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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Kuemper rusty but not worried; Haula, Fontaine, Niederreiter among those shining early

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild training camp Updated: September 20, 2014 - 5:46 PM

Day 2 is in the books, and it was a fun day down at the rink.

Thousands of fans flocked down for the Wild’s Breakaway 10K/5K/1Mile runs and the three open practices and one scrimmage.

Coach Mike Yeo wasn’t too thrilled with the first half of the scrimmage. He felt there wasn’t enough intensity and it was too easy to “free-wheel” on the ice.

There were seven goals scored in the first half, including five on Darcy Kuemper, who was making his camp debut without even a practice.

Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine set up an awesome goalmouth tap-in for Brett Sutter (Darryl’s kid) to open the scrimmage, but then Kuemper gave up three goals in about 90 seconds to Cody Almond, Brady Brassart and Ryan Suter. Zucker set up Marco Scandella to make it 3-2, but then Stephane Veilleux and Mikko Koivu scored twice more against Kuemper. Koivu used and abused a defenseman as he drove to the net.

“If I could do it over again, I would have put him in the first group. I would have given him a practice before putting him in the scrimmage, because he had a real short warmup before getting right into a game situation,” Yeo said of Kuemper’s debut. “I thought Backy (Niklas Backstrom) was better again today compared to even where he was yesterday. He looked more comfortable in there. That’s normal for a goalie. We don’t rush to conclusions too quickly here. What we’re looking for is the right compete, the right battle, the conditioning level of the guys. I want to see us from day to day, I want to see improvement and I want to see the details of our game starting to come into play.”

Kuemper said, laughing, “the scrimmage was a little rusty. Conditioning-wise really good. The longer I was out there in practice, I felt better. It’s just a matter of time before everything comes back.”

Kuemper skated daily in Saskatoon, but he said a few weeks ago as NHLers began heading off to camp, there were fewer and fewer players and less tempo. But he kept his conditioning up in the gym, which “is probably the most important thing because the rest will come back quick.”

By the way, on all those KHL rumors, Kuemper said, “That’s obviously not where I wanted to be. That was never my intention.”

Yeo liked the Zucker-Tyler Graover-Justin Fontaine line. Graovac slid into Kyle Brodziak’s position today because the veteran center tweaked his back, Yeo said. Just precautionary to keep him off.

“I thought that line did a great job,” said Yeo, who liked Zucker better in the first half of the scrimmage than the second. “Fontaine’s looked excellent for me in both scrimmages and you’ve got to give Grao a lot of credit today. I thought he did a really good job jumping into that line. He continues to look better every day. So I thought that line did a good job. Tough matchups, but they really held their own and made some plays. That’s a good start.”

Like I’ve said the past few weeks, Graovac looks like a player. As for the tough matchup Yeo referred to, that Graovac line mostly went head-to-head vs. Thomas Vanek-Koivu-Charlie Coyle.

Yeo is obviously mostly concentrating on the NHL guys, but he’s definitely trying to “teach the things we want to do” to the minor-leaguers and prospects. A number of those guys keep standing out, like Zack Mitchell (had a hat trick in the last Traverse City game), Pavel Jenys, a Czech seventh-rounder heading to Sudbury, and Dylan Labbe.

I’ll write about Nino Niederreiter probably in Tuesday’s paper, but Yeo has been bigtime impressed with him through the first two days of camp. With Niederreiter and Fontaine, he wants both to bite off more ice time and power-play time this year, to not accept being a third- or fourth-liner. Obviously, if healthy, the Wild’s top-6 are pretty much set. But he wants them to challenge to move up, saying teams get better when players internally challenge guys in front of them.

Erik Haula has also looked awesome.

“He still has speed,” Yeo said chuckling. “Still has great speed and it comes into play every time he’s on the ice. Real pleased with his camp so far.”

Yeo and his staff were to meet after practice to start really hammering out the exhibition lineup Monday in Winnipeg. Originally, Kuemper was to start that game. I would think that’s a longshot now. I’d think Backstrom and John Curry or Johan Gustafsson go up there – Backstrom especially because he’s the only one of the three big names (Ilya Bryzgalov and Kuemper) that has been here since Day One.

