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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With Darcy Kuemper sidelined because of illness, the Wild is bringing John Curry up from Iowa of the AHL to back up goalie Niklas Backstrom tonight against Boston.
At least that's the plan -- Backstrom wasn't 100 percent himself in last night's 5-3 loss at Chicago, but coach Mike Yeo hopes Backstrom can play in tonight's game.
Curry has a 3.02 goals against average in 12 games for Iowa, and a .911 saves percentage. He played in two games for the Wild near the end of last season.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who missed the past two games because of illness, should return to the lineup tonight for the Wild.
The illnesses of Spurgeon, Kuemper and Backstrom were flu-like in nature, but were not the mumps.
CHICAGO – Hours ago, Darcy Kuemper lay on the ground between defensemen Marco Scandella and Christian Folin doing his normal stretch routine in preparation to start tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The goalie was bubbly and even shot the breeze, talking about the time he lost a personal-record 10 pounds of water weight during a start.
Well, something happened between 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. because Niklas Backstrom will get the surprise start tonight vs. Chicago.
There is a stomach bug going around the Wild that has caused Charlie Coyle to miss a recent practice and Jared Spurgeon his second game tonight. And, of course there’s the mumps, but it's not the mumps.
During coach Mike Yeo’s availability two hours before the game, Yeo confirmed that Kuemper was starting at the exact moment Backstrom walked out of the locker room to begin his pregame slow-walk routine when he’s the starter around the bowels of United Center. In hindsight, that was strange.
Then, after Backstrom led the Wild onto the ice, General Manager Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t disclose what was wrong with Kuemper other than to say he would back up.
But during warmups, Kuemper didn’t move from his spot near the red line until the very end when he skated to the crease and basically stood stationary so players had a target to shoot around.
Must be something around the United Center. Remember, two years ago, Backstrom aggravated an abdominal injury in warmups prior to Game 1 and Josh Harding, who had just returned from weeks away with complications from multiple sclerosis, had to start the series.
The Wild hosts the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, so Backstrom may have to start consecutive games. If Kuemper is unable to dress, John Curry and Johan Gustafsson have a game tonight in Iowa.
In other news, Yeo said before the game that Spurgeon, Ryan Carter and Matt Cooke all skates this morning. Yeo didn't know if Spurgeon would be able to play tomorrow. Carter (shoulder) and Cooke (hip) may return Saturday vs. Nashville.
It didn’t take Matt Cooke long to make his presence felt. Out the past 20 games with a hip flexor injury, Cooke finally returned to Wild practice at Xcel Energy Center Monday. He won’t travel to Chicago for Tuesday’s game, he won’t play Wednesday vs. Boston. But he could return Saturday vs. Nashville.
But he was very much his old self today. He was squirting water bottles. He hit Mikko Koivu a little too hard at one point, angering the Wild captain. After practice was over, Cooke comically tried to go over to Koivu and give him a hug.
Not well received.
“I feel great,” Cooke said. “It’s been a long process, a lot longer than anybody would have liked, especially myself. But I had to make sure it was right before I got back with the team. Today it felt awesome to get back with the guys.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo indicated Saturday was the earliest Cooke might return. Cooke, who had more than a dozen individual skates under his belt before this practice, pushed himself hard Monday. Now he has to see how the hip feels tomorrow. And then there is the need to get his conditioning back a bit before returning to action.
But Monday he took a big step. Cooke played in pain for a while before ultimately shutting it down. But Monday he said he was symptom-free.
Yeo, meanwhile, is eager to get the gritty play Cooke is known for back in the Wild lineup.
“He’s an important player for us,” Yeo said. “He’ll bring energy and leadership to the group. What we’ve missed in particular is his board work.’’
Yeo said Cooke’s work along the boards on the breakout has been missed, as has his one-on-one battling in the offensive zone.
