfe

92 David Bondra- 20 Michael Ferrantino- 10 Tanner Sorenson

12 Ryan Keller- 19 Matt DeBlouw- 27 Matt Berry


42 Jake Chelios- 7 John Draeger

5 RJ Boyd- 14 Nickolas Gatt

4 Travis Walsh- 23 Matt Grassi


37 Will Yanakeff

32 Nathan Phillips

30 Jake Hildebrand


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