You know training camp is on the horizon when the pre-training camp camps start to crank up with Wild players and Minnesota-based NHLers. The camps already have impressive numbers and only grow as training camp gets closer.
Remember, Wild training camp begins Sept. 11 with fitness testing and physicals. The first day on the ice will be Sept. 12 at Ridder Arena before camp moves to Xcel Energy Center. There will be six preseason games followed by a likely two-day getaway for team bonding Sept. 29-30. The team hasn’t officially decided where it will go yet, but it will likely be somewhere in northern Minnesota, maybe Duluth again.
Opening night is Oct. 3 vs. the Los Angeles Kings. “Becoming Wild” starts on Fox Sports North on Sept. 16, I believe, with an exclusive look at Yeo Island – so to speak. Seriously, coach Mike Yeo and his family live on a private island six hours from Toronto for about a month every offseason.
This will be Season Three of “Becoming Wild” -- the second consecutive year the episodes will be behind-the-scenes features on single players, or in this case, Yeo.
Agent Neil Sheehy’s camp started last week and has had players like David Backes, Drew Stafford, Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder, Danny Kristo, Mikey Reilly, Matt Frattin, Matt Niskanen, Ryan Carter, Jack Hillen and Anders Lee.
The Octagon camp, put on by Ben Hankinson and Chris McAlpine, has had so far guys like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Josh Harding, Clayton Stoner, Keith Ballard, Stephane Veilleux, Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Martin, John Scott, Nick Bjugstad, Ryan McDonagh, Chris Porter, Jake Gardiner, Andrew Alberts, Ryan Jones, Alex Goligoski, Zach Budish, Tim Jackman, Mark Stuart, Nate Thompson, Jimmy O’Brien, Matt Carle, etc. Goalies include Alex Stalock, his cousin, Adam Wilcox and Alex Kangas. Lots of others, too.
The Sheehy camp is open to the public at Augsburg. They have ice reserved this week and next from 9-11 a.m. weekdays.
Like I said, as camps get closer, more players show. Jonas Brodin is supposed to get in next week, etc.
Several of these camps are going on throughout the continent, some in Toronto and Montreal and other markets with teams. Dany Heatley’s been skating in Kelowna. Chuck Fletcher said last week that Nino Niederreiter was flying to Portland to skate with his old junior team before coming here to the Twin Cities.
I can tell already there’s a different feel at this year’s Octagon camp. Last year, we all knew the lockout was all but guaranteed to occur. Now, as Koivu said yesterday, there’s a genuine excitement.
Three weeks before camp, and Koivu gets to skate with his likely linemate, Parise, to get ready.
Just on an aside, Wild training camp should be fun. Yeo plans to experiment with dozens of line combinations in camp. So the lines on Day One will not likely be the lines on Day Two, and that could even include Koivu and Parise. But on that No. 1 line, Yeo will be looking at everybody from Jason Pominville and Heatley on the right wing to Charlie Coyle again. At No. 2 center, Yeo will be looking at Coyle and Mikael Granlund to Erik Haula.
Niederreiter will get a great look, from Line 2 to Line 3. And look for Nate Prosser, Jonathon Blum and Matt Dumba to get great looks on the blue line and Fontaine to get a really good look in camp as well. I’ll write more about all this as camp approaches.
The front office and coaching staffs are meeting this week to discuss the team. One of the topics will be whether or not the Wild should bring anybody in on tryouts. Fletcher said last week that often times that just “muddies the water” and his preference would be not to bring anybody in, but he said he would leave it largely up to the coaching staff. In other words, if Yeo, Rick Wilson, Darryl Sydor, Darby Hendrickson or maybe an Andrew Brunette felt there was the potential of a great fit out there, he would investigate.
There are still some decent names out there. On the back end, there’s Ron Hainsey, Ryan Whitney and Doug Murray among others. On wing, there’s veterans like Jamie Langenbrunner and Brenden Morrow and Brad Boyes and the skilled Damien Brunner. At center, there’s Mikhail Grabovski and Vinny Prospal. Frankly, there are many quality players available (go to capgeek.com/free-agents) and just no money in the system, whether it be the dozen teams near the cap or teams that are pretty much at their budget. Or, you have teams who have spots filled. There are only 23 spots on a hockey team and typically only 12 forwards, six D and two goalies that dress.
Scary times for these players. Lots of careers could be ending or transitioning to Europe.
That’s it for me. I will be live at the state fair with Paul Allen from the KFAN booth on Thursday from 11:20 a.m.-noon.
On August 29 at 12:30 p.m., please come to the Star Tribune booth, where Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will be joining me for a Q and A with Wild fans.
Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/russostrib) and read the blog Monday and Tuesday because I will be covering the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team camp from Arlington, Va. Besides Parise and Ryan Suter, 14 Minnesotans will be attending – double the next highest state (Michigan, 7). Those players are Parise, defensemen Dustin Byfuglien, Justin Faulk, Jake Gardiner, Erik Johnson, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin and Ryan McDonagh and forwards David Backes, Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie, Derek Stepan and Blake Wheeler.
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