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.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
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Mark Feb. 21, 2016, on your calendar.
Finally, after a decade of watching other teams play outdoors in Boston, New York and even Los Angeles and soon to be Santa Clara, Calif., the Wild will get its turn to take its game out into the Minnesota winter.
On Saturday, the Wild was officially awarded a Stadium-Series game next season by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman during All-Star Weekend n Columbus. The game will take place against the Chicago Blackhawks at the 52,525-capacity TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
“We’re incredibly excited about it,” owner Craig Leipold said during a phone interview. “The opportunity to play the rival Blackhawks, I think, makes it a very compelling game. We clearly understand the Blackhawks have been in a number (three) of outdoor games. So they may have a slight mental advantage if you will, but we’re quick learners and we’re just really excited to be in an outdoor game.”
Wild players are excited.
"The players that I know that have played in one say the whole event is a great experience, not just the game itself," Zach Parise said via text. "Having one here is a little bit overdue, I think. Outdoor hockey is part of the culture in Minnesota."
Leipold said his wish is to turn the Stadium-Series game, which includes an accompanying alumni game, into “a real iconic weeklong event” that could include Hockey Day Minnesota (which includes high school games and maybe a Gophers game), an Iowa Wild game and “basically as much as we possibly can do.”
Because TCF Bank Stadium was chosen by the NHL over Target Field only in the past few days, there is still a lot of planning that needs to be done in order to make this happen. The Wild will have to get with the University of Minnesota and TCF Bank Stadium to rent out the venue for Hockey Day Minnesota, then sublease the rink from the league.
Also, ticket information will be released at a later date. The Wild is also talking to Fox Sports North about a behind-the-scenes reality show similar to HBO’s 24/7.
As I reported the other day, if the NHL had chosen Target Field, the league would have incurred added costs like replacing the sod and winterizing the stadium. Leipold also said TCF Bank Stadium’s ability to fit 15,000 more fans was “ultimately a huge factor.”
Last January, TCF Bank Stadium hosted the Hockey City Classic. The Gophers’ women played Minnesota State, while the Gophers’ men played Ohio State. The announced attendance for the men’s game – a 1-0 Gophers win -- was 45,022 – the largest crowd to ever see a hockey game in Minnesota.
Leipold again made clear Saturday that his ultimate objective is to bring Minnesota the New Year’s Day Winter Classic. The league and NBC has so far scoffed at giving Minnesota a game because the Wild’s not considered a national, marquee draw.
So upset at that sentiment, Leipold had previously turned down the chance of hosting a Stadium Series game or being the visitor in the Winter Classic until recently having a change in heart.
“After talking with the league now for a long time about the Winter Classic, it became apparent to me, particularly after talking with other owners who have hosted the outdoor games, that this is a great way to profile your team and profile what we can do in the Twin Cities. It’s a great way of possibly getting the Winter Classic sooner versus later.”
With the amount of Minnesotan former NHLers, North Stars and Wild players, the alumni game will be a must-see event. The Wild and NHL are already kicking around ideas regarding the makeup of teams and captains.
The great Brian Rolston, who hit the 30-goal mark in all three seasons he played for the Wild, already says he’s in.
“I would be honored to play again in the great State of hockey, where I enjoyed my best years in the National Hockey League,” Rolston said via phone Saturday. “When you think about outdoor games in the United States, the first thing that would come to mind is Minnesota. It only seems fitting to have the outdoor game in Minnesota, where so many young players started their careers on frozen ponds or lakes.
“I believe one of the reasons Minnesota has produced so many great hockey players is the accessibility to outdoor venues.”
The NHL also announced Saturday that the Boston Bruins will host its second Winter Classic next Jan. 1, this one at Gillette Stadium, against the Montreal Canadiens, and that the World Cup of Hockey will return to Toronto in 2016. A second Stadium Series Game was awarded to the Colorado Avalanche, who will play rival Detroit at Coors Field.
The Wild has landed a stadium series game. It will take place next February (perhaps the third weekend), and as I mentioned on yesterday’s startribune.com chat, the team’s hope is to turn it into a weeklong celebration of hockey.
Besides the outdoor game, which will feature the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks according to NBC Sports Network’s (and TSN Insider) Bob McKenzie, and accompanying alumni game, the Wild’s will attempt to have Hockey Day Minnesota the weekend before. It also will weigh and measure bringing the American Hockey League-affiliate Iowa Wild in for a game.
