Good afternoon from beautiful but frigid Montreal, where the Wild hopes to continue its winning ways against the struggling Canadiens tonight.
Before I get to today's news, according to league sources, it is "highly likely" that the Wild will open the 2010-11 season in Helsinki, Finland. It's not finalized yet, but it's very close, sources say.
The Wild has Finns Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen and Niklas Backstrom; the Hurricanes have Koivu's good pal, Tuomo Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen.
When I gave Koivu the news this morning, he smiled brightly and gave me a fist pump. I'll have Koivu's quotes in tomorrow's paper, as well as more details about how this works.
There's expected to be six teams opening next season in Europe. The other four teams are reportedly Columbus (Stockholm was confirmed by the Columbus Dispatch), Boston, San Jose and Phoenix.
As for tonight's game, which will be televised throughout Canada on TSN by the great Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire, Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner will make his NHL debut. He'll start the game paired with Kim Johnsson.
The Wild will go with the same 12 forwards and four lines from the other night, meaning Andrew Ebbett won't return until perhaps Ottawa. Coach Todd Richards, the former Canadiens draft pick, said he just wants to help Ebbett and give him a few practice days to get his legs back.
John Scott will be a healthy scratch,
Stoner was very excited, especially by debuting in Montreal. He won't have any family at the game because he's from British Columbia. His sticks didn't arrive though, so the team was scrambling to get some from Reebok.
The shrewd Wild trainers gave him three stalls, and he spoke for about 25 minutes to probably 45-50 people between all the scrums. I got him one-on-one afterward, and I got a neat story on him for tomorrow that you'll want to check out.
James Sheppard's pops, John Sheppard, drove 14 hours in a van with six buddies from Halifax to take in tonight's game and the one Saturday in Ottawa.
Sheppard, French Canadian Eric Belanger and Marty Havlat were mobbed today as well. Good line from Gord Miller to Shane Hnidy: "You've had a pretty good career for a guy that was coached by Pierre McGuire." Hnides: "Yeah, it could go nowhere else but up." McGuire used to be assistant coach in Ottawa, as well as Pittsburgh (where he won a few Cups). Also head coach in Hartford.
This will be McGuire's first Wild game since being a finalist for the Wild's GM job.
OK, that's it from me. I'll be back later.