We shall see. Yeo plans to bring a young lineup up to Winnipeg. After that, the regulars will play four or five of the final five exhibition games.

As Yeo said Friday, he hasn’t been happy with the “so-so” starts to the Wild season in his tenure, so he has revamped camp to get more reps and conditioning in practice and wants his regulars playing more games so this team gets off to a fast start this season.

Massive Day One Wild blog on first impressions and, of course, goaltending

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild training camp Updated: September 19, 2014 - 5:16 PM

Advance warning: Day One of Wild training camp is in the books, and this blog is going to be jam-packed (and long) with info and will continue to be throughout training camp and the season.

It’s good to be back. This is my 10th season covering the Wild and, believe it or not, 20th year around the NHL. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun and have a cool job.

OK, where to start?

First of all, to give you an indication of where coach Mike Yeo’s very, very early thinking is, here were today’s initial lines and defense pairs (frankly, it’s exactly what my summer-long depth chart has been):

Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville

Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle

Matt Cooke-Erik Haula-Nino Niederreiter

Jason Zucker-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin (reunited from earlier last season)

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon (reunited from earlier last season)

Keith Ballard-Christian Folin

So again, this is the way Yeo is thinking in Day One, but it gives us a good indication that others will have to play themselves onto the team (or vice versa and some will have to play themselves off). Rosters are 23 men, so if one assumes two goalies make it (incredible assumption) and those two are Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper, that tells us three other skaters have the ability to make the team.

Up front, the guys contending include Cody Almond, Stephane Veilleux, Jordan Schroeder, Michael Keranen, Brett Sutter, Kurtis Gabriel, Tyler Graovac and Brett Bulmer. Others may emerge, who knows.

On the back end, the guys contending include Jon Blum, Matt Dumba, Justin Falk, Stu Bickel and Gustav Olofsson.

Couple early impressions from me in no order: Haula and Granlund look awesome, and in fact, that Cooke-Haula-Niederreiter line looked really; Dumba stood out; Graovac just looks like a player. So much upside; Dumba stood out (Oh, I said that). So did Spurgeon; I’d say Schroeder’s ankle issues of last year with Vancouver are behind him. He is fast and skilled; Invitee Ryan Walters, the UNO graduate and Rosemount native on a tryout, continues to look good. He was one of the top scorers in the nation two years ago but had a bit of an off year last year. Smart and gets points, and after his Traverse City tournament and today’s scrimmage, if he keeps it up he may put himself in a position to earn an NHL two-way or purely an AHL deal with Iowa; Mikko Koivu, and I think I mentioned this a few weeks ago, says his ankle is 100 percent; Charlie Coyle said he was very happy to get contact today because he was curious to see how his shoulders (remember he played with TWO separated shoulders late in the Colorado series and all of Chicago) would hold up; Guillaume Gelinas, the smallish but prolific offensive defenseman signed out of the Q this past offseason, didn’t participate today because he’s hurt. But he is in camp.

Where to continue?

Oh!!! It wouldn’t be a Wild blog without talking goaltending (which Rachel Blount so graciously volunteered to write about for Saturday’s paper so I could write the Suter story; I’m sort of goaltendered out).

Kuemper and Bryzgalov both arrived today. Kuemper looks the same. Josh Harding is still suspended. And Bryzgalov, well, is the same.

Quirky. Funny. And honest.

Like, remember how I wondered aloud on last night’s blog how much he skated this summer? Well, how about he didn’t? It sounds like today was his first time on the ice since a certain handshake line after a certain puck hit a certain stanchion in May.

“You know, it was first time on ice in four months. A little bit tough,” Bryzgalov said.

Said Yeo: “Well, I think he’s tired right now, I’ll say that. Yeah, he’s honest and I don’t know that there’s been a lot of ice time that he’s been partaking in, so he’s definitely going to need to get it back quickly.”

I’m thinking the second Bryzgalov told GM Chuck Fletcher a few days ago that he hadn’t been on the ice since May was the second Kuemper’s one-way contract was all but cemented.

