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 Wild training camp

Hybrid icing approved for the upcoming season

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 30, 2013 - 6:30 PM

The NHL has experimented all preseason with hybrid icing after league GM's recommended the rule change back in June. After a survey among NHL Players' Association members (i.e. the players) this past weekend, hybrid icing has finally been approved in the NHL.

The NHL was the only league that had a full-on race for the puck.

As Wild fans know, former Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster sustained a horrific injury in March 2008 in San Jose when he was hit from behind accidently by now-Wild winger Torrey Mitchell as Foster went back to touch up an icing.

Foster broke his femur and it sent his career into flux. In a class move, former Wild GM Doug Risebrough re-signed Foster even though Risebrough knew Foster wouldn't be close to ready by the next season. But it gave Foster motivation to rehab and he indeed worked his way back to play the final six games of the 2008-09 season.

Foster's injury led to a slight rule change -- a two-minute minor if a player going back to beat out an icing hit his opponent with the sole purpose of not going after the puck.

But Foster, now playing in the KHL, had long campaigned for no-touch or hybrid icing, particularly after Carolina's Joni Pitkanen broke his ankle in several places late last season. If you remember, an angry Foster sent me a flurry of comments he asked me to tweet and write at the time.

Well, Pitkanen's season is over for Carolina and his career is in jeopardy. I texted Foster a little bit ago, but it's late out in wherever he is over the ocean. When I hear back, I'll add his thoughts.

Here is the press release:

NHL TO IMPLEMENT HYBRID ICING FOR 2013-14 SEASON
NEW YORK/TORONTO (September 30, 2013) -- The National Hockey League
Players’ Association (NHLPA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) announced today that
Hybrid Icing will be implemented for the commencement of the 2013-14 regular season. The
Hybrid Icing rule had been tested during the 2013-14 preseason.
“After testing hybrid icing during the preseason games, the players participated in a
survey and a majority of teams supported this rule change in an effort to make the game
safer,” said Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA Special Assistant to the Executive Director. “We are
hopeful that the implementation of the hybrid icing rule, which is a middle ground between the
old rule and no-touch icing, will help minimize the incidence of Player injuries on icing plays.”
The Icing Rule now reads Rule 81.1 – Icing:
For the purpose of this rule, the center red line will divide the ice into halves.
Should any player of a team, equal or superior in numerical strength (power-play)
to the opposing team, shoot, bat or deflect the puck from his own half of the ice
beyond the goal line of the opposing team, play shall be stopped. For the purpose
of deflected pucks, this only applies when the puck was originally propelled down
the ice by the offending team.
For the purpose of this rule, the point of last contact with the puck by the team in
possession shall be used to determine whether icing has occurred or not. As such,
the team in possession must “gain the line” in order for the icing to be nullified.
“Gaining the line” shall mean that the puck, while on the player’s stick (not the
player’s skate) must make contact with the center red line in order to nullify a
potential icing.
For the purpose of interpretation of the rule, there are two judgments required for
"icing the puck". The Linesman must first determine that the puck will cross the
goal line. Once the Linesman determines that the puck will cross the goal line, icing
is completed upon the determination as to which player (attacking or defending)
would first touch the puck. This decision by the Linesman will be made the instant
the first player reaches the end zone face-off dots with the player's skate being the
determining factor. Should the puck be shot down the ice in such a manner that it
travels around the boards and/or back towards the end zone face-off dots, the
same procedure shall be in effect in that the Linesman shall determine within a
similar distance as to who will have touched the puck first.
For clarification, the determining factor is which player would first touch the puck,
not which player would first reach the end zone face-off dots.
If the race for the puck is too close to determine by the time the first Player reaches
the end zone face-off dots, icing shall be called.
The puck striking or deflecting off an official does not automatically nullify a potential icing.