As of earlier today, the NHL was still negotiating with Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium to determine which venue would host the stadium-series game and alumni game. There is a chance the venue won’t be announced this weekend, although the hope is it will be finalized by then (when the NHL originally announced the past Winter Classic between Washington and Chicago, the venue also wasn’t finalized and thus wasn’t announced).
The pluses? TCF Bank Stadium could hold more fans but Target Field has a lot more premium seating. One obstacle with Target Field is there are added costs the NHL would have to incur like replacing the sod and winterizing the stadium. The figures were being tossed around today between the league and Target Field.
As has been reported many times, Craig Leipold’s ultimate goal is to host the actual Winter Classic. As has been reported many times, the NHL has thus far told the Wild owner that he needs to be patient. Leipold has been so adamant about his desire to host, he declined the chance for the Wild to be the visitor against Washington.
A few years ago, Leipold also declined the stadium series games because he wanted the main event. However, Leipold has since changed his mind and informed Commissioner Gary Bettman awhile ago that he would be willing to host a stadium series game as long as it helps his eventual objective – to host a Winter Classic.
The Stadium Series game and alumni game is a league-run event. The NHL has to rent out the venue and then make the Wild whole one Xcel Energy Center gate. In other words, based on history, the Wild and NHL will determine how much revenue the Wild normally takes in for a weekend February game in terms of ticket price, food, beverage and merchandise.
The league pays the Wild that money and all incremental revenue goes to the league (hockey-related revenue, which is split amongst the players and all 30 teams).
Once the venue is nailed down, the Wild will then begin crunching numbers to see if it can hold Hockey Day Minnesota at the same venue the weekend before. In order to do that, the Wild would have to rent out the venue and sublease the rink from the NHL.
As usual, the hope would be to have high school games and potentially a Gophers game on the outdoor rink.
As for the Iowa Wild, the Minnesota Wild would also want to make sure that was cost effective based on how much it would cost to rent the venue, sublease the ice and charge for tickets.
So there’s still a lot of moving parts that can’t even start to be materialized until the league sets the venue in stone, which again as of a few hours ago was not finalized (this blog was originally going up later tonight).
As for the stadium-series game, the NHL originally wanted the Wild to play the Dallas Stars. The Wild requested the Blackhawks. According to MacKenzie’s report, the Wild got the Blackhawks. It will be Chicago's fourth outdoor game, Minnesota's first.
In my sit-down in November with Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner said “there’s an outdoor game in Minnesota’s future. I think the chances are good for a Stadium Series game next year.”
There is only one Stadium Series game this season — San Jose hosting Los Angeles in Santa Clara, Calif. — after four last year.
There are many factors why there is only one game this season, but one reason is because of a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Flyers last year.
“I mean, it’s crazy when you think about it, but basically they got sued because they removed a regular-season game from the season-ticket package and didn’t make it available to the fans on the basis that they’d be able to buy it at [Wells Fargo Center],” Daly said. “There was no judgment, but there was a settlement.”
So to protect itself, the league sent new language for teams to include in their season-ticket packages in the event they got an outdoor game. However, a number of teams had already sent their renewal notices out, including the Wild. Apparently, the Sharks had not.
Having only one stadium-series game coupled with the declining Canadian dollar are factors in a salary cap that’s expected to only reach $71 million next season.
Considering I woke up in Pittsburgh like 19 hours ago, it’s been a slightly busy day. If you didn’t see all the day’s events, please see the previous meaty blog. Lots of good quotes in there.
Lots of good quotes in here, too.
About an hour ago, I got off the phone with General Manager Chuck Fletcher, who has been in Ft. Lauderdale conducting scouting meetings. Almost every team in the league right now is doing their amateur and/or pro scouting meetings, and they don’t seem to do them in Winnipeg or the Yukon Territory.
They usually go to Boca, Lauderdale, Palm Springs, Vegas and Scottsdale. You can the picture.
Fletcher said this hasn’t been the most relaxing few days of his life. The stressed, very disappointed GM said he actually had to leave the scouts in the middle of watching Tuesday’s 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh because he was so disturbed at what he was watching.
“It’s like a dark cloud hanging over us,” Fletcher said. “It’s unbelievable. Anything that can go wrong is going wrong right now, I can tell you that much.”
Earlier this evening, Fletcher traded a third-round pick to Arizona for goalie Devan Dubnyk, who had a rough year last year as I described on the previous blog but seems to have rehabilitated his career this year.