I’ll tell you what? Say what you want about Kuemper’s agent – and Lord knows he has been bashed by Wild fans the past few weeks – the guy looks like a genius now. He held out all summer long for a one-way contract risking the fact that something would happen to Niklas Backstrom or Josh Harding. It certainly looked like the strategy was going to backfire, but then, boom, Harding somehow goes from completely healthy and ready to return to last year’s first-half form to breaking his foot in some kind of careless act.

Quite amazing if you think about it.

Now here we are on the first day of camp and Kuemper and Backstrom will be going toe to toe to see who can either win the No. 1 job or at a minimum start opening night Oct. 9 against the Avalanche.

Back to Bryz. Then I’ll move on to Kuemper. Then I’ll move on to Harding, and then we’ll see where I’ll move on to.

Bryzgalov, the enigmatic Russian goalie, was asked what he’s been up to: “You know, I just was enjoying my life, you know. I was enjoying the family. That’s all, pretty much.”

Asked how many offers he got this summer, Bryzgalov said, “Ahhh, to be honest? … …” And then, with perfect delivery, “Zero,” making a shape of a zero with his thumb and forefinger.

Man, did I miss this guy.

As I mentioned yesterday, Bryzgalov, despite guiding the Wild into the playoffs last year by being part of that leadership meeting in Phoenix that saved the season and going 7-1-3 down the stretch, had to put his pride away and accept a tryout. He knows there’s no guarantees and he’s not dumb. Now that Kuemper is here on a one-way, unless he completely stinks, Bryzgalov is now officially Backstrom/Kuemper insurance.

“I love to be here to help the team,” Bryzgalov said. “Unfortunately for Josh, for him, for the team, he broke the leg. I love this team. I love town. I like the players. I like organization. I’m just glad to just come here and help them get through the camp.”

He said he spent the summer traveling a lot, going to Cyprus, Italy, Switzerland.

“I was just enjoying my life. I’m enjoying the family, enjoying my time, enjoying the life. There’s lots of beautiful things in the life to do beside hockey.”

(Especially when the Flyers are paying you almost $2 million a year til 2027 NOT to play hockey).

What did his family think about him taking the tryout?

“On one side, they’re excited, on the other side they so get used to the summer,” Bryzgalov said. “And right now, the family is a little bit sad because daddy got to go again. And for how long he goes, they don’t know.”

He repeated, his only goal is to help the Wild get through camp. “I have no control over the things. I’m glad to be here to help the guys.”

-- I can tell you, Kuemper has been skating in Saskatoon and has not been eating pizza and Cheetos all summer. He looks in shape and got a clean bill of health from the Wild docs. After taking his physical, Kuemper arrived at the arena just as the third group completed practice for the day.

“I saw him in the locker room for the first time and I was kidding around that he was able to get here just in time not to skate,” Yeo said kiddingly. “I’m very pleased that we got him signed. I’m very happy for him, I’m very happy for us, and now it’s time to get to work. It looks like he has taken very good care of himself just from what I’ve seen, but again, it’s about when the puck drops, so tomorrow we’ll get him on the ice and he’ll partake in a practice and half a scrimmage and it’ll give us a good chance to see where he’s at.”

Kuemper, wearing a Blue Jays cap, said, “It was a longer summer than I expected it to be, but I’m super excited to get it done and obviously to be back here now. Now that it’s over with, just looking forward to the season and trying to pick up where we left off last year and build off the success that we’ve been having lately.”

Kuemper said, “I was definitely getting a little anxious; obviously, I didn’t want to miss camp or miss parts of it. Fortunately we got it done when we did. It would have been nice a few days earlier, but I’m here now and I’m super excited and looking forward to getting back out there with my teammates.”

On the goalie carousel that has already transpired, Kuemper said, “I think it’s a little early to say it’s going to be like it was last year. I’m planning on staying healthy for the year, and I’m sure Nik is. And Bryz is back here, too. I don’t want to jump the gun and say it’s going to be like that because, you know, it’s a good opportunity for our team here, and I’m sure we all just want to help the team as best we can.”