Justin Fontaine returns "home;" Mikko Koivu joining Wild on Tuesday

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 30, 2013 - 1:01 PM

Good day from beautiful Duluth and the terrific AMSOIL Arena, where there's quite a few banners hanging from the rafters -- Tommy Kurvers, some guy named Brett Hull, a national championship banner from 2011.

There's also a picture of this guy -- the great UMD goalie of all-time and longtime Wild goalie coach, Bob Mason.

Just an fyi: I will be hosting a live online chat on www.startribune.com/wild on Thursday at 2 p.m.

Today was Justin Fontaine Day at AMSOIL. The former Bulldogs national champ returned here as a bona fide NHLer and the local press was waiting with open arms.

Being a 25-year-old rookie and newbie inside the Wild dressing room, you can tell Fontaine is just a tad uncomfortable with all the attention he's getting.

"It's always good coming back to your college town," Fontaine said sheepishly.

His teammates got a kick out of the building manager blaring the arena's horn when Fontaine scored a shootout goal toward the end of practice. They threatened to fine him.

"That was a nice touch," coach Mike Yeo said of the loud noise that echoed through the college barn.

Fontaine will make his NHL debut on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings as a left winger on the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell.

"Coming back would be nice, but the idea that you're coming back and you just survived final cuts to stay with an NHL team, I think it's got to be really exciting for him now," Yeo said.

Fontaine had two solid years in Houston and worked hard off the ice to get his body in tip-top shape. Yeo was asked why it took so long for Fontaine to arrive after signing as a free agent in 2011.

"Part of it is paying your dues and developing in the minors," Yeo said. "This is the best league in the world. Obviously he had a great college career, but like most players, there are other things you have to learn to make that next step. You've got to give him a lot of credit because he's improved in all the areas he needed to improve on and he's now ready to make that step."

Yeo likes Fontaine's versatility and noted that even though he was a top-line player in college, but there are only so many of those in the NHL. He said if a player wants to be really smart, he "would get good at all aspects of the game so they can fill in on any role."

Yeo likes that Fontaine can move up in the lineup if there's an injury or an underperformer.

Captain Mikko Koivu remained in the Twin Cities with his fiancee and newborn daughter. He will join the Wild tonight in Duluth for practice Tuesday. Kyle Brodziak was lost for part of practice today because he fell to the ice and then conveniently took a puck to the forehead. He bled badly but was stitched up and back out on the ice in a jiffy.

The Wild's currently golfing after a light practice today. Yeo plans to get right back at it Tuesday with a hard practice to gear up for Thursday's opener against Los Angeles.

Last time we were in Duluth, Josh Harding hurt his ankle if I remember correctly at the team-building exercise the day before. Jim Mill, the Wild's assistant to the GM and now Iowa GM (was Houston), had to tend goal. Yeo noted the upgrade today in goal with Harding and Nik Backstrom on the ice but said, "mind you, it hurt the confidence of our shooters today" that Mill wasn't out there.

One other funny line. Zach Parise, with a gigantic smile, was asked his memories of Duluth: "I remember all they had to do was get one point off us for the [2004] MacNaughton Cup and we swept 'em. It was awesome."

WILD PREGAME FESTIVITIES THURSDAY

The Wild will host pre-game parties at Xcel Energy Center
before its games on Thursday, Oct. 3 and Saturday,
Oct. 5. Fans are encouraged to attend the free events
from 4:30-6:30 p.m. outside Gate 2. The parties will
include live music by Five Man Advantage, NHL Alumni
autographs, face painters, food and drink featuring the
Budweiser Ice Bar, a Hockey Lodge retail booth, a KFAN
100.3 FM booth and the University of Minnesota Drum
Line. Additionally, on Thursday only, FOX Sports North
will have a promotional booth, while KFAN’s Dan Barriero
will broadcast live from 3-6:30 p.m.

