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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Wild center Mikael Granlund, who won a bronze medal at the Olympics, was named to the Olympic All-Star team after Canada's gold-medal win over Sweden today.
Granlund led Finland with seven points and 20 shots and all Finnish forwards in ice time at 18 minutes, 15 seconds a game. Here is the rest of the Olympic awards.
If you didn't read my Sunday Insider on the Wild's goaltending situation heading into the March 5 trade deadline, here that is.
The Wild held an outdoor practice this morning at the John Rose OVAL in Roseville. Afterward, defenseman Marco Scandella skated with strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson. We'll find out Monday if Scandella practices with the team.
My guess is the Wild will recall a couple players later today. With Jason Zucker hurt and Mikko Koivu up in the air, my guess is Erik Haula is one. Another will likely be a defenseman.
Nino Niederreiter is back in town and may practice Monday. I believe Granlund, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were due back today.
Talk to you Monday and I'll update the blog later if the callups are announced.
The Wild, five points up in the playoff race with Phoenix and Dallas, resumes its schedule Thursday in Edmonton. It'll practice at the X Monday and Tuesday and in Edmonton on Wednesday.
I'll be on Rosen's Sports Sunday tonight on Channel 4. I'll be on "Hockey This Morning" on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio Monday at 8:25 a.m. and on KFAN with Dan Barreiro at 5:15 p.m. Monday.
Coach Mike Yeo updated us on a couple injuries after this morning’s practice.
Wild winger Jason Zucker will miss the upcoming road trip to Edmonton and Vancouver. After a doctor’s appointment Wednesday, it was determined that Zucker won’t be able to get on the ice for another week.
The Wild leaves for Edmonton next Wednesday, plays there next Thursday and in Vancouver next Friday.
He had an operation on his leg after the Olympic break began. The good news is it’s clearly not serious. He’s got a little noticeable limp, but when the players did their off-ice workout with strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson after practice, Zucker accompanied the group.
Also, Yeo said defenseman Marco Scandella, who sprained an MCL on Feb. 4, was cleared to begin skating alone with Olson and the hope is that Scandella can join the group in the next couple of days.
The Wild has a Friday morning practice, is off Saturday and on Sunday at 11 a.m. has a fun, open to the public practice at Roseville’s OVAL. Unless the Wild’s going to allow Scandella’s first practice to come outdoors, he’ll more than likely start practicing with the team Monday.
Yeo did say he’s very confident that Scandella will be able to practice next week.
With Zucker out, unless Mikko Koivu can definitely return by Thursday’s schedule “resumer” in Edmonton, I’ve got to think Erik Haula returns to the team (barring a trade once the freeze is lifted after 11:59 p.m. Sunday).
“I was real impressed with what he’s doing down there and real impressed with what he was doing when he was here too. Certainly he’s in our minds, but we’ve got to figure out where we’re going to be with Mikko,” Yeo said.
The Wild got into more 5-on-5 and game situations during today’s practice and Koivu, who practiced Wednesday for the first time since breaking his right ankle Jan. 4, was held out of those.
“So obviously he’s not quite there yet,” Yeo said. “But you see guys are moving. We’re going up and down the ice pretty hard. When you don’t have as many bodies, you’re getting a lot more reps, so it’s a challenge conditioning wise. He’s responded really well. He looks strong and he’s skating well. Hopefully the pain keeps decreasing for him and we get to a point where he feels comfortable enough to get into this game situation stuff.”
Really, not much else going on. Things will really ramp up next week.
Yeo graciously moved practice up to 10 a.m. Friday so he and his players can watch Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and the rest of the Americans take on Canada in the men’s hockey semifinals at 11 a.m.
Remember, Mikael Granlund and the Finns take on Sweden at 6 a.m.
Our Chip Scoggins, Rachel Blount and Carlos Gonzalez are in Sochi, so if you don’t already, give them a Twitter follow at @chipscoggins, @blountstrib and @carlosgphoto.
The U.S. women just blew a 2-0 lead late in the third to lose in the gold-medal game to Canada in overtime. Crushing defeat, to say the least.
By the way, Parise isn’t on Twitter. He emailed me yesterday that he wasn’t on Twitter, but I forgot to put it on here. So any account you’re following that has his likeness or name
Parise was born by somebody with too much time on his hands.
The Olympic break is officially over for 16 Wild non-Olympians and a couple other injured players. The team gathered this afternoon in Edina to resume practice in preparation for its first post-break game at Edmonton a week from Thursday (Feb. 27).