On battling to the end for that one-way (that means if he’s sent to the minors, he gets his $1 million NHL salary there, which usually gives players an inside track to make the NHL roster because no team wants to pay a minor-leaguer that much money), Kuemper said, “Obviously it’s exciting to get that one-way deal, and it just kind of gives you a better chance to be in the NHL, and that’s obviously my goal and where I want to be. So I was excited to get the news we’d settled on it, and now it’s time to start looking forward and start focusing on the season here.”

On if he views himself as a No. 1, Kuemper said, “I definitely in camp will try to prove to the coaches and to the management that I can be that guy, and I’m going to do the best that I can to earn that spot. But I know that I will have to earn it. And I’m here to work hard.”

Kuemper, who’s a very popular teammates, especially with the young guys, was very excited to get in the room and see his old buddies again.

He said those two late-season concussions are behind him: “Actually I went home and took two weeks off or whatever, like most guys do when they get home, and I started working out again, and I had no issues. The whole summer I’ve been clean. Yeah, that’s all in my past now.”

On finding out Harding was hurt, Kuemper said, “My first reaction was I felt bad for him, everything he’s been going through, and to be feeling healthy coming into the season and have something like that happen, I feel bad for him. I wish him all the best, and hopefully he recovers fast.”

--Speaking of Harding, like James Sheppard in 2010, he’ll be designated as an injured non-roster player when rosters are submitted in October. That means he doesn’t get paid until he’s healthy and he won’t count vs. the cap, but he is allowed to be part of all team activities, use their facilities, rehab, go to games, etc.

On the team suspending Harding, Yeo said, “I can’t really say much about it. It came about. It’s something that was dealt with internally. To be honest with you, for me personally and for our group, our focus has to be right now on training camp and day one and now getting ready for day two. Those are never easy things to deal with, but something was done that we determined that we needed to do. This is not by any means we’re just throwing this guy aside and getting rid of him, but we needed to do something and now our focus is on the guys here. Like I said, we're not just pushing him aside. We're counting on Hards to get better and to be part of our team, and hopefully he comes back strong and still helps us win a lot of hockey games this year.”

On if the team feels it knows how he got hurt, Yeo said, “To the best that we could gather, I think we've got a pretty good feel (of what happened).”

-- The goaltending carousel is already a topic in the Wild room. Parise was asked about it today.

On Kuemper, Parise said, “I think that’s good news for us, especially for Kuemper. We can’t and he can’t afford to miss camp, so it’s a good thing that he’s here. And I think seeing Bryz walk into the room puts a smile on everyone’s face. I guess we’re kind of back to where we were last year.
 

On the carousel, Parise said, “That’s what we’re dealt with, so we’ll figure it out as we go. Unfortunately it’s one of the storylines again, but that’s the way it is right now.
 

On Backstrom, Parise said, “I think for his sake for him to be healthy again, it’s good. And for us, we want to see him healthy again and playing the way he’s capable of.”

On the Parise-Granlund-Pominville line, Parise said, “It was fine. How much stock can you really put into these scrimmages? But I thought has far as puck control and touches and offensive zone
time, it was pretty good.

-- Here’s Mike Yeo on some other subjects:

On Day One: What you’re looking for is what kind of shape have guys coming into camp and what kind of focus they have as far as intensity that they’re ready to bring, the work that they’re ready to bring. So I’m very pleased with Day one.”

On the three groups of practices: “Going to three teams, looking for more reps, looking for more in-game situation, looking to get a lot more in-game competition and game-like situations to try to speed up the process as far getting our timing back and getting that in-game conditioning. It’s a different conditioning when you’re in the corner battling and when you get back in line and you have to go a little quicker as opposed to just being in the gym and riding the bike. Looking at our starts the last few years, we’ve had, I’d say, so-so starts, and so we felt we needed to try to do something different to see if we could get us off to a better start early in the season.”