Wild's anticipated opening night lineup; Mike Yeo on today's roster decisions

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 30, 2013 - 7:24 AM

Following today's moves to send Jason Zucker and Jake Dowell to Iowa, here is the Wild's anticipated 22-man opening roster and lineup Thursday night vs. Los Angeles (this is barring transactions; the fact the Wild sent Jake Dowell down, too, opens the door to perhaps a waiver pickup Monday):

Forwards

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville

Nino Niederreiter-Charlie Coyle-Dany Heatley

Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Mikael Granlund

Justin Fontaine-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell

Injured: Mike Rupp (knee)

Defensemen

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Keith Ballard-Matt Dumba

Extras: Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser

Goalies

Niklas Backstrom

Josh Harding

Fontaine will make his NHL debut; Yeo said there's a good chance of Dumba as well.

Fontaine is very excited to make the team, and both Fontaine and Dumba say they're not taking anything for granted. They know nothing is cemented in stone. Dumba said he's well aware he can still be returned to Red Deer before he plays in a 10th game without the first year of his contract being burned.

Zucker tweeted: @Jason_Zucker16: Nobody to blame but myself.. Have to be better and will be better! See you soon Minnesota! #JustWait #MNWild

As for Zucker, I'm shocked at frankly the shock out there. It's been clear the last four days that he was on thin ice. He got hurt at the wrong time in camp and was outperformed by Nino Niederreiter for the second-line left wing spot -- for now. He can be back at anytime.

As for Mikael Granlund, he had a great camp, looks faster, grittier and stronger. If you have two shooters on the second power-play unit in Coyle and Niederreiter, Granlund makes sense because he's a puck distributor. Zucker is another shooter. The Wild also has concerns with Zucker's defensive game, and although he scored a playoff OT winner in Game 3, he didn't produce down the stretch of last season. This is all in the Wild's mind.

Again though, he will play games here this season. He's 21 years old. The AHL is a developmental league and most the great players in this league have played in the AHL. He hasn't even had to spend a full year in the minors (55 games), so chill.

Here are Mike Yeo's thoughts on today's moves, particularly sending Zucker down:

Zucker conversation: Obviously everybody’s goal is to be here, so you’d be pretty concerned if a player was happy or didn’t show some disappointment. As far as Zuck, it really comes down to we’re not prepared to put him on the fourth line right now and we’re not prepared to have him be a healthy scratch. What you saw on the ice today was us gearing up for Game 1 and we’re really not focused on anything beyond that.

Nino and Granlund: He earned it, as far as I’m concerned, the games that he played. We like what he can add to the [Coyle-Heatley line]. Playing against a team like L.A., we’ve got a bigger body. You’ve got a guy that can shoot, a guy that can skate, a guy that can handle the puck. He played like a top-6 forward in training camp and we’re giving him that opportunity up there. Granny had a good camp, too. We spent the entire camp really looking at him as a centerman. We feel we can get a lot out of him as a winger, too. He had a good camp. He showed that he’s battled harder, he’s showed that he’s faster, defensively he did a very good job for us, and we feel he can be a good complement to the [Cooke-Brodziak] line. You have two guys with size and two guys that play a strong, hard game, so we feel putting a guy there with Granny’s ability to distribute the puck, it could complement that line plus give Granny a bigger role.

Message to Zucker: Just make sure you’re on top of his game because we don’t know when it’s going to be. We know that he’s there and to be perfectly honest, I like the idea that everybody on our team knows that he’s there. It shouldn’t be too difficult to make sure that you’re ready to go knowing that there’s a guy like that waiting in the wings.

Fontaine: He seems like he’s the kind of guy that you can move in different parts of your lineup. He plays an intelligent game, he can play well with the puck, he can execute, he can make some plays, but at the same time, he can play well positionally. It makes him the kind of guy you can put in different parts of the lineup. Plus, he’s the kind of guy that I don’t think we’re going to have a ton of concern right now playing him on the fourth line or third line. He’s at a point in his development where we don’t have to really stress about  making sure he gets too much. The next step for him is playing at the NHL level and developing there

Interchangeable parts: Or Granny can go up, or Granny can play center. It even gives us some flexibility even in the game. Having Granny in the lineup is also big for our power play. It gives us flexibility through the course of the game and night to night to throw out different look.