Here are some other nuggets from today’s practice:
--Ryan Carter and Keith Ballard were put on IR today by the Wild, which also recalled forward Brett Sutter from Iowa of the AHL. Ballard has been out since suffering a concussion and facial fractures after getting hit into the boards by Islanders winger Matt Martin Dec. 9. Carter, according to Yeo, sustained an upper body injury in San Jose against the Sharks and didn’t play Saturday in Phoenix. Yeo said he had hoped Carter would be back at practice today, but was still feeling some discomfort. But Yeo said he didn’t think Carter would be out long; Carter is eligible to come off IR after Wednesday’s game.
--Sutter, meanwhile, is being counted on by Yeo to provide some of the physical play Carter is known for.
--Defenseman Jared Spurgeon was sent home sick today. Spurgeon, who didn’t play Saturday, won’t play in Chicago. But Yeo is hoping he’ll have Spurgeon back, perhaps, Wednesday against Boston.
--But defenseman Marco Scandella is back after serving a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head to Islanders forward Brock Nelson. And his return couldn’t come at a better time, given the one-two punch of Chicago and Boston coming up Tuesday and Wednesday. Yeo joked after practice that he finally has three quarters of his top four defensemen ready to go in Ryan Suter, Scandella and Jonas Brodin. Spurgeon, of course, would be the fourth.
--Mikael Granlund did not practice today. But Yeo said he was a maintenance day and that he expects Granlund to be in the lineup in Chicago.
--Suter was named the NHL’s second star of the week after picking up five assists in three games after returning from the mumps.
That’s about it for now. Russo will be with the team tomorrow in Chicago.
Greetings from Xcel Energy Center. Kent Youngblood here, filling in for the day for Mr. Russo, who is off in search of the perfect cup of coffee.
The Wild's practice has just begun. Matt Cooke, who has missed 20 games with a hip flexor injury, is back on the ice. It appears Jared Spurgeon, who was sick in Arizone, is still ailing.
Meanwhile, the Wild announced a couple of moves this morning. The team has recalled forward Brett Sutter from the Iowa Wild and has placed defenseman Keith Ballard and forward Ryan Carter on injured reserve, both with upper body injuries.
We all know that Ballard has been out with a concussion and facial fractures after being hit into the boards by New York Islanders winger Matt Martin Dec. 9. I will ask coach Yeo after practice when Ryan Carter was hurt.
Sutter has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 26 games in Iowa this season. He has two goals and five assists in 54 career NHL games.
That's about it for now. I'll get back to you after practice is over.
defenseman Keith Ballard will be out indefinitely with a concussion and multiple facial fractures after being hit into the boards by New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin on Tuesday.
He had been taken taken
First, defenseman Keith Ballard has been released from Regions Hospital. He suffered multiple facial fractures and a concussion when hit by Matt Martin of the Islanders last night. Doctors will wait until the swelling subsides before determining if surgery is necessary.
Second, defenseman Marco Scandella has a phone hearing tonight with the NHL following his second illegal check to the head penalty in 10 days.
Scandella caught Brock Nelson in the head late in last night's 5-4 win over the Islanders. On Nov. 29, Scandella was assessed an illegal check to T.J. Oshie's head and fined without a hearing.
Clearly, Scandella hates former Warroad High players that went to the University of North Dakota and is from Roseau, not Montreal.
Two penalties like this so close together was an all but guaranteed league discipline. Checks to the head usually result in two-game suspensions on a first offense. We shall see. A decision will be made tonight by the NHL, I am told.
Scandella flew with the Wild to San Jose, which has a storm of the century coming tomorrow, by the way. I have some serious travel problems today due to weather in the Bay Area, so if I don't make practice, I'll update the blog later after I get availability with players and coach Mike Yeo at the team hotel in San Jose -- assuming I make it out there.
The Wild has recalled Justin Falk to replace Ballard.
I am told no discipline for Martin. I think it was a needless, reckless hit, but often in this case, when a player turns to dodge a check the way Ballard did, the onus is now on him and that turn at last second is viewed as contributing to the incident and injury. I still feel it was a run and late, but the fact Martin looks to escape discipline doesn't surprise me. The league, which has the technology that I don't, says the hit was .5 seconds after Ballard gave up the puck. .7 or more is considered late, as I wrote in last month's Department of Player Safety feature here. It's also not considered a charge, I'm told, because he comes off the ice after contact and rides up Ballard.
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