Captain Mikko Koivu, out since breaking his right ankle Jan. 4 – an injury that led to a couple screws being inserted during an operation two days later, returned to practice. He’ll continue to ramp it up as long as his ankle feels good.
Today’s practice was about feeling the puck again for the team. A lot of skill work. The Wild coaching staff will up the ante Thursday with more competitive drills and begin to work again on system work.
Sixteen skaters and two goalies took part in today’s practice. Jason Zucker had a minor procedure on one of his legs and had a doctor’s appointment today, so coach Mike Yeo said he’ll have a better update on Zucker on Thursday. Perhaps we even see Zucker take the ice. Yeo also hopes defenseman Marco Scandella, who sprained his MCL in the second-to-last game before the break, rejoins the team soon.
Yeo expects that Nino Niederreiter will return to the country from the Olympics on Thursday. The team plans to give him a few days off. It’ll be interesting to see how it works with Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund. The two Americans and one Finn play in the semifinals against Canada and Sweden, respectively, on Friday, so they likely won’t be back to the country until Monday regardless if they win or lose.
If that’s the case, one can assume they won’t practice Monday or Tuesday, meaning their first practices with the team could come Wednesday in Edmonton the day before the game vs. the Oilers.
Josh Harding didn’t practice and there’s no change to his status. He hasn’t started since Dec. 31 and twice since Dec. 17 after having an adjustment to his treatment for multiple sclerosis.
The longer this goes, the less likely it is that Harding will be able to rejoin the team this season, but the Wild is holding out hope.
“We feel for him right now,” Yeo said. “We’re behind him and we just want to see him get better and get ready to get back with us. … We want to be here for him, so when he feels better and when he’s ready to rejoin us, we’ll be more than ready to welcome him back.”
Niklas Backstrom saw abdominal specialist William Meyers in Philadelphia over the break. He’s the doctor who performed his sports hernia surgery after last season. Backstrom said they know now what’s been ailing him, but he wouldn’t divulge it. Backstrom has said before he believes his season-long soreness is related to last year’s ailment. Backstrom said they have some new treatment plans and he hopes it solves the issue.
Yeo said the break should have helped Backstrom more than anybody else on the roster.
Erik Haula will play three games this week for Iowa and then the team will decide whether or not to flip him with Jake Dowell and bring him back. The team though has some roster decisions to make if Koivu is able to come back next week in Edmonton and/or Vancouver, and maybe that affects Haula. Obviously, Haula was playing great before the break, but the roster isn’t unlimited.
Jon Blum, a defenseman, is up now with Suter in Russia and Scandella hurt.
As for Koivu, he felt good today. The Wild’s not going to put pressure on him by announcing a target date. Obviously, the hope is that Koivu can return in Edmonton, but Koivu said today, “I think it’s the worst feeling watching the games and not being part of the team. As soon as I can, I will play. But I thought I would be ready right now in the Olympics, so I don’t really want to put a timetable on when I’m going to play. We’re going to go day by day. As long as it’s getting better each and every day, I’m happy.”
Koivu said his ankle felt “a lot better” than before the break, but he admits there’s still discomfort and as good as he looked today, even Yeo said you could tell he was laboring late in practice.
Koivu said, “I think it’s stronger, but it’s still a ways to go, too. For sure, it’s going to get better each and every day. Just trying to make the right calls now with treatment and get it still stronger and hopefully each and every day it’s going to get easier and easier.”
Koivu, who was supposed to captain the Finns in the Olympics, has been forced to watch from across the ocean. Teemu Selanne has captained Finland into a semifinal Friday against border rival Sweden. Mikael Granlund leads the Finns with three goals, five points and 19 shots.
“Obviously you’re very proud of them, the way they play,” Koivu said. “I have lots and lots of good friends on that team. For our country, it means a lot. No one expected us to get even this far again and we proved people wrong again. It’s a great feeling to see that, but at the same time, it really, really hurts not being out there and playing with them. I guess that’s sports. You can’t always be healthy. You ask why the timing and everything about that, but it is what it is. I’m just very happy for them. They’re playing great hockey right now and it’s great to watch.”
On why Finland is always able to play so well in international tournaments – world championships, world juniors, medaling in the last two Olympics (this is a team minus Koivu, Filppula and Barkov right now), Koivu said, “They have good players. That’s the first. Without good individuals, you’re not going to get that far in a tournament like that. We’re well-coached out there right now. They play for their system, good goaltending, great defense by the whole group. I think it’s just the whole team. That’s the word. It’s teamwork and team effort each and every night.”