Dowell: The message was pretty clear. We’re being honest with it that our focus is sort of for this game -- getting ready for this week and then thing can change in hurry.
 

Not carrying an extra forward to save salary cap/proximity of Iowa: But also it doesn’t help anybody to sit around and not play. So it's just a matter of Iowa is close and they're playing the same game, the same system, so let's just concentrate on the group that we're going in with. So to have anybody up here who's not going to play and just sit around and be an extra, it doesn't help the guys that are in the lineup and it doesn't help them.
 

Dumba NHL debut Thursday: I would say there's a good chance of that.
 

How will you use him: Again, this is a game one focus for us with this group. With the amount of young guys that we have, I think it just has to be something that we stay on top of night after night.
 

Prove himself being one of the best defenseman in St. Louis: He played his gap, his skating ability, makes him a tough guy to play against defensively. There's still some things that he can get a little better at with some teaching and some time here he'll continue to get better at that. What it comes down to is his ability to move the puck, his ability to get in the play. We're a team that needs to generate more from the offensive blue line and he's a guy that has the ability to.
 

What do you want to accomplish the next four days: Well, bigger picture things. Obviously there's tactical parts that we want to get into. We've got the team building trip which will be nice. Bottom line is our main focus is on pace, making sure that we're doing things at game speed, the speed that we want to play games at when we drop the puck on Thursday. Number two is the competitiveness. You saw a lot of battle in our practice today. Number three would be the detail and the habits. And number four would be the execution -- just making sure that we're sharp and crisp and we have a good feeling going into game one.
 

How fluid will the lineup be: Most of the time, you're not making a lot of changes to your lineup when things are going really well. So I hope that we play 82 in a row with the same lineup (laughing). But I don't think that that's going to happen. And even at that, we won't be afraid to change the lineup if we win. We won't be afraid to change the lineup if we lose because we've got moving parts. Because we've got guys that are capable of playing different positions and guys that are capable of pushing. So I think that's going to be interesting following the story line of that as things go on. Again, we don't know what it's going to look like in Game 5. We know what it will look like in Game 1.

How do you keep from getting stale next four days: We're going to back off a little tomorrow. Obviously today was a very tough practice and we're going to back off tomorrow so we can ramp it back up on Tuesday.

Jason Zucker, Jake Dowell reassigned to Iowa; Fontaine, Dumba among those staying

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 29, 2013 - 9:50 AM

The Wild has assigned Jason Zucker and Jake Dowell to Iowa of the American Hockey League, trimming its roster to 22 players this morning.

Obviously disappointed, Zucker left the Xcel Energy Center with his bag and sticks and declined to comment.

Again, as the Wild has said over and over this camp, in its mind, whoever didn't make the opening-night roster simply won't be in the lineup opening night vs. L.A. on Thursday. It's not, "not making the team."

With Iowa in such close proximity and so many players on contracts that allow the Wild to send them up and down freely, this could happen for some time.

Zucker will be back at some point. But against big, tough L.A., coach Mike Yeo must feel he needs rugged Zenon Konopka in the lineup, meaning one of the kids will be scratched.

Zucker would be that guy. He's admitted to feeling sore since his groin injury, Mikael Granlund has also had a quality camp and the second power play has two shooters in Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Zucker is a shooter, Granlund a puck distributor.

We haven't talked to Yeo or GM Chuck Fletcher, but to send Dowell down and go below the maximum 23, the Wild is likely looking to save precious salary-cap space since Dowell would be the clear extra forward. This also would allow the Wild to sign David Steckel at any time if it wants.

So, as of now, UMD-Bulldog Justin Fontaine is on the team. Same with Granlund, Niederreiter and Matt Dumba.

