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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Gameday Preview: Wild ready to fly up to Winnipeg for tonight's exhibition

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate, Wild training camp Updated: September 19, 2013 - 12:38 PM

The Wild, wearing its new white sweaters, will face quite the test tonight when it plays in Winnipeg – now a Central Division rival – tonight at MTS Center at 7 o’clock.

NOT TELEVISED, so stop asking. Follow me on Twitter at @russostrib. Can also be heard on KFAN.

The Jets will be playing a pretty experienced lineup including former Wild winger Devin Setoguchi, former Panthers (my first #flareference of the new season) All-Star Olli Jokinen, captain Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and BIG BUFF.

Al Montoya and Michael Hutchinson between the pipes.

The Wild’s traveling party is in this blog (the team departs this afternoon). Josh Harding, wearing his new Wild toque mask, and Darcy Kuemper are expected to split the game.

In an effort by the Wild to get more skill on one line, Erik Haula, a center in college except for the few weeks last week when he played with a broken finger at the U, will play left wing with countryman and pal Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. Haula should be back at center Saturday against Winnipeg – a game where the top line and top D pair will debut.

Charlie Coyle will center Dany Heatley and I believe Justin Fontaine tonight.

The last time the Wild traveled to Winnipeg was in Dec. 2011. The Wild had won seven in a row and was first in the league. In a sensational, intense game, the Wild lost 2-1. Zach Bogosian hit Pierre-Marc Bouchard from behind with about a minute left and concussed him. Matt Cullen got sick during the day and had to fly home.

Guillaume Latendresse was rushed back from a concussion, scored the lone goal and was concussed again the next night – a loss to Chicago in which Mikko Koivu got hurt and Marek Zidlicky returned from an injury to disrupt a cast of six defensemen that had played great for three weeks.

Wheels came off the season. (Good memories, eh?)

Coach Mike Yeo wasn’t happy with today’s morning skate by the tonight’s cast. He stopped the skate at one point and lit into them.

“Ice was bad, and we can live with some bobbled pucks and missed passes, but going offside or mental mistakes, you can’t have that,” Yeo said.

On facing a strong Jets roster tonight, Yeo said, “Great test. I’m glad that we’re facing a lineup like this. First off, for our older players, for guys that we’re trying to gear up for the season, you want them going out against the top competition, but for a young player getting an opportunity to earn a spot here, … tonight if somebody plays really well, that shows really well for them.”

Big game for the kids again vying for spots, the Granlunds, Haulas, Niederreiters, Matt Dumbas and Fontaines. Also a big game for a guy like Clayton Stoner. If Dumba makes the team and the Wild’s healthy at the end, that’ll leave Stoner battling for playing time if one assumes Marco Scandella and Keith Ballard are in the top-6 initially.

Jason Zucker did not skate today. He tweaked his groin Tuesday, came in for treatment during Wednesday’s day off and the Wild plans to play it safe with him.

That’s it for me. Just an fyi, tonight’s postgame blog will likely be posted after midnight. After the game, I’ll need to rush out of the rink to catch a flight, so I’ll write it on the plane and post after I get home.

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