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Continued: Wild season opener: Here at last

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 19, 2013 - 9:55 PM

 

More than six months ago, with #PariseWatch and #SuterWatch trending toward Twitter overload, Wild fans were steered through four days of twists and turns in NHL free agency.

The tension came to an abrupt stop July 4 when the team signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts. Then all the Wild's summertime momentum was eventually doused by an NHL lockout, creating a tense four-month wait.

And that long wait is over. Parise and Suter will slip on Iron Range-red jerseys for the first time and make their Wild debuts against Colorado on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, in a fitting end to Hockey Day Minnesota.

"It's been a long time of nothing since all that excitement, and now that we're finally here, it's kind of surreal," said Suter. "I just got goose bumps thinking about walking down that tunnel.

"This is where we can hopefully spend the rest of our careers and have a lot of success. It's the first of many games. Finally."

Thanks to the addition of Parise and Suter, there have been grandiose predictions.

Barry Melrose of ESPN and the NHL Network picked the Wild to win the Stanley Cup.

"This team doesn't need a savior," Parise said. "Ryan and I can only help a team with already really good players and a really, really bright future."

Infusion of youth

The Wild has missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, three with Chuck Fletcher as general manager. But a major reason Parise and Suter committed for 13 years was because of blue-chip prospects -- Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba, among others -- ready to burst onto the scene.

There is a reason Wild players have been issued undershirts that read, "Take the next step. No excuses."

The expectation is the Wild will end its string of early offseasons.

"Talent-wise, depth-wise, character-wise, we're there," coach Mike Yeo said. "But the biggest thing for us to understand is that next step is the hardest step."

The offseason spending spree also included forwards Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell, giving the team a strong sprinkle of veterans and role players.

"There's definitely a different atmosphere as far as expectations, and I think that they're warranted expectations," said center Matt Cullen, 36. "The time is now to make a move. This is my third year [here] and we haven't been close at the end of the year.

"Now we have a legitimate shot. Anything but making a serious playoff run would be a disappointment."

No room for error

With a weeklong training camp and no exhibition tune-ups, this is the most unnatural start to a season imaginable.

There is no way to ease in to a schedule of 48 games in 99 days.

Some stretches will be hellacious. From Feb. 1 to March 1, the Wild plays eight of 13 on the road. That's not abnormal in the NHL. What is, however, is that those eight road games come by way of four taxing road trips west -- twice to Anaheim and Phoenix, twice to western Canada.

Players say it's not so much the travel that incapacitates, it's the constant time zone changes. The Wild only plays five road games this season in the Central time zone, but heads west on eight different trips in three months in a schedule that includes only Western Conference teams.

"You know what? For years, guys have been saying we wished we could play more and practice less. Well, our wish came true," center Kyle Brodziak said. "I think it's going to be fun. It's going to be playoff hockey for the next three months."

There will be two determining factors for all teams this season.

One will be health, whether it's a middling little injury that hangs around for three weeks or teams losing a really important piece for two or three months.

The other will be avoiding losing streaks.

"A team that loses five or six in a row will really be in hot water," said former NHLer Ray Ferraro. "There's just no time to make it up. Lose six straight, you've got to win six straight just to get back to level water."

Big guns arrive

The atypical season is not an excuse to flounder. Owner Craig Leipold didn't shell out $20 million in signing bonuses for Parise and Suter to spend another spring vacationing in Exuma.

One has to wonder how Fletcher reacts if the Wild hits spurts of injuries or poor performance.

"We like the moves we made, we like our team and we certainly feel we're a much more competitive team," Fletcher said. "Now we've got to go out and prove it."

The first line will be Mikko Koivu centering Parise and Dany Heatley, while rookie Mikael Granlund centers Cullen and Devin Setoguchi. That leaves two of the better third and fourth lines in the league -- Brodziak between Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Konopka centering Darroll Powe and Mitchell.

"Their forward lines seem stacked," said former Wild sniper Brian Rolston.

But defensively, the Wild looks thin. Suter and Tom Gilbert are veterans. But Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser and the injured Marco Scandella have combined for only 450 NHL games.

Dumba and Brodin are next up. They might be future stars, but now, they're just inexperienced teenagers.

No time to wait

Fletcher knows he might need to address the blue line.

