Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Gophers, minus Warning, prepares for weekend series vs. Minnesota State

Posted by: Michael Russo under Gophers players, Gophers injuries, Gophers, Wild off-season news Updated: October 31, 2012 - 3:51 PM

Welcome to Day 46 of the NHL lockout. We’re a day or so from the Winter Classic being axed off the schedule, but reportedly the NHL and the NHLPA No. 2’s had another long conversation yesterday.

 
No meetings are planned, although my guess is they’ll get back to the table soon – maybe early next week – and hopefully some momentum can be created.
 
Hopefully you took a look at today’s lockout story, which quotes some nervous players regarding how the lockout may affect careers. Of players who played 40 or more games in 2003-04, 121 didn’t play a shift after the 2004-05 lockout.
 
Things are quiet with the Wild: Only news is Devin Setoguchi signed with ECHL Ontario, where he’s probably making $500 or $600 a week.
 
The Aeros play Friday and Saturday at Oklahoma City. Jason Zucker is still out for the Aeros, although he is skating.
 
Just got back from Gophers availability. The University of Minnesota plays a home-and-home this weekend with Minnesota State, which is coached by longtime USHL Omaha Lancers coach and former Gophers and Nebraska-Omaha assistant Mike Hastings.
 
I talked with Hastings today and a story will be in Friday’s newspaper. 7 p.m. starts this Friday (Minneapolis) and Saturday (Mankato). Both games will be aired on Fox Sports North and KSTP 1500-AM.
 
Blake Wheeler was down at the rink for a workout when I was there. He is scheduled to leave tonight for Munich, Germany, where he will be playing for the rest of the lockout.
 
Below are some quotes from Gophers coach Don Lucia and defenseman Nate Schmidt, who is quickly becoming a go-to quote because he lets his personality shine and is thoughtful about what’s going on out on the ice.
 
Lucia said today that second-line left wing Sam Warning is week to week with an undisclosed injury. For the time being, Lucia said defenseman Ben Marshall will stay at wing on that line alongside Erik Haula and Zach Budish.
 
Lucia wouldn’t say which goalie is starting this weekend (more below), but again, my guess is freshman Adam Wilcox starts Friday (coming off a 20-save shutout over Canisius, one in which he secured with a monstrous save with 30 seconds left). And then if Wilcox plays great Friday or isn’t overly peppered, my guess is he plays Saturday in Mankato over Mike Shibrowski. Again, just my guess.
 
Lucia also confirmed that freshman defenseman Brady Skjei, who didn’t play last weekend due to injury, will return this weekend.
 
Portion of Lucia’s media scrum
 
On Minnesota State’s young team, but not age-wise: They’re not 18-year-old freshmen and sophomores. Last year, they get devastated by injuries early in the year, their top players are all returning. Chase Grant missed all of last year and is one of their better players. Even though last weekend [at St. Cloud State] they didn’t score [a lot], I think they have a real deep and talented group of forwards. … They’ve a good job with their program. They’re a hard team to play against, they’re usually physically a pretty good sized team.
 
On Marshall (played forward and D in high school) playing wing: We have such a surplus of defensemen, I said at the beginning of the year we want our best 18 skaters playing on any given night, so that’s what we’re going to do. After I watched the video, he did a lot more good things even than I thought he did during the game, and that’s really without a practice. If you’ve got to talent and you’ve got some skill and you can skate, which Ben does, … . The hard part for us was Ben was probably one of our top two defensemen based on how he was playing, but we think that this move makes our team better for the time being.
 
Do you feel like you’ve corrected the defensive breakdowns you had at Michigan Tech: I can’t say that we’re 100% in-sync. We’ve been throwing guys with different partners, I think we’ve got some veterans that can probably play a little better than what they’ve played so far this year, but we think they have the ability and now it’s just getting that back together. We didn’t give up a goal [against Canisius], we gave up very few scoring chances. The good thing I like is we’re not giving up very many shots. There’s some areas of our game that we’re trying to identify and get better at, in our end and supporting underneath in our breakouts. I think our D at times are getting too far ahead of the play and it cost us I think both goals on Friday night [against the U.S. Under-18 team]. We showed them some video clips yesterday and then we’ve got to get a little hunger factor around the net. We’re supporting too much in the offensive zone in areas you’re not going to score. If we’ve got possession of the puck, we need a guy in a scoring area if we’re going to get one.
 