On Granlund, Koivu said, “I knew he could be good. Especially against Russia today. He was great.”
On whether he’s looking for flights to Sochi, Koivu joked, “I don’t think they want me there anymore the way they’re playing.”
Yeo has been impressed with Granlund. He brought up how against Canada, to start overtime, he went head-to-head against Sidney Crosby.
“It can’t be anything but good for him, the fact that he’s performing at the level that he is, the fact that he’s doing it against the world’s best players, I think it’s been a tremendous experience for him. … As far as we’re concerned, he’s set the bar pretty high. We know what he’s capable of now, so we’re going to hold him to that.”
Yeo said the latter somewhat tongue in cheek.
The Wild will have a couple tough practices, take Saturday off, have a Sunday outdoor practice at 11 a.m. (open to the public) and Roseville’s John Rose MN OVAL and then really start to ramp it up next week.
I'll be on KFAN in a couple minutes.
As the Olympics enter the medal round, the NHL starts back up today.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu has been cleared to practice when the Wild's non-Olympians report at 2 p.m. at Braemar Arena in Edina. I'm sure he'll be eased back in as this will be his first time on the ice with teammates since breaking an ankle Jan. 4 against Washington.
Also, with Ryan Suter in Russia and Marco Scandella working his way back from a sprained MCL, I assume Jon Blum has been recalled so the Wild can have six defensemen in practice this week.
Jake Dowell is also up from Iowa to add numbers to the forward group. You might remember my story on Dowell's family's battles. Jake's father, John, died Thursday because of Huntington's disease and Jake was with his family in Eau Claire. The funeral was on Sunday.
Neither Erik Haula nor Stephane Veilleux have been recalled again. We'll see if Haula eventually gets the call back once the Wild gets into real practices. I think the plan has been for Haula to keep playing for Iowa so he gets games.
Coach Mike Yeo said before the break that with the team short numbers with Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Suter in Russia and Scandella hurt, the Wild will almost have three teams of five players initially as the team works to get the players back into game-like condition. The goal is to get the players in shape, while also getting in some skill work and system work. But obviously, it'll be odd until the Olympians are back.
I believe Niederreiter will return to the States before Granlund, Parise and Suter. Parise said before the tournament that there were two NHL charters bringing players back, and those who were eliminated earlier in the tournament would come back early. Then, typically, a team like the Wild would give Niederreiter a few extra days off.
Niederreiter and the Swiss lost to Latvia on Tuesday. In four games, Niederreiter had no points, was plus-2, 10 shots and led Swiss forwards in average ice time at 17 minutes, 5 seconds a game. If you watched the tournament, Niederreiter played very well, but he didn't produce offensively for the offensively-challenged team. He was robbed often.
As far as I can tell, the Wild will have 17 players on the ice today -- 11 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies.
Forwards: Brodziak, Cooke, Coyle, Fontaine, Heatley, Koivu, Mitchell, Pominville, Dowell, Rupp and I assume Zucker, unless his "minor procedure" will keep him off the ice.
Defensemen: Ballard, Blum, Brodin, Prosser, Spurgeon and Stoner.
Goalies: Backstrom and Kuemper.
If you missed it, Mikael Granlund had a heck of a game in Finland's 3-1 victory over Russia in the Olympic quarterfinals. He set up Teemu Selanne after a great hustling play for the second goal and then scored the third goal with a terrific whipping backhand inside the post.
Granlund's having a scintillating tournament. In four games, he leads the Finns with three goals and 19 shots. His role has been elevated dramatically due to Finland's injuries and he's playing alongside his hero Selanne, who played in his first of six Olympics before Granlund was even born.
The U.S. plays the Czechs at 11 a.m. on USA Network, while Canada plays the Latvians at 11 a.m. on MSNBC.
Sweden, who shut out Slovenia today, will play the winner of Finland-Russia in the semis Friday, while the winner of U.S-Czechs and Canada-Latvia plays in the other semifinal game Friday.
The bronze medal game is Saturday, while the gold-medal game is Sunday.
The best possible news has come on defenseman Marco Scandella.
He didn’t blow out his knee. He has a sprained knee, coach Mike Yeo said this morning. I hear it’s a sprained right MCL, which is a similar injury to what Charlie Coyle had at the beginning of the season. He missed 11 games and a little less than four weeks.
It’s usually a 3-to-4 week injury, and the good news is that after Scandella misses Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators, the Wild has 20 days off for the Olympics before it resumes its schedule Feb. 27-28 in Edmonton and Vancouver.