And of course, Coyle.

By the way, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are practicing today here at the X, as well as Torrey Mitchell. The Wild heads to Duluth for two days after practice.

Opening Night roster as of now (must be submitted at 4 p.m. Monday)

Forwards

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville

Dany Heatley-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine

Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell

Mikael Granlund-Zenon Konopka-Nino Niederreiter

(If it were me, I'd switch Fontaine and Niederreiter, but Fontaine's been on that line most of camp, so I'll put him there for now)

Defensemen

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Keith Ballard-Matt Dumba

Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser

Goalies

Niklas Backstrom

Josh Harding

Injured: Mike Rupp (knee)

More later

Wild loses finale after Harding leaves game with illness; Dumba staying for now

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 28, 2013 - 11:29 AM

Saturday morning update: Jake Dowell and Tyler Cuma cleared waivers. Dowell remains on the roster for now. Cuma is in Iowa. No roster moves expected today. Wild has the day off. Injury updates and news will come Sunday prior to the Wild bussing to Duluth.

The Wild fell in its preseason finale Friday night in St. Louis when the big, bad Blues stormed back from a 1-0 deficit by scoring four third-period goals on the fourth goalie on the Wild’s depth chart, Johan Gustafsson.

The Blues, after falling behind on Jared Spurgeon’s power-play goal midway through the first, turned up the dial in the second half of the second period and never let up, so there was not much Gustafsson could do as the Wild was on its heels all period.

Gustafsson was in the game because Josh Harding reported to the trainers during the second intermission that he wasn’t feeling well. Coach Mike Yeo hadn’t talked to Harding postgame yet and said “hopefully he’s just not feeling well.”

Turns out Niklas Backstrom was supposed to start tonight, but he was feeling sore, so the Wild decided not to risk any injury and that’s why it didn’t bring him. Yeo said there’s “nothing remotely wrong” with Backstrom, so not to worry.

Harding by the way stopped all 15 shots he saw through two periods. He gave up two goals in 145 minutes in the preseason (0.83 GAA) and had a .962 save percentage. I tried to talk to him postgame as he headed to the bus, but he must not have wanted to chat.

--Late in tonight’s game, forward Torrey Mitchell was tripped up behind the play in one of corners by defenseman Roman Polak. The Wild claimed it was a slewfoot. I never got a look and there were no in-house replays. Mitchell was down on the ice for awhile, but he finally got up and skated to the bench and into the locker room by his own power. So hopefully he’s OK, but Yeo didn’t have a report yet. Mitchell’s had a real good camp.

--If he isn’t hurt, the Wild has one more roster move to make (the Wild has Saturday off, so it may come before it heads to Duluth on Sunday). Read my main article in Saturday’s paper because GM Chuck Fletcher said people shouldn’t go crazy by whatever that final move will be. Fletcher said the opening night lineup is not who’s “making the team.” It’s who is playing opening night.

So if Yeo decides he wants to go with an all-skill fourth line like he did tonight with Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, maybe Jake Dowell is reassigned. If he feels he needs some beef in the lineup and wants to play Zenon Konopka or Dowell vs. the Kings on Thursday, maybe one of the entry-level guys like Zucker and Granlund has to temporarily go down.

But Fletcher said, especially with Des Moines so close and so many players on contracts that allow them to go up and down, the Wild may shuttle players back and forth for some time depending on what players Yeo wants to play on a certain night.

There’s definitely some intriguing elements of an all-skill line like Zucker-Granlund-Niederreiter. They were threats often early and seemed to catch St. Louis off guard with speed. But against a Blues as big and strong as St. Louis, you need some ruggedness and Yeo was curious to see how the kids would handle the Blues’ heavier, grittier men.

Yeo felt Zucker played with more energy today and like the unconventional kid’s fourth line in the first half of the game. Like the whole team, not so much late.