I wrote about Ryan Suter’s emotional press scrum today on the previous blog and in Saturday’s paper. Yeo on Suter: “I think with him, and I asked him when I talked to him the day before, we could have put him in the practice group, but if you know Suts, he just wants to play the game. it’s fun when you coach guys when you’ve got players like this who still love to play the game, and he’s one of those guys. And just how important he is as far as the way that he plays, the role that he has, I think it’s important to get back into it. I know his conditioning is good. I know he hasn’t done much here the last week, and that’s understandable, but at the same time, you’re not going to lose a lot when you’ve got a good base. He’s had a good summer and I think it was important for him to get right back into it.”

On the fitness level of the team and if there were any red flags: “You can do all the testing you want off the ice, but for me, I do it by eye. When I'm on the ice, when I see who's dragging at the start of practice, who was able to recover quickly, we've been around long enough that it doesn't take long to figure that out. I was very pleased with the conditioning level overall. Like every year, there's a couple that I feel aren't good enough, and that'll be addressed.”

Uh-oh.

On how he’ll figure out which goalie starts which preseason game, Yeo said, “The plan is to see how Bryz is tomorrow and then just the same the following day. Obviously, we've got six games here, and I want to make sure whoever we have in the net for Game 1, that we give him a good opportunity to be ready for that game, make sure that we give them enough games to feel that way. But also with that, we've got to make sure that we're using those games to determine and figure out who the right guy is for that.

We don't have a plan as of yet as far as who's going to play what games in the exhibition games in the goaltending position. Every other position, we do. Obviously, that's always subject to change, but the goaltending position, we left it open on purpose, because we want to have a better sense of where everybody's at before we  make those decisions.

On whether the Wild would maybe keep three goalies (no chance), Yeo said, “I really haven't thought that far ahead, to be honest with you. I'm not going to say that there's not a chance (I WILL), but obviously, that's probably not ideal. That said, I don't know that we've necessarily been a team that's been able to work in ideals the last year or so. I'm really not thinking that far ahead in that position. I think it's unique for us. We usually like to have more of a set plan in place as far as how many games they're going to play and who we're going with, but this is a different situation, a different scenario that we have to treat differently.”

I chatted with a number of players today, from Christian Folin and Thomas Vanek to Stu Bickel and Jordan Schroeder. I haven’t transcribed those yet, so you’ll hear from them tomorrow or the next day. Rachel talked with Backstrom and that’ll be in her story.

My fingers hurt, so adios. I’ll be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. I’ll also be on Fox 9 Sports Now with Dawn Mitchell at 10:15 p.m.

Remember, traffic will be bad Saturday because of all the stuff going on at or near the arena with the race and tickets going on sale and the open practices. Again, 8:30-1 practices are free and open to the public. Come on down.

Emotional Ryan Suter reflects on his dad, talks about moving on

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild training camp Updated: September 19, 2014 - 3:05 PM

Ryan Suter, the Wild's often unemotional rock of a defenseman who logs gigantic minutes seemingly effortlessly, rejoined the Wild on Friday -- 10 days after losing his dad, Bob, suddenly at the age of 57.

Having not skated since, Suter still jumped right into a scrimmage, then a subsequent practice.

Suter then courageously stood in front of the cameras and microphones and recorders and emotionally talked about his father and best friend, what the last 10 days have been like, the support he and his family have received and how he must move on.

"It’s good to be back around the guys," Suter said. "Obviously we went through a pretty tough thing a week ago and to be back around here, it’s good to get your mind off of it."

Asked how he's doing, Suter's eyes welled: As good as you can. My dad, we were pretty close. So, … ... we were really close. Just a really good guy, a hard-working guy. I’m going to miss him."

Bob Suter, the Wild scout and member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," suffered a heart attack at Capital Ice Arena in Middleton, Wisconsin, the rink he owned with Ryan.

Since, Ryan Suter said the support has been amazing "starting with Craig [Leipold] flying the whole team there, it’s a pretty special thing. For those guys to be there, it was awesome. Every one of them has reached out to me and tried to help. I can’t say enough about the group of guys and the organization."