So the hope it that Scandella will be ready by the time the season starts again or at least soon after. That’s also good news for the Wild because a Scandella long-term injury would likely force GM Chuck Fletcher into some kind of desperate trade for a defenseman before the March 5 deadline.
I don’t doubt he would still like to add a defenseman anyway, but with the cap situation limited for the Wild and almost every team in the league, there’s just no chance to address every single need before the deadline. A long-term loss to Scandella probably would have made defense the most pressing need.
“When you saw it happen last night, I knew right away what it was,” coach Mike Yeo said. “The fact that it’s not as serious [as we thought], the positive is the timing of it. Hopefully he doesn’t miss anything.
“You have to think time-wise, there’d be a good chance to have him back coming out of the break. If you’re going to do it, now’s the time to do it, for sure. We’ll have to make sure we stay on top of it. He’s had a really strong season for us. Very valuable piece. Coming out of that break, we’re going to need him. but we’ve been faced with this, guys have stepped up and we need them to do it again.”
Because Keith Ballard can play right D and the Wild lost a left D, Jonas Brodin moved from top-pair right D in today’s practice and took Scandella’s spot on the left side. Jared Spurgeon, a right D, moved up and took Brodin’s spot to the right of Ryan Suter. Nate Prosser moved back to second pair right D, while Clayton Stoner, scratched against Tampa Bay last night, will move back to his usual left side next to usual partner Keith Ballard.
Stephane Veilleux was placed on waivers. When he clears Thursday, he’ll be assigned to Iowa for the Olympics. He was going to be scratched against Nashville so Justin Fontaine can get back to the lineup. Fontaine will likely play on the fourth line with Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell.
Yeo said the Wild would “really love to go into this break on a winning note.”
He doesn’t want players looking ahead to their time off. Again, the Wild will resume practicing Feb. 19.
Haula will likely be assigned to Iowa for the Olympic break. The Wild is meeting about that now.
There’s a rule that says you’re entitled to an Olympic break if you participate in 16 of your team’s last 20 games. Thursday is 15 for Haula.
Darcy Kuemper has started or been backup in the past 17, so he no longer can be sent to Iowa even if the Wild wanted to.
There are other complicated rules as well and I think Jason Zucker falls into one of those because it sounded today like Zucker now won’t be sent to Iowa.
Yeo said today, “There’s definitely a value in rest. It’s going to be a grind coming out of this break,” but then he added you don’t want young guys to get rusty.
Mikko Koivu will miss Thursday’s game and there is still no decision in terms of the Olympics, although it’s seeming increasingly unlikely.
“Mikko’s doing everything he can to come back,” GM Chuck Fletcher told me this morning. “It’s a six-to-eight-week injury that we’re trying to accelerate and have him come back in five, but not only is he not cleared to play right now, he’s not even cleared to practice with the team.
“There’s a lot of healing and work that needs to be done to get him to that position. If we can get him there, great, but I think people need to understand how hard he’s working to get healthy and come back. But it is what it is. Your body’s only going to heal the way it’s going to heal. There’s no magic wand here. He’s skating on his own, but it’s a long way from skating on your own to playing in a high-end international Olympic game.”
So, are you saying it’s doubtful?
“That’s not for me to say. I’m just trying to present the facts to you. Doctors are involved and we’ll see how his body continues to respond. But he won’t be cleared to practice with the team tomorrow. It’s not like this is just going to turn here in the next day or two. Once you start practicing with the team and taking contact, how long ‘til you’re able to play in a game, are there any setbacks? There’s a whole host of issues you have to look at. My only thing is I don’t want to rush it and I want to make sure we err on the side of caution. If he’s ready, great, but I don’t want to be gambling with his health and nor does Mikko. I give him lot of credit to have that surgery. A lot of people would not have had that surgery, so he’s doing everything he can to accelerate this. But he can only do so much.”
-- 2013 sixth-round pick Avery Peterson, who has 30 goals and 55 points in 22 games for Grand Rapids, was named a finalist for Minnesota Mr. Hockey today. He leads his team in goals, assists and points.
--The Wild made a minor-league trade, sending Chad Rau to San Jose for forward Curt Gogol. Rau, 27, played 299 games for Houston and Iowa and scored two goals in nine NHL games.
Gogol, 22, has four points and 149 penalty minutes in 40 games for Worcester this season. In 131 AHL games, he has 20 points and 455 penalty minutes. He'll head to Iowa.
I'll be on KFAN from 9:55 a.m.-10:35 a.m. Thursday.
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