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Wild's Zucker makes best of time in AHL

  • Article by: Michael Russo
  • Star Tribune
  • April 13, 2013 - 11:57 PM

 

Twitter’s an interesting phenomenon for an athlete. If a fan tweets you, it’s almost the equivalent of that fan sending you a text message.

For the past couple of weeks, Wild rookie Jason Zucker received a flood of “mentions” to @Jason_Zucker16 from fans campaigning for his return from the Houston Aeros. After a while, it would have been normal for Zucker to start questioning himself why he wasn’t getting the call.

“I’m very thankful for all the fans I got and the fan base has been incredible the way they really help me through everything and give me support,” Zucker said. “But it didn’t change my mindset. I wasn’t frustrated at all.

“For me, it was a learning experience. I had never been sent down before, didn’t know what it was like, I didn’t know how they told you.” He added with a laugh, “I didn’t know if they’d be nice and throw you in first class on the way back.”

For the record, Zucker, who returned to the desperate Wild’s lineup Saturday against Columbus, flew coach.

“I had no idea what to expect and how I’d respond,” said Zucker, who scored five goals and nine points in nine games during his 19-day stint. “For me, I just said, ‘What’s bad about it? Yeah, you’re not in the NHL, but you know you’ll get another chance. It’s not like I was playing bad. It’s just the circumstances changed. So I went down and tried to work on my game.”

Pierre-Marc Bouchard was scratched three consecutive games until Anaheim’s Corey Perry knocked Zucker from the lineup with a head shot March 12. Bouchard took his spot back, began scoring, and by the time Zucker returned two games later, he was on the fourth line. Three scoreless games later, the Wild decided it would be more beneficial for Zucker to get big minutes the minors.

“Butchie was playing well,” Zucker said. “I respect that.”

With the Wild shut out in three of the previous four games and mired in a six-loss in eight-game slump before Saturday, Zucker was recalled.

“We need to score goals, and this guy has an awful lot of confidence, speed and a shoot-first mentality,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Lineup shuffle

Defenseman Ryan Suter, who missed much of the second period and all of the third period Thursday against St. Louis because of an upper-body injury, played against the Blue Jackets.

Defensemen Justin Falk and Nate Prosser were scratched, while veteran Brett Clark played his fourth game for the Wild.

Center Matt Cullen missed his sixth game because of a lower-body injury, but the veteran may be getting closer to a return. Cullen skated with the team during Saturday’s optional morning skate.

Ups and downs

As they have to with the playoffs, Yeo said the Wild has to stop worrying what the teams chasing it are doing on a nightly basis and just focus on winning. While Minnesota was idle on Friday, four teams chasing the Wild inched closer in it.

“It’s funny how it changes though, isn’t it?” Yeo said. “You win a game and all of a sudden you’re looking at the team that’s in front of you and you lose a game and all of a sudden you’re looking at what’s behind you.

“It’s very difficult not to pay attention to that kind of stuff.”

Konopka hurting

Center Zenon Konopka has been playing on a broken foot. He missed Saturday’s game and left the arena in a walking boot earlier in the day. That means Zucker and Mikael Granlund remain emergency call-ups, meaning the Wild has two regular call-ups left this season. If the Wild needs more, it’ll have to create cap space by placing an injured player on long-term injury reserve.

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