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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Ben Hanowski with a crewcut, and other Wild-Calgary pregame notes

Posted by: Rachel Blount under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 21, 2013 - 1:00 PM

Rachel here, sitting in for Russo at tonight's Wild-Calgary game. No morning skate for the Wild today, only a meeting. Coach Mike Yeo didn't have much news. No updates on the health of Mike Rupp (lower body) and Zenon Konopka (broken foot); neither will play tonight. Defensive personnel will remain the same.

Yeo again stressed the importance of not just getting to the playoffs, but getting there in a good frame of mind with everyone working towards a peak. He wants to see the Wild continue to build its game this week. "You want to be rolling,'' he said. "You want to be feeling good about your game. You want to be on top of it.

"It's really important to stay positive. We should just be really excited about this opportunity, what we have a chance to do as an organization that we haven't been able to do for the past several years. We've set ourselves up with a great opportunity. We should be making sure we take advantage of it now.''

Having guys who have been there will help reinforce those ideas, Yeo said. "It's not by accident we've brought in guys who have done a lot of winning,'' he said. "The big names (such as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter) stick out, but then you add in a Torrey Mitchell, who's been part of a lot of San Jose runs and a lot of playoff games, and a Mike Rupp (who appeared in the playoffs in seven seasons with New Jersey, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers). They not only know what it takes, but more importantly, they've experienced the emotions and all the things you have to overcome.''

The Wild opens a three-game homestand Sunday, and it could help its cause by bringing its power-play production at Xcel in line with its numbers on the road. The Wild has scored 15 power-play goals in 65 chances on the road (23.1 percent), ranking it third in the NHL. At home, the team has 11 goals on 77 power-play opportunities for a dismal conversion rate of 14.3 percent--ranking it 27th.

"You don't have to think too hard about it,'' Yeo said. "It's just a mindset. When you go on the road, you're simplifying a little bit more. Your focus is on getting shots and getting traffic to the net. When you get home, you're thinking about making plays and setting up goals. I think that mindset has to change for us a little bit and just get back to that shot-first mentality.''

Ben Hanowski of Little Falls, who joined the Flames last week after concluding his career at St. Cloud State, will play his first NHL game in his home state. He will be on a line with a fellow Minnesotan, Tim Jackman of Brooklyn Park and Minnesota State, Mankato, and Matt Stajan. He's expecting to see his former teammates--the Wild, he said, set the Huskies up with a suite--and about 20 relatives and friends.

Hanowski has shorn the mane he was growing as part of a St. Cloud State effort for the charity Locks of Love, which uses donated hair to make wigs for young cancer patients. He got a crew cut last Tuesday, for the first time since his high school baseball days. The minimum length of hair that can be donated is 10 inches; Hanowski had to trim close to the scalp to get to 10 1/2.

Hanowski has one goal in two games and is plus-one since joining the Flames. "With two Minnesota guys playing together, I hope we can work a little magic in the state today,'' he said. "The NHL is always your goal as a hockey player. To actually get there and play (at Xcel) in the NHL is pretty special for me. My family members and friends are pretty proud and excited for this opportunity I've gotten.

"We've got a lot of Minnesota guys on the (St. Cloud State) team. I'm sure they will want me to do well, but they'll want the Wild to win.''  

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