As for the hockey community in general, Suter said, "Everybody all over has contacted my family at some point, sending letters or flowers or donating money to the memorial fund we set up for my dad where we’re going to try to give back to hockey, whether it’s buying equipment or helping kids pay for their ice fees (Bob Suter Memorial Fund "It's All About the Kids," Capital Ice Arena, 2616 Pleasant View Road, Middleton, WI, 53562). Everybody’s reached out. Everywhere you go people are coming up and telling you stories about how great my dad was. It’s a pretty special feeling to hear the stories because obviously he’s gone and that’s how we have to live on -- through the memories.

"To have over 4,000 people come to the wake was pretty special. They were turning people away. That just shows what kind of guy he was, what kind of impact he had on hockey and on people. A lot of people have come up to me and said he helped make [them] the person that they are today. It’s pretty special to hear that. I hear people that are 40-some years old saying that and then the young kids, you see the young kids how devastated they were. It’s pretty special. But it’s over with and we have to move on and have a really good year for him.

To be on the ice, Suter said, "Ten days off and jumping into a scrimmage is tough, but it’ll get better. As we start playing games, getting closer to that, your mindset changes. That’s kind of the cool thing about hockey. You get to get out on the ice and you don’t really have to think about anything. You can just go out and be in your own little world.

Asked what qualities he got from his dad, Ryan said, "I can talk about his qualities. I’ll let you guys judge the rest (laughing). My dad was a hard-working guy. He wore his blue jeans and work boots to work everyday. He didn’t expect anything from anyone. Everything he got he worked for. He wasn’t ashamed to be in his work boots and to be at the rink from sunup to sundown on the weekends. He loved helping kids. He was just a really good person and good role model."

Suter said, "Leaving [Wisconsin] is tough. It was tough to leave (welling up). ... It was tough leaving to come up here because it was close and I knew he loved coming up here to watch games. It [stinks]. I feel bad for everybody that’s gone through it."

Players were glad to see Suter back.

Said buddy Zach Parise, "I can only imagine what he went through and is going through. It was great for Craig to fly our team out there and show our support for Ryan and his family. It’s just a really sad thing that happened, an unfortunate thing. In here, in our room, we’ll do our best to make sure we’re there for Ryan and for anything that he needs and supporting him."

Parise was amazed how Suter was able to jump back into a scrimmage without skating for 10 days: "I feel like garbage after not skating for two days. I can’t imagine with everything he’s gone through and then on top of that not skaying. After the first 10 minutes, he was back to his old self. I don’t think anybody has to be worried."

I'll be back later with more Wild notes from today's first day of camp. The last group is practicing now, including Ilya Bryzgalov. Darcy Kuemper is getting his physical now.

Day One Wild Scrimmage

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild training camp Updated: September 19, 2014 - 11:24 AM

Good morning from Xcel Energy Center, where Group A and Group B are scrimmaging. Here are the teams.

To open camp, as expected, Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville vs. Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line. Those may very well be the top two lines Oct. 9 vs. Colorado.

Good-paced scrimmage so far. 3-1 Group A after one half.

Group B's Ryan Walters, a local kid and invitee, opened the scoring with a bad-angle shot past John Curry.

Parise tied the game a few moments later with a blocker-side wrister from the faceoff dot.

Later, Erik Haula, who like Granlund has been showing off all scrimmage, made a ridiculous back-handed cross-crease pass with the toe of his blade to set up Matt Cooke's backdoor tap-in.

Later, it became 3-1 when Parise beat Niklas Backstrom on a penalty shot after Justin Falk's interference penalty (no power play/penalty kill work yet).

Final, I believe, was 3-2 as Thomas Vanek scored a deflected shot off his buddy Keith Ballard.

However, I was chatting with Don Lucia during the entire second half for an upcoming story, so I may have missed a goal or three.

Players are split amongst three groups. We have had access to Group A so far, so I'll toss up a blog later with some of the comments and day events.

Just a reminder, Saturday's practices from 8:30 a.m.-1 is free and open to the public. The scrimmage starts at 9:25. Single-game tickets go on sale at the box office at 10 a.m.

Remember, the Wild's breakaway 10K/5K/1-Mile run will be going on then, so there will be traffic issues. If you're interested in taking part in that, you can register online today or in-person tomorrow from 7 a.m. – 8 a.m.