“I don’t think it’s any secret we have bigger expectations for our goaltending than what they’ve provided for us this season,” Fletcher said. “We were looking to add some depth and add a goaltender that’s capable of coming in and winning games and pushing the other two as well. We need to play better team defense in general, but I think adding another goaltender made a lot of sense. It’s not easy to find players this time of the year. More players are looking to add players than subtract and we’re fortunate we were able to get Devan. He’s had a very good season in Arizona and four of his last five seasons his statistics are quite good and at this point we’re hoping he can deliver more of the same. We’re just looking for him to play the way he’s played in four of the last five years and we’ll go from there. And hopefully the competition will help too.”
Dubnyk, who is supposedly an awesome guy and more importantly a great quote (yes, it’s about me), is expected to join his new team in Buffalo. Coach Mike Yeo hopes that he’ll be able to start Thursday against the Sabres, but the two will chat on Thursday to make sure he’s able.
The hope is Darcy Kuemper, pulled in five of his past seven home starts before aggravating a lower-body injury, can return before the All-Star break or right after. I asked Fletcher directly if he would try to get Kuemper to maybe accept a conditioning stint and play a few games for Iowa during the NHL All-Star break, and he said yes.
Harding is still out with multiple sclerosis issues: “It’s too hard to speculate” if he’ll play again for the Wild, Fletcher said. “He isn’t an option for us right now and isn’t close to being an option.”
Niklas Backstrom has allowed 30 goals in his past eight starts.
If Kuemper, Backstrom and Dubnyk are healthy all at the same time, Fletcher said the Wild will have to carry three goalies on its 23-man roster.
Fletcher said, “We need to find out what our team really is. I’ve been waiting for the answers to come from the inside. I’ve been calling around for weeks. It’s not easy to get teams to sell players early. Most teams are still in and we’ve been waiting and hoping that the answers would come from within, but we’re at a very critical time right now. We’ve got to stabilize here. We’ve got to find a way to win a game and start to play the right way. You’re not just going to snap your fingers and everything’s going to get back to normal, but we’ve shown at points of this year we’re a good hockey team, we have good players, we have good coaches and we need to find a way to become a good team again. Right now we’re not a good team and this is a small step. Everybody’s lost confidence and that happens when you go through these stretches.
“I thought it was time for me to give this team a shot in the arm and we’ll keep trying. We’ll see if we can add more pieces. If we can do it great, but it has to come from the inside too and maybe this is a spark they need to get going.
“I think Mike’s a good coach, and I think we have a good team. But right now we’re in a perilous position for our season and we have to win some games. We’re capable of doing it. But we have to stabilize here. We’ll see where it takes us. We’ve got to get going. We’re better than this. It’s time. It’s more than time.”
Fletcher again said that Yeo is safe.
“We’ve got an overall performance issue here,” he said. “I’m not looking at Mike at all right now. He’s our coach. He’s a good coach.”
OK, that's it for me. I think I've written 50,000 words today. I'm spent. Night. Talk to you after the morning skates Thursday.
Hockey Day in Minnesota is Saturday, and rather than rewrite a press release, how about we just reprint the press release with all the details. That way, you can have all your questions answered by the experts.
From Fox Sports North:
FOX SPORTS NORTH, MINNESOTA WILD, MINNESOTA HOCKEY AND SERVING OUR TROOPS ANNOUNCE DETAILS FOR SATURDAY'S NINTH ANNUAL WELLS FARGO 'HOCKEY DAY MINNESOTA'
Match-Ups, Talent & Features Finalized
Military Presence Incorporated into Telecast, Including Reports from Kuwait
Interactive Social Media Experience Planned for FOX Sports North PLUS
FOX Sports North, in conjunction with the National Hockey League's Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Hockey, Serving Our Troops and Wells Fargo, today announced details for the Ninth Annual Hockey Day Minnesota (HDM) taking place this Saturday, January 17. The telecast event begins at 9:00 a.m., and will feature more than 16 hours of original hockey-related programming including three outdoor high school games from Saint Paul's Holman Field, a Big Ten border battle between Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Minnesota Wild vs. Arizona Coyotes in primetime.
The outdoor games will be played on a refrigerated rink on the tarmac of Saint Paul's Holman Field - home base to the Minnesota National Guard 34th Combat Aviation Brigade and 2-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion, who deployed to Kuwait in 2014. Hockey Day Minnesota partnered with 'Serving Our Troops' to host this historic event, in an effort to link hockey in Minnesota to the men and women serving our country overseas. HDM 2015 will include unique interactions with our soldiers and families as our communities drop the puck for a truly special message from home.
