I walked through the locker room today wearing a gas mask to stay healthy.
Looked strange, but at least I survived. And I didn't get as much guff from players as when I decided stupidly to wear a Finland hat in the locker room in Helsinki.
With that blue and white Suomi hat, I made friends with Koivu, Miettinen and Backstrom, but not Czechs like Havlat or Canadians like Burns, Schultz and Latendresse, who jabbed me to no end.
Every team in the league deals with at least one bug infestation sweeping through the locker room a season, and it appears as if the Wild's starting now with the yuckiness. Yesterday it was Matt Cullen out sick. Today, it was still Cullen, but Nick Schultz and Martin Havlat also missed practice. Coach Todd Richards said some other players are feeling the effects of the same illness, so there is definitely a chance Richards shows up at the rink tomorrow and discovers two or three other guys are struck.
What does this mean? A lot of guys are questionable for Tuesday's game against the Canuckleheads, and for a team only carrying one extra defenseman in Clayton Stoner and no extra forwards, I'd assume the team will have to call up some insurance from the minors later today or in the morning.
Good news today is defenseman Brent Burns, despite a broken foot, hit the ice for the skate and is expected to play tomorrow. He's got some protective gear on his boot and looked to be talking it over at times with fellow defenseman Greg Zanon, who played much of the last month of last season with a broken foot. So did Nick Schultz, I believe, but it was kept largely a secret.
Solid practice today, and then it ended with a little fun. Richards, undeniably a conscious effort to get some smiles and fun back into the team after yesterday's punishing day, lined the team up at center ice for a shoot the puck into an empty net contest. The contest included the coaches, and after a few seconds, players were howling and having fun.
Heckles if players missed. Exaggerated fist pumps and celebrations (Mikko Koivu's was the best) if they connected.
Richards, for the record, whistled his snap shot just wide of the left post and quipped afterward, "It’d probably be pretty safe to say that if they had to pick anybody to lose, I would have been at the top of a lot of lists."
Richards though made clear that he challenged the players yesterday and now he expects a positive response against the Canucks. Richards said he is considering shuffling the lines, but probably not against Vancouver. He thinks it's important that when you challenge the team, you now give them a chance to respond.
Of course, that's what Richards said today. If he comes to the rink tomorrow and a handful of guys are sick and can't play, Richards will have no other choice but to scramble his lines.
One line that's struggled is that third line of John Madden, Eric Nystrom and Chuck Kobasew. Nystrom's been on for seven of the team's 10 goals allowed and all 6 at even-strength. Kobasew and Madden have been on for six goals each -- five at even-strength.
Nystrom was absolutely brilliant today talking about his struggles. He was refreshingly honest and joked the line's just getting their slump out of the way early.
By the way, one of my favorite players growing up, Nystrom's pops Bobby Nystrom is in town. I also met Brad Staubitz's dad today and Mikko Koivu's dad was in the stands.
Funny story, but I was at Dunn Bros. having coffee with former ref Kerry Fraser this morning. Great, great stories by Kerry, by the way, which you can read in my next Sunday's Insider. Staubitz's dad came up because he just had to shake Fraser's hand, and the two talked for a few minutes.
A few minutes later, Brad Staubitz's uncle came over and said, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I just have to tell people I also met Kerry Fraser."
Fraser by the way will be signing his new book, "The Final Call," in the Hockey Lodge before and throughout Tuesday's game, and he'll be signing books at Tom Reid's Pub after the game. The book isn't released until Saturday, but you can buy the book at the Hockey Lodge at the arena, at Mall of America and Tom Reid's.
Lastly, very happy players today. Many got their escrow refund checks. Last year, 18 percent of their salaries were withheld in case the league didn't reach revenues. Players wound up getting, according to Staubitz, 9.125 percent back.
This year, the NHLPA has decided to have 17 percent of checks withheld. Players hate it at the time, but it's a better option than players having money collected from them after the season.