Also,

Wild fans have the chance to personally welcome the team back for the 2014-2015 hockey season!
 
Tickets are still available for the Minnesota Wild Face-Off Luncheon – presented by Wells Fargo and hosted by the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. The event gives fans an opportunity to have lunch with a player, meet the rest of the team, coaches and staff, in addition to getting a sneak-preview of the season ahead. New This Year: Minnesota Wild Autograph Booth!
 
DETAILS
·         Tuesday, October 7
·         11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 
·         Roy Wilkins Auditorium
o    $50 Individual Tickets
o    $500 for a Table of 10
o    $825 for a Table of 9 with a Minnesota Wild Player/Coach & Wild Staff Member
·         A portion of the proceeds from this event will be donated to the Minnesota Wild Foundation.
 

Josh Harding suspended; Darcy Kuemper signed to 2-year deal

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild player moves, Wild training camp Updated: September 18, 2014 - 9:06 PM

Thanks to Josh Harding’s broken foot, Darcy Kuemper got his one-way contract.

On the eve of players taking the ice for the first time, the Wild conceded in its standoff with its young goalie by signing Kuemper to a two-year, $2.5 million contract.

“I’m super excited to continue this journey with the Wild and can’t wait to see and get back on the ice with my teammates,” Kuemper said in a text message.

The move comes a day after veteran Ilya Bryzgalov agreed to a tryout and hours after General Manager Chuck Fletcher met with Harding to try to establish how he got injured in an off-ice incident Sunday involving an altercation with a teammate.

Soon after the meeting, Fletcher made the decision to suspend Harding. During the time he recovers, Harding won’t be paid a prorated portion of his $2.1 million salary and he won’t count against the Wild’s salary cap. The paperwork was filed and all parties were notified late Thursday.

In the meantime, Fletcher said Thursday night that Kuemper’s signing won’t affect Bryzgalov’s tryout. If Kuemper’s not one of the top-2 goalies in training camp, the Wild can sign Bryzgalov and assign Kuemper to Iowa of the American Hockey League without waivers.

If that happened, Kuemper would be paid his $1 million salary there. Bryzgalov also gives the Wild insurance if veteran Niklas Backstrom were to get hurt.

Kuemper, 24, who went 12-8-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage last season, arrives in the Twin Cities on Friday morning. Both Kuemper and Bryzgalov are expected on the ice for the first day of camp.

Bryzgalov, who went 7-1-3 down the stretch last season for the Wild, wanted to return to the Wild all summer. Finally, Harding’s injury forced the Wild to offer him a tryout.

“He did a great job for us last year,” coach Mike Yeo said of Bryzgalov. “I spoke to Bryz [Wednesday] night and he’s really excited to be coming back to our team. I know he really enjoyed this group and playing here. He’s motivated and he’s excited.”

Bryzgalov, 34, may be quirky, but he’s as smart as they come. He was well aware he could be just biding time for the Wild to sign Kuemper.

Fletcher made no promises and Bryzgalov still accepted the tryout. He wants to keep his NHL career alive. Yeo wouldn’t promise Bryzgalov, who has 220 career wins, how many exhibition games he may play, “but he will get an opportunity.”

A day before, Yeo also said Harding’s injury presented an “unbelievable opportunity” for Kuemper to prove he can be a fulltime NHL goalie.

One thing that is uncertain is how much Bryzgalov has skated this summer considering he was unable to land a job.

“I didn’t get too much into that with him, but if he comes in the first couple days of camp and he’s not at his best, we’re not going to panic because we know what he’s capable of,” Yeo said. “We’ll just have to see how long we think it can take him to get back to his level. That fact that we have a good understanding of him already and what he can do, that certainly helps him.”

Walking with the aid of crutches and a boot on his right foot, Harding arrived Thursday for his meeting with management. Fletcher said Wednesday it was important to get to the bottom of how Harding busted up his foot Sunday.

The injury, one that will sideline Harding for a minimum of two months, threw the Wild’s goaltending depth into a state of flux.

Harding’s only worry is getting his foot better. He declined to comment further, while Fletcher wouldn’t comment on the Harding meeting and subsequent suspension.

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