Goalie decision: It’s an evaluation. What we decision to do Friday night, I think right now we’re more day-to-day than anything else. Both guys have a long ways to go to prove themselves that they’re the guy, but we’ll look at who plays Friday, and depending on how they play, they may play Saturday, too. (Russo note: Because of that last line, I think it’s Wilcox. If he’s saying the Friday goalie has a chance to play Saturday, too, no chance Wilcox doesn’t get to play this weekend after shutting out Canisius. My money’s on Wilcox for Friday at least). We’ll continue to evaluate today and evaluate tomorrow, and then after practice tomorrow, we’ll let the guys know who’s going to play Friday.
 
Lucia said even though they’re moving to the Big Ten next year, they’ve got a four-year commitment with all the state schools. No North Dakota though for at least four years after this season.
 
Some Nate Schmidt
 
Fun to get back into home-and-home WCHA weekend rather than last weekend’s weird schedule (exhibition/non conference game, Friday night/Sunday afternoon)?: That threw a little wrench in the old schedule and the old routine, too, having the Sunday afternoon game. You’ve got to be ready for anything the season throws at you, but yeah, it is exciting to get back into the real swing of things having a good series against a good Minnesota State team.
 
On the Mavs: They’re good. They’ve got a lot of older – maybe a lot of older in school – but experienced guys. I played with three guys in Matt Leitner and Chase Grant and Corey Leivermann, so I’m familiar with some of their guys. I’ve played with and against a lot of them. They’re a good team, they’ve got some skill. Matt Leitner is a good, skilled player. He’ll make you pay for your bad gaps if you’re a defenseman or if we don’t get back on the backcheck, so they’ve got some guys that can make plays.
 
Feel you’ve corrected as a team the defensive breakdowns at Tech?: Process of correcting, I would say (laughing). I don’t think we could fix everything in one weekend or one week of practice. But we are consistently working, especially this week as defensemen, we are getting a little bit more time with Coach [Mike] Guentzel (laughing), which is good in a lot of ways and scary in a lot of ways as well. We’ve broken down a lot more film as defensemen in individual meetings, talking about individual things that we’ve got to work on or even supporting our other partner. There were a lot of times where we gave up a lot of odd-man rushes, even last weekend getting too far up into the play. Just letting the game come to us is probably our most important thing going forward.
 
Learn about Wilcox Sunday? “Ahhh, 30 seconds left, (laughing), when he made that save at the end of the game to seal a win pretty much, you know he’s going to give you his best shot. He hadn’t been tested a lot all game. You’re afraid sometimes with a goalie that hasn’t seen a lot of shots, but to take a shot like he did at the end of the game and turn it away for us just solidified in our minds that he is a reliable source back there.
 
On Wilcox straying from the crease: I’ve played with a fair share of guys that have stayed in and fair share of guys that have moved around. I played with a goalie in juniors that can shoot a puck all the way down the ice, and I love it. For a D, you never get hit when a goalie breaks the puck out for you (laughing). I don’t know if the forwards like it as much because the puck’s usually coming down the wall, but I think it’s good. It keeps the goalies involved.
 
On lack of offense last weekend: I don’t think it’s a problem. Things just aren’t falling. You saw last weekend, Kyle Rau couple times on the back door hitting a skate blade or hitting a shin pad, like those things, they’re going to correct themselves. But we’ve got to get more traffic in front of the net and bang home some rebounds. We got a couple tip goals this last weekend, which is showing signs that we’re getting to those dirty areas, but it’s an ongoing battle. You can’t be complacent in those hard areas.
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