Afternoon from beautiful Duluth, where there is a cool breeze in the air and the trees are turning color. The Wild's currently golfing after practicing today here:
Yesterday, before the Wild left for the team-building mission just over the bridge here in Superior, Wisconsin, coach Mike Yeo told us a story about how the Penguins toned down their West Point challenges during their annual team-building missions because they didn't want to lose Sidney Crosby for three months because he got trapped underneath a Jeep.
Yeo then said, "Hopefully we don't get anybody hurt today," then searched out a chair so he could "knock on wood."
Marian Gaborik used to knock on wood every time he'd talk about avoiding groin injuries. Pavel Bure used to knock on wood every time he'd talk about avoiding knee injuries.
Wood don't work, folks.
Of course, I'm not very superstitious, unless you consider it superstitious that I can't leave the house each morning without putting my right shoe on before my left, without drinking 22.8 ounces of coffee and without hurling an arrow between the eyes of my Kevin Falness dartboard.
Josh Harding hurt his ankle during yesterday's team-building exercise. They're not saying during what activity or what the injury is, but he had some swelling today and will get it checked out. Harding said he thinks the injury is minor but was told he couldn't comment further to the media. However, he was walking pretty good on it, so perhaps that's a good sign and it's an indeed a minor stumble for a guy that usually can't catch a break.
Remember, months after season-ending hip surgery in 2009-10, Harding debuted in the 2010-11 preseason by tearing his ACL and MCL. So hopefully the ankle injury doesn't cost him a place as Niklas Backstrom's backup Saturday.
If it does, Matt Hackett is on his way to Duluth so Houston Aeros GM Jim Mill, who probably won't be walking too good tomorrow, doesn't have to tend goal again. If Hackett will be in a Wild uniform to open the season, the Wild's first set of back-to-back games is on the road against the Islanders and Ottawa on Oct. 10-11.
However, it's not your normal back-to-back. The start times are 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (Wild will be in Ottawa by dinnertime on the 10th), so no doubt that Backstrom could start both games if the Wild wasn't comfortable throwing Hackett into the fire yet.
Of course, remember, this is pure conjecture and maybe Harding will be OK.
Players loved yesterday's team-building exercise, by the way, and put forth pretty impressive effort today despite the physically-demanding day before.
Yeo said he's obviously bothered how Harding got hurt, but "there's risk in everything. There's risk in practice. At the end of the day, it stinks anytime you lose a player, but I still know what we did yesterday was important to our team, just like practice you run a risk going out doing something that's important for your group."
The Wild had a great practice at the beautiful Amsoil Arena, home of the national champion UMD Bulldogs. Brilliant arena, other than the eye sore seats and the fact Glen Andresen is an alum.
Cal Clutterbuck, who's been nursing a groin injury, returned to practice, and Mill tended goal, which made for some funny moments.
If you don't know anything about Mill's illustrious hockey career, check this out:
Mill, who doubles as the Wild's assistant to the GM, is 43 and hasn't strapped on the pads since his last game in 1997, when he came out of retirement for the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks of the ECHL. I used to cover some of those games. Mill was the Tiger Sharks' assistant everything, the starting goalie got hurt and he signed on the dotted line.
He lost in a shootout in Nashville, then played in Birmingham the next night for a 4-3 win -- his last game.
Mill looked good during the longest practice in training camp, although Greg Zanon joked that he hadn't sniped a goalie like that in two or three years.
Mill showed off the two-pad stack and great form like, uh, this:
Like I said, it was a long, long practice, and Mill refused to skate when Yeo put the players through a conditioning skate after because "I would have died."
Wild goalie coach Bob Mason hasn't donned the pads in nine years and refused to do so again, I think because he didn't want to tarnish his UMD memories, and GM Chuck Fletcher thinks because he didn't want to ruin his golf game.
Couple other items:
-- I've been reporting this the last few days, but league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan plans to speak today with Eric Nystrom, but Nystrom says he's been told he's been given the all-clear and will not be suspended for Friday's unfortunate accident in which Taylor Fedun broke his femur during a race for an icing.
-- Dany Heatley: "Make sure you put in your column the Badgers are fourth in the nation and will win the national title."
(Get used to a lot of Gopher chirping from Heatley)
-- Nystrom was called over to the bench during practice by assistant equipment manager Matt Benz, who wanted to show him UMD's national championship ring. Remember, UMD beat Nystrom's alum, Michigan, in the Final at the X.