Before every practice, Wild players skate nonchalantly around the circumference of the ice for five minutes to get their legs loose. The scene looks a lot like your typical open skating at your local rink.
It was all fun and games Monday until Mikael Granlund, on the ice with his Wild teammates for the first time since Nov. 27, tripped and crashed headfirst into the boards.
It wasn’t exactly the smoothest way back from a concussion.
“But you got to test it out, I guess, right?” joked coach Mike Yeo, who was nervous until he saw Granlund stand up laughing.
Granlund has missed nine consecutive games and 11 of the past 12. He lasted 29 seconds Nov. 27 against Phoenix before being dazed again on a hit. The Wild is 5-6-1 and has scored 18 goals in that stretch.
If Granlund had his way, he would play Tuesday against Vancouver, although Yeo said that’s doubtful. Granlund said he felt surprisingly good in practice.
“He’s certainly getting close,” said Yeo, adding that Granlund will accompany the team on a three-game road trip that begins Thursday in Pittsburgh. “To see him out there taking part in everything was a real good sign.”
In a six-game stretch, Granlund took three hard hits, starting with a head shot by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri. In his first game back, Granlund was stunned when Phoenix defenseman Connor Murphy got his arms up to protect himself from Granlund’s check.
Granlund, who is 5-10, is willing to go into the hard areas and initiate contact. But Yeo says Granlund must protect himself better.
“There’s things you can learn,” Yeo said.
“There’s certain situations where you can learn to protect yourself in and there’s times where, especially in this league, that you can’t get away with some of the things that you were getting away with in other leagues.
“One of the things that make him great is the way he competes, and I think he’s done a great job going to the middle of the ice and creating a lot more offense because of that. We have to make sure we’re helping him in many areas in many ways as far as how he can protect himself.”
Granlund agreed, “You need to be smart. I feel that’s part of my game to go to those little holes and try to make tough plays. I really don’t want to get away from that. But I need to be smart, and that’s something I should learn more.”
Former Northwest Division rivals, the Wild and Canucks usually played a healthy dose of games by mid-December. But with the Wild in the new Central Division and the Canucks in the new Pacific, Tuesday’s meeting will be the first of three this season — and Wild winger Matt Cooke’s first taste of the rivalry from the Minnesota perspective. He played for Vancouver from 1998 to 2008.
“I now have thankfully earned the trust of the fans here in Minnesota — and media members as well — so it’s different,” Cooke said.