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.