"[Former NHL General Manager] Brian Burke used to tell me, 'After the 20-game mark, you need to really evaluate your team and see what you need to do,' " Fletcher said. "Well, the 20-game mark this year may be too late. In this type of season, you've got to take advantage of every game and every day to get better.

"If players aren't performing this season, you're going to have to make adjustments more quickly than you normally would. That's not a threat. That's just reality. In 48 games, you can't allow 20, 25, 30 games to go by and say, 'OK, we can make a move now.'

"You have to have some patience, but this year, we won't hesitate to look elsewhere or to Houston if players are not up to expectations."

Koivu, an All-Star last season, is tired of missing the playoffs and skating in the world championships every May. Two years ago, he captained Finland to gold in the tournament. He felt an elation he has yet to experience in his three years as Wild captain.

"It's frustrating, but I'm not going to quit," Koivu said. "When you get that feeling of winning, you just want it even more. To be honest, I don't think it's necessarily about the winning. I think it's the road to the winning and all the ups and downs you go through to get there as a team.

"That's what's satisfying and that's what I want to feel here. It's time to take the next step."

  • 2013 WILD SEASON OPENER VS. COLORADO

    8 p.m. today • Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN (100.3-FM)

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Philadelphia 14 4th Qtr 13:21
Washington 24
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 99 FINAL
New York 90
Portland 6:00 PM
New Orleans
Utah 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Atlanta 7:00 PM
Houston
San Antonio 7:30 PM
Dallas
Indiana 8:00 PM
Denver
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Arizona 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Colorado 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Philadelphia 6:00 PM
Toronto
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Montreal
Washington 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Florida 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
Carolina
Chicago 6:00 PM
Columbus
Nashville 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Calgary 9:00 PM
Vancouver
St. Louis 9:30 PM
San Jose
VA Commonwealth 68 FINAL
Cincinnati 47
Charlotte 78 FINAL
Georgetown 81
SMU 62 FINAL
Michigan 51
Louisville 76 FINAL
Western Ky 67
Mount St Marys 45 FINAL
American Univ 46
Abilene Christian 33 FINAL
Boise State 77
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Duquesne 79
South Alabama 65 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Ohio State 74 FINAL
North Carolina 82
Massachusetts 65 FINAL
Providence 85
Syracuse 77 FINAL
Villanova 82
Citadel 61 FINAL
Virginia Tech 64
Belmont 73 FINAL
Fairfield 61
St Bonaventure 69 FINAL
Binghamton 51
Montreat 64 FINAL
Campbell 90
Delaware 74 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 76
South Florida 62 FINAL
Florida State 75
Vanderbilt 60 FINAL
Georgia Tech 65
SC State 71 FINAL
Houston 63
Missouri 59 FINAL
Illinois 62
Truett-McConnell 55 FINAL
Jacksonville 84
Toledo 83 FINAL
McNeese State 69
Elon 71 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 64
Drexel 68 FINAL
Penn State 73
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Albany 64 FINAL
Yale 60
PSU-Beaver 74 FINAL
Longwood 106
Eastern Ill 60 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Indiana 82 FINAL
Butler 73
Marshall 58 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
Lafayette 69 FINAL
Kansas 96
Oral Roberts 63 FINAL
Memphis 78
Western Mich 61 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Delaware State 70 FINAL
Oregon 83
Fla Atlantic 56 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
Arkansas Tech 57 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 94
Howard Payne 50 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 89
UMBC 66 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
St Josephs (IN) 54 FINAL
Chicago State 77
Eastern Mich 77 FINAL
Missouri State 65
UCLA 42 FINAL
Kentucky 83
UC Davis 81 FINAL
Air Force 75
Houston Baptist 67 FINAL
UC Riverside 78
Davidson 80 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 68
USC Upstate 53 FINAL
Miss State 51
NC Central 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 60
Illinois State 77 FINAL
Murray State 89
Louisiana 85 FINAL
Northwestern St 89
Oakland 77 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
Detroit 55 FINAL
Rhode Island 69
Presbyterian 60 FINAL
UT Martin 77
Monmouth 74 FINAL
Wagner 66
Southern U 39 FINAL
Wyoming 57
Iowa State 78 2nd Half 2:02
Drake 50
Wake Forest 45 2nd Half 7:13
Florida 46