I did ask Fletcher about Zucker today and Fletcher said, “[Zucker] knows he can play better than what he is, and I have no doubt he will get his game back in order. “There’s a possibility he plays games in the NHL and AHL this year. It’s going to be up to him. But there’s no doubt he’s going to be a really good player in this league.

“He’s too good a player not to find his stride here at some point.”

--One player who did play well tonight is Matt Dumba. He had a real good first half of his game and he was one of the rare players Yeo liked late. He’s staying. The Wild is in no rush to make a decision on him, especially when it has a nine-game window to make a decision between Dumba staying in Minnesota or going back to Red Deer.

The question is how much does he play and how does he handle the NHL game.

“We’re comfortable carrying eight defensemen if needed,” Fletcher said. “It’s pretty tough to make a definitive call on [Dumba] based on a few preseason games. We’ll get into the season and see how much he plays, how often, how well and the answer will be obvious to everybody.”

--Jonas Brodin played left D tonight. Normally he plays right D (difficult for a left-shot D), and he didn’t look overly comfortable. Good thing Ryan Suter will come back and save the day as his partner and he can move back to right D. Suter had the night off.

Nate Prosser played top pair with Brodin tonight and looked good. There were a lot of scouts here and it looks like it’ll be another year of Prosser being the extra guy. At some point, for the sake of Prosser’s career, the Wild should probably look to move him. But as of now, Fletcher doesn’t want to delete any blue-liners until he’s sure Dumba can play in the NHL.

Pairs right now are:

Suter-Brodin

Scandella-Spurgeon

Ballard (night off tonight)-Dumba

Or, if Dumba sits on certain nights, most likely:

Stoner-Ballard (if Dumba sits)

--Yeo on tonight’s game: “I thought even the second half of the second period, they turned it up to another level and it set us back. Puck execution was the biggest problem. We weren’t executing the right way, allowed them to have long shifts in our zone, allowed them to build momentum and I think that gave them the feeling going into the third period that if they continue to do that, the right thing would happen and we never did anything to stop that.”

--On lesson from this: “To be honest with you, I think it’s good for our whole team. I think this is better for us than it would have been to win this game. We’ve had a good camp, but if it was all rosy and all success, I would have been concerned about that. The fact that this is a reminder of the things you need to do and the way we need to play, I think that should help us more.”

--Wild finished the preseason 4-2. Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise set up the Spurgeon goal. But the two of them and Jason Pominville were on for the first three third-period goals, and Koivu and Pominville were actually on for the fourth, too. Pominville also seemed to survive a hit from behind in the head from David Backes tonight. Backes also clocked Matt Cooke at game’s end. Cooke said he was ok and his own visor got him in the face. This was after Cooke came out of the box for getting into it with Polak after his alleged slewfoot on Mitchell. Cooke also nailed Jay Bouwmeester with a clean hit in the second. Chris Stewart lost his mind on Cooke and earned a 4-minute roughing penalty. The Wild didn’t register a shot during two ugly, I believe, shotless power plays that probably gave power-play consultant Andrew Brunette indigestion.

-- I felt Justin Fontaine had a welcome to the NHL game. Probably eye opening, but he also made some nice plays out there, too. Yeo felt this was Dany Heatley’s best game.

“I was happy about playing this team twice in a row,” Yeo said. “I knew we were either going to play two good games or we were going to get spanked like we did tonight. It’s a good reminder.

“We have a good feel where everybody’s at and now we’ll use this week to get ready.”

Again, day off Saturday. Sunday morning the Wild practices at the X before heading to Duluth for a team dinner. Monday, practice, golf and team dinner. Tuesday, the Wild practices at AMSOIL Arena at 10 a.m. and it’s free and open to the public.

Opening Night is Thursday!

OK, I’m exhausted, need to do Wild Minute (that usually takes me 60 Minutes) and get out of here so I can get some shut-eye for an early flight back to Minnesota.

Likely no blog Saturday with the team off. Injury news and cut may come Sunday.

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