Afternoon from hot and humid Toronto, where 102 of the top prospects in the June 24-25 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul are converging on the city for the annual draft combine.
Over the next several days, the prospects go from hotel room to hotel room to be interviewed by select teams. Some speak to as many as two dozen. On Friday and Saturday, the fitness testing begins where athletes are put through the gauntlet (13 different fitness tests) in two-hour windows.
Each team gets to review medical histories of each prospect, plus most teams bring their strength coach and a team doctor.
Four Minnesotans are here: Wayzata's Mario Lucia, the top-rated Minnesotan in the draft, Seth Ambroz (New Prague), Mike Reilly (Holy Angels) and Joe Labate (Holy Angels).
I'm here to gather stories for our draft coverage, so I'm not sure whether I'll be writing live for the paper. But I will blog. There's already been an "only can happen to Mike Russo thing," but I may have to save it for the eventual book.
If I get permission to pass along, I will. It's very funny.
Finally, the first of five coaching vacancies has been filled. Florida has hired Portland Pirates coach Kevin Dineen to be the franchise's 11th coach since 1993. Normally, teams aren't supposed to hold press conferences during the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Panthers have done so throughout their history and will Wednesday.
Prior to Game 1 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, we had to all hop a flight from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale because Rick Dudley was dismissed as GM and John Torchetti as coach for the Mike Keenan/Jacques Martin tagteam.
Ironically, seven years later, Dineen was hired over Torchetti, who was interviewed, and Dudley is now in a state of flux as Winnipeg's GM because of today's news. Remember, Torchetti is also technically Winnipeg's associate coach, too.
This leaves Minnesota, Ottawa, New Jersey and Dallas as the four remaining vacancies.
As I've reported, I hear the four candidates are pretty much down to former Dallas/Philadelphia/Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, Pittsburgh/Montreal coach Michel Therrien, former Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish and Houston Aeros coach Mike Yeo.
GM Chuck Fletcher's interviewed the three veterans already. He has not interviewed Yeo yet, I'm told, although let's be honest, Fletcher's spent a lot of time with Yeo the past six weeks.
Fletcher's on his way to Toronto as we speak for the draft combine, and Houston, which is in the Calder Cup Finals, is preparing to play Game 3 on Wednesday (series is at 1-1). So I'd think we're a week or two away from a hire.
As mentioned this morning, as of right now, the Wild will remain in the Northwest Division for at least another year, although the Wild badly wants to move into the Central Division right this second.
We tried to reach Dustin Byfuglien today, but the Roseau native and now Winnipeg defenseman is incommunicado fishing. Before he was traded last year to Atlanta, I asked his mother, Cheryl, if she'd like to see Minnesota trade for him: “Oh, no, no, no. That wouldn’t be healthy for Dustin. Too many relatives, too close by."
Well, Winnipeg's a tad closer to Roseau than St. Paul.
Colleague Kent Youngblood talked to Blake Wheeler today, and he passed along these quotes:
reaction: "Since I just got traded to Atlanta from Boston late last season, I feel like it's been a whirlwind, going from Boston, to Atlanta, now to Winnipeg. But, from what you hear about the city, with the weather, the winter, the different things about the city, it sounds a lot like Minneapolis. It will be like playing at home.
"It will be nice to be a day's drive from here to there. I think it's about 7 1/2 hours, which is what I looked up. It will be mpre accessible, easier (for friends and family) to drive up on a whim. That will be nice."
On the way Winnipeg is reacting: "I think that will be the biggest thing, for sure. Not only is it Canada, and you know how enthusiastic Canadians are about the game, but it's a town that has been waiting for years to have an NHL team come back there. It will be well-received. It will be fun to get up there and see that.
"It will be harder for guys who had set down roots in Atlanta, guys who have places down there, it will be harder to move. It's never easy to get traded, or to have to move. I know my wife (Sam), we lived in Boston, and she was excited about the warm weather in Atlanta. To uproot again (will be hard)."
2011 WELLS FARGO MINNESOTA WILD ROAD TOUR TO VISIT
BRAINERD, DULUTH AND ST. CLOUD ON WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22
SAINT PAUL/MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The National Hockey League’s (NHL) Minnesota Wild announced today that the 2011 Wells Fargo Minnesota Wild Road Tour will visit Brainerd, Duluth and St. Cloud on Wednesday, June 22. The tour will also feature the sixth annual Wild Summer Bash on Thursday, June 23 at the Mall of America from 6 to 9 p.m.
The following Wild players and celebrities will appear in these cities on Wednesday, June 22:
Wild players Cal Clutterbuck and Marco Scandella, former Wild player Wes Walz, television play-by-play announcer Dan Terhaar and team mascot, Nordy, will appear at the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Wild players Colton Gillies and Clayton Stoner, former Wild player Antti Laaksonen and television analyst Mike Greenlay will appear at the Brainerd Civic Center from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Wild players Jared Spurgeon and Brad Staubitz, Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson and the radio broadcast team of Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid will visit the Duluth Heritage Sports Center from 3 to 4 p.m.
Each tour stop will include a fundraising opportunity for local youth hockey associations. Wild partners Coca-Cola and Schwan’s Home Service will be donating products for each city’s youth hockey association to sell at the stops, with all proceeds benefiting local youth hockey.
The Rotunda at Mall of America will serve as the site of the Summer Bash on Thursday, June 23. From 6 to 9 p.m., fans will have a chance to play hockey-themed games and take part in autograph sessions and photo opportunities with Wild players and celebrities. Activities will also be scheduled at the Sears Court and Bloomingdale’s Court and KFAN’s Beyond the Pond show will broadcast live from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
All dates, times, locations and guests are subject to change.