High Point 70 2nd Half 2:14
James Madison 64
Texas Southern 53 2nd Half 1:26
Michigan State 52
New Hampshire 60 FINAL
Sacred Heart 73
Northeastern 74 2nd Half 0:47
Santa Clara 68
Huston-Tillotson 55 2nd Half 2:33
Texas State 83
Purdue 48 2nd Half 12:04
Notre Dame 59
Prairie View 26 2nd Half 12:01
Sam Houston St 45
Xavier 38 2nd Half
Auburn 25
Bluffton 6:00 PM
Akron
NJIT 6:00 PM
Central Conn St
Hofstra 6:00 PM
Columbia
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Dayton
Iona 6:00 PM
George Mason
Valparaiso 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Texas A&M 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Morgan State 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Saint Josephs 6:00 PM
Marist
East Carolina 6:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Richmond 6:00 PM
Pepperdine
La Salle 6:00 PM
Towson
Incarnate Word 6:05 PM
UMKC
CS-Bakersfield 6:30 PM
Idaho State
Iowa 6:30 PM
Northern Iowa
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Long Beach State 7:00 PM
Texas
TX-San Antonio 7:00 PM
TCU
SE Missouri St 7:30 PM
Arkansas
Lehigh 8:00 PM
Arizona State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Oklahoma 8:00 PM
Washington
Utah Valley U 8:00 PM
Weber State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
St Edwards 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
NC State 8:30 PM
West Virginia
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Gonzaga
Fresno State 9:00 PM
Pacific
Montana State 9:00 PM
Portland
Ball State 9:00 PM
San Diego St
South Dakota St 9:05 PM
Utah State
Stanford 10:00 PM
BYU
Utah 10:30 PM
UNLV
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 4th Qtr 9:53
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 10 2nd Qtr 10:12
Air Force 13
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Livingstone 77 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
Alabama A&M 47 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Central Michigan 45 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 80
Nebraska Omaha 50 FINAL
Creighton 67
FIU 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 83
Houston 65 FINAL
Nicholls 47
St Thomas Aquinas 45 FINAL
Army 70
St Bonaventure 72 FINAL
Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
George Mason 65 FINAL
ULM 53
Grambling 38 FINAL
Kansas State 61
Missouri 79 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
Air Force 44 FINAL
Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 68
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Vermont 40 FINAL
Green Bay 60
Charleston Southern 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 80
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
Indiana State 64 FINAL
SMU 55
Denver 51 FINAL
Purdue 65
TX-San Antonio 48 FINAL
Texas Tech 64
UCF 57 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Campbell 66 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 55
Florida A&M 67 FINAL
SE Louisiana 69
Northwestern St 61 FINAL
Jackson State 62
Lehigh 61 FINAL
Arizona State 81
Valparaiso 65 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 77
Liberty 60 FINAL
Minnesota 74
Wofford 60 FINAL
North Florida 68
Montana State 61 FINAL
Washington St 82
Marshall 56 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 69
Morgan State 40 FINAL
Chattanooga 55
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Harvard 67
Furman 51 FINAL
(15) Georgia 58
(18) Michigan State 65 FINAL
(9) Baylor 84
Ohio U 52 FINAL
Massachusetts 59
Prairie View 48 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 86
Toledo 64 FINAL
Southern Ill 48
High Point 57 FINAL
(12) Nebraska 83
Winthrop 20 FINAL
Wichita State 66
William Jewell 59 FINAL
UMKC 51
Southern Utah 51 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
Louisiana Tech 49 2nd Half 2:29
Utah 59
Hawaii 70 2nd Half 2:55
Loyola Marymount 70
San Jose St 56 2nd Half 3:15
San Francisco 68
CS-Northridge 56 2nd Half 4:31
San Diego State 44
Norfolk State 32 2nd Half 3:49
East Carolina 52
Saint Peters 47 2nd Half 1:13
Loyola-Maryland 53
Arizona 35 2nd Half 13:17
Stephen F Austin 40
Northwestern 42 2nd Half 3:30
Eastern Illinois 91
Oral Roberts 27 2nd Half
Wisconsin 38
Florida Atlantic 23 2nd Half
New Mexico St 32
La Salle 16 1st Half 13:23
Georgia State 12
(16) Oregon State 20 1st Half 12:40
Nevada 12
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Villanova
Delaware 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Utah Valley U
Washington 7:00 PM
UC-Riverside
Pacific 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Old Dominion 7:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
Austin Peay 9:00 PM
Montana
Lewis-Clark State 9:00 PM
Idaho
(21) Miss State 9:30 PM
Illinois-Chicago

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