It didn’t take Matt Cooke long to make his presence felt. Out the past 20 games with a hip flexor injury, Cooke finally returned to Wild practice at Xcel Energy Center Monday. He won’t travel to Chicago for Tuesday’s game, he won’t play Wednesday vs. Boston. But he could return Saturday vs. Nashville.
But he was very much his old self today. He was squirting water bottles. He hit Mikko Koivu a little too hard at one point, angering the Wild captain. After practice was over, Cooke comically tried to go over to Koivu and give him a hug.
Not well received.
“I feel great,” Cooke said. “It’s been a long process, a lot longer than anybody would have liked, especially myself. But I had to make sure it was right before I got back with the team. Today it felt awesome to get back with the guys.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo indicated Saturday was the earliest Cooke might return. Cooke, who had more than a dozen individual skates under his belt before this practice, pushed himself hard Monday. Now he has to see how the hip feels tomorrow. And then there is the need to get his conditioning back a bit before returning to action.
But Monday he took a big step. Cooke played in pain for a while before ultimately shutting it down. But Monday he said he was symptom-free.
Yeo, meanwhile, is eager to get the gritty play Cooke is known for back in the Wild lineup.
“He’s an important player for us,” Yeo said. “He’ll bring energy and leadership to the group. What we’ve missed in particular is his board work.’’
Yeo said Cooke’s work along the boards on the breakout has been missed, as has his one-on-one battling in the offensive zone.
Here are some other nuggets from today’s practice:
--Ryan Carter and Keith Ballard were put on IR today by the Wild, which also recalled forward Brett Sutter from Iowa of the AHL. Ballard has been out since suffering a concussion and facial fractures after getting hit into the boards by Islanders winger Matt Martin Dec. 9. Carter, according to Yeo, sustained an upper body injury in San Jose against the Sharks and didn’t play Saturday in Phoenix. Yeo said he had hoped Carter would be back at practice today, but was still feeling some discomfort. But Yeo said he didn’t think Carter would be out long; Carter is eligible to come off IR after Wednesday’s game.
--Sutter, meanwhile, is being counted on by Yeo to provide some of the physical play Carter is known for.
--Defenseman Jared Spurgeon was sent home sick today. Spurgeon, who didn’t play Saturday, won’t play in Chicago. But Yeo is hoping he’ll have Spurgeon back, perhaps, Wednesday against Boston.
--But defenseman Marco Scandella is back after serving a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head to Islanders forward Brock Nelson. And his return couldn’t come at a better time, given the one-two punch of Chicago and Boston coming up Tuesday and Wednesday. Yeo joked after practice that he finally has three quarters of his top four defensemen ready to go in Ryan Suter, Scandella and Jonas Brodin. Spurgeon, of course, would be the fourth.
--Mikael Granlund did not practice today. But Yeo said he was a maintenance day and that he expects Granlund to be in the lineup in Chicago.
--Suter was named the NHL’s second star of the week after picking up five assists in three games after returning from the mumps.
That’s about it for now. Russo will be with the team tomorrow in Chicago.