Viewers will be treated to three highly anticipated high school match-ups, including a meeting between two of the premier hockey programs in the state: Hill Murray vs. St. Thomas Academy. The Pioneers make their third HDM appearance and hold three titles from 22 state tournament appearances, while the Cadets have made seven state tournament appearances since 2003. St. Paul Johnson, a program rich in hockey tradition, makes their third HDM appearance and will be on display in a match-up against Luverne. HDM 2015 shines the spotlight on girls hockey as Cretin-Derham Hall takes on the Duluth Northern Stars in a delayed broadcast.
Tickets for the outdoor high school games taking place at Holman Field in St. Paul are now on saleand available for purchase at hockeydaymn2015.com. Proceeds of the event will benefit Saint Paul Youth Hockey and Serving Our Troops.
FOX Sports North will have numerous on-air talent personalities reporting throughout the day. Tom Hanneman will anchor the Hockey Day Minnesota set from Xcel Energy Center alongside analysts Tom Chorske and Wes Walz. Brendan Burke and Kevin Gorg will handle play-by-play duties for the three outdoor games with Marney Gellner reporting. Doug McLeod and Ben Clymer take over the broadcast booth for the Minnesota-Wisconsin game and Anthony LaPanta and Mike Greenlay will call the Wild game.
Jamie Hersch will be reporting from Camp Beuhring military base in Kuwait where she will have the honor or interacting with deployed soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard. Hersch will interview a number of special guests and provide coverage of a floor hockey game played by members of the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade. Additional military details will be announced at a later date.
The Hockey Day Minnesota 2015 television schedule is as follows:
Hockey Day Minnesota
Luverne vs. St. Paul Johnson
Holman Field, St. Paul
Hockey Day Minnesota
Hill Murray vs. St. Thomas Academy
Holman Field, St. Paul
Hockey Day Minnesota
University of Minnesota vs. University of Wisconsin
Wild Live presented by CenturyLink
Minnesota Wild vs. Arizona Coyotes
Xcel Energy Center
Wild Live presented by CenturyLink
11:00 p.m. (tape delay)
Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Duluth Northern Stars (Girls)
Holman Field, St. Paul
Hockey Day Minnesota 2015 on FOX Sports North will be the ninth annual celebration of hockey from peewees to pros. Previous sites for outdoor games include Baudette Bay (2007-08), St. Paul (2009), Hermantown (2010), Moorhead (2011), Lake Minnetonka/Excelsior (2012), Grand Rapids (2013) and Elk River (2014).
First and foremost, my heartfelt condolences to the entire Parise family and all of J.P.’s friends that are hurting today. He’ll be incredibly missed and there will be a void not seeing him around the rink anymore.
Here is J.P.’s obituary on startribune.com/wild, and it’s something we have been updating throughout the day.
In a statement, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “The National Hockey League family mourns the passing and cherishes the memory of J.P. Parise. Especially in his adopted home state of Minnesota, J.P. was a consummate player, teacher and administrator in the game. The Parise name has been prominent in Minnesota hockey since the 1960s, and J.P.'s commitment and passion for the NHL lives on through his son, Zach. The NHL sends heartfelt condolences to J.P.'s family, to his friends, to the Minnesota Wild organization and to all the organizations J.P. represented with such passion.”
The Wild plans to pay a tribute to J.P. tonight before its game against the Chicago Blackhawks. I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show to talk about J.P. as well.
I’ll also be doing another Podcast at 3 p.m. live on souhanunfiltered.com with columnist Jim Souhan.
I'll provide details of J.P.'s funeral when it's released. I know the Wild would love to have the entire team there like it did for Suter. The team does have a planned day off Monday in Pittsburgh and an off-day next Wednesday in Buffalo.
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter got a text from Zach last night that his dad had passed. Suter was emotional this morning when talking about the loss of J.P. and how it’s affecting Zach.
“It’s a terrible thing to happen to a good person. Us as a team, we feel for Zach,” said Suter, before referring to the loss of his own dad, Bob, in September. “You know how hard it is having to go through that for me, so for us, I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now. He’s a good person and it’s too bad that he’s gone.”
Suter said that a week or two ago, he and Zach talked about how blessed they were that they signed in Minnesota because it allowed them to spend more time with their dads and for their dad to be able to watch them play hockey.
“We actually talked about that probably two weeks ago when he knew his dad wasn’t doing that well,” Suter said. “We said at least the good thing is that we got to be here, just think if we would have signed other places, they wouldn’t have got to come to as many games as they did get a chance to come to. We actually talked about that and looking back that’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”
Suter said it helped him “to get back here with my teammates and not have to think about what had happened. Your family members are all grieving and it’s so sad around your house, so when you come in here, it’s a nice break from that. Hopefully we can get back here soon so we can get some normalcy back.”
