LOS ANGELES – With the Wild’s No. 1 and No. 2 goaltenders, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, already shut down, it probably was just a matter of time before something happened to Darcy Kuemper.
The Wild’s No. 3 goalie, who began his impressive second-half run at Los Angeles with a 39-save shootout victory over the Kings on Jan. 7, returned to the Staples Center for the first time since and was promptly injured.
Kuemper left the morning skate Monday because of an upper-body injury.
That sent the Wild into the type of goaltending scramble that Chuck Fletcher has grown accustomed to conducting during his five years as Wild general manager.
Scheduled starter Ilya Bryzgalov, acquired March 5 in case Kuemper faltered or was hurt, got the nod against the Kings. He was backed up by 43-year-old former minor-leaguer Rob Laurie, a Corona, Calif., resident who essentially has become a goalie for hire in southern California.
Laurie, a former Western Michigan University goalie who played for 13 minor league teams over 10 years ending in 2001-02, has served as an emergency goalie for Vancouver and Anaheim in the past calendar year. By signing a pro tryout, Laurie gets paid $500 and is “permitted to retain” his game-worn jersey (No. 33 with the Wild).
“Until I walked into the building with my gear, I didn’t believe it was really happening again,” said Laurie, who was working his day job wearing a Red Wings hat when he got the call.
The one person most relieved by Laurie’s arrival might have been Andrew Brunette, the Wild coaching and hockey operations adviser, who threw on Kuemper’s goalie gear and mask and took over for the injured netminder late in Monday’s morning skate.
Brunette, 40, the third-leading goal-scorer and fifth-leader point-getter in Wild history who used to do his best work around the blue paint, was lit up by scratched players Dany Heatley, Mike Rupp, Cody McCormick and Keith Ballard and assistant coaches Darryl Sydor and Darby Hendrickson.
“It would help if a couple of those guys would pick up guys in front of the net,” Brunette joked. “Bally [Ballard] didn’t pick anybody up the whole game. They were tap-ins. What could I do? I thought I had a better glove though. Heater kept burying them glove side all the time.”
Sydor provided the following scouting report of Brunette: “He looked a little bit like Ken Dryden, really low. There’s a little room blocker side. Speed’s not that good. [Goalie coach Bob Mason’s] got some work to do with him.”
Brunette said he played a little ball hockey goalie back in the day, but his excuse for his “terrible” goaltending was Kuemper’s pads were too big and he was wearing player skates.
“Groin’s a little sore,” Brunette said. “I tried to play old school. My stand-up didn’t work that well. Once I got down, I couldn’t get back up.”
Asked the hardest part of goaltending, Brunette said, “Stopping the puck.”
Brunette became a Twitter hit. Brunette’s former Atlanta Thrashers teammate Ray Ferraro tweeted, “There cannot be [a] less flexible goalie than Brunette, who used to lead stretches [with] ‘everyone touch your knees.’ ” Brunette’s former Wild teammate, Brent Burns, tweeted, “Some of the best mitts in the game! Did look like he was trying to skate with goalie pads on tho!”
Fletcher said Kuemper will be sidelined “hopefully just a few days, but it’s hard to know for sure.”
The Wild practices in Chicago on Wednesday and plays in Chicago on Thursday. If Kuemper isn’t ready, the Wild likely will recall John Curry from Iowa of the AHL. Curry was signed in February.