Some have speculated that as the day goes on, maybe Parise will want to play tonight. However, he is on non-roster status right now, so if he did want to play, the Wild would have to make a roster move by 4 p.m. The Wild does not anticipate he will play.
Right now they’re at 23 players with the callups of Jon Blum and Jordan Schroeder. John Curry was also recalled and Darcy Kuemper was placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury. Stu Bickel was placed on waivers for the purposes of sending him down to the minors.
More on this in a bit.
Some more reaction to JP:
Coach Mike Yeo talked about the experience of having JP come on his own personal father-son trip last year, something Suter arranged and GM Chuck Fletcher allowed because he had never been on one before. Thank goodness this happened because JP was too sick to go on the Wild’s father-son trip this season.
J.P. was allowed to go into the pregame meetings and the coach’s office as they planned practices, watched video and gameplanned games.
Yeo said J.P. talked about how much the game has changed, but “the camaraderie, the brotherhood,” was the same.
“The one that I remember particular is he was talking about how involved coaching was now and all the things that go into it,” Yeo said. “He was kind of joking how when he was playing, the coach would come in and say, ‘Get ahead, stay ahead and don’t tire.’ (laughing). And at the same time, there’s something great about that simplicity. So we used that line that night in LA and we won that game.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews knew J.P. Parise well from his days at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Parise was the hockey director there at the time.
Said Toews, “It’s a tough loss for the family that I was a part of as a young kid, the Shattuck-St. Mary’s hockey family, he’s very influential to the young hockey players there and to myself and my family, it made things very easy and very comfortable for myself and my brother when we played hockey there. I think everyone knows his history and the game and what he means to hockey in Minnesota. It’s a tough loss for everybody, and our thoughts and condolences go out to Zach and his family.
“He had so many great stories and one-liners and just advice he’d give to the young guys in high school there. If you were ever going through a tough time or you weren’t playing well or you were having a tough time being away from home, he was always seem to have a way to pick you up. He had an amazing positive effect on myself and a lot of other young hockey players at Shattuck, so it meant a lot to our careers.”
Asked if he sees a lot of J.P. in Zach, Toews said, “The work ethic for sure, the personality, the love of the game, the commitment to being a part of the game and being appreciative of what it gives you. Zach always understood that. J.P. was a very selfless person, and you see that in the way Zach carries himself on and off the ice as a player. I’m sure it’s a tough time for him and his family right now.”
To more trivial things, the hockey team:
Kuemper is indeed hurt. He’s got a lower body injury, Yeo said. “I didn’t think it was much yesterday, but I think it got a little bit worse during practice. We don’t think he’ll be available for the next week or so.”
Yeo indicated it was an injury that was aggravated.
Chuck Fletcher is looking for a goalie in the trade market. Every time I have seen him today, his phone is pressed up against his ear. I wrote about that in today’s paper here and I’ll write more about it in tomorrow’s.
But right now, the cage belongs to Niklas Backstrom.
“Backy typically, the more he’s played the better he’s played,” Yeo said. “And if I know him, then I know that he’s looking at this as an opportunity. Not only for himself, but to help the team here. He’s a veteran guy. I think that composure can bode well for us, but again, as much as anything, I like that he’s going to want this opportunity and I think our guys are going to play hard in front of him.”
Vanek-Haula-Schroeder (reunion of all-Gophers line earlier this year)
D Pairs with Marco Scandella out with what Yeo thinks is a minor upper-body injury (he’s feeling better today):
Schroeder and Blum took a car service up yesterday afternoon, but Curry didn’t get the call til late and arrived at 2:30 a.m.
Blum said, “Right now, it’s not the best of times for this team. I just want to come up here and help this team win and play a simple game. It’s not the best time, but it’s always good to be in the NHL. I’ve played games here, so it’ll be good test with a run of games coming up against good teams.”
Schroeder said he wants to “bring some energy and hopefully a spark, try to be positive with chatter on the bench and make things happen out there.”
Yeo just wants the Wild to calm the heck down and stop being so depressed. He feels a cause of the problems lately is every game “we’re going out there and we’re trying to make the playoffs that game.”
Well, that’s impossible and there’s more than half a season left, he said. So he wants the team to narrow its focus, start concentrating on good starts in games (Blackhawks have given up a lot of early goals lately), carry momentum in games, get it back if they lose it and play complete 60 minutes. If they do that day in and day out, he said, bring the work ethic and a good attitude, that’s how they’ll make the playoffs.
Nate Prosser skated today, but he’s not ready to play, Yeo said.
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