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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On eve of huge roster cutdown, Zucker, Niederreiter shine in Wild's shootout win

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage, Wild training camp Updated: September 23, 2013 - 10:23 PM

The Wild rallied from a 1-0 deficit to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shootout here in beautiful Columbus tonight.

Keith Ballard, with a rocket, tied the score with 8:24 left and then Jason Zucker, who assisted on Ballard’s goal with Justin Fontaine, scored the lone shootout goal as the Wild’s JV squad basically beat the Blue Jackets’ varsity to pull 3-1 this preseason.

Before I get started, please read my big Jake Dowell piece in Tuesday’s paper. He is living through quite the ordeal and the story is a very sad tale, but I had a pretty gripping interview with him Sunday about his dad and brother, who are dying of Huntington’s Disease. There is a 50-50 chance he’s inherited the same gene and he plans to get a blood test to find out in the next year or two.

ESPN’s newsmagazine show E:60 will feature Dowell and his family Tuesday at 6 p.m. My story is a must read, and you know I don’t say that often.

On Tuesday morning, the Wild plans to execute a mass cutdown. Currently, the roster stands at 47. It sounds as if it’ll be cutting as many as 20 players as coach Mike Yeo wants to get down close to the Wild’s opening night roster with maybe a couple exceptions.

I don’t think the Wild feels it can make all its final decisions now, but I’d think by the time the Wild boards that bus for its two-day bonding/practice/golf/dinner trip to Duluth on Sunday, the Wild will get to its team.

There are two preseason games left – both against St. Louis, on Wednesday at home and Friday in St. Louis.

At this juncture, I’d think Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle will be the second-liners with Dany Heatley. Nino Niederreiter got a look tonight with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak, and Yeo loved his game. He was strong on the puck, won battles, was good away from the puck and had five hits.

As of now, I’d think Mikael Granlund would stay. He was having a real good camp up until he sustained a “slight upper-body” injury Saturday.

Even though defenseman Matt Dumba had a very tough night tonight in the first and second periods, I’d think he stays. I still think he makes the opening-night roster just because you have the nine games to make a final decision before the Wild would have to send him back to junior without burning the first year of his three-year deal.

Fontaine needs waivers to get to the minors, is having a good camp and I’d think with Mike Rupp hurt, Fontaine has a shot to stick on the fourth line with the opportunity to move up in the lineup. Erik Haula is the big question mark. He may get a longer look, but right now, he could be destined for Iowa. He doesn’t require waivers and this is his first experience with the grind of pro hockey.

I’d think basically every one else is assigned to Iowa Tuesday, including David Steckel, who may be released from his tryout and signed to an AHL contract to play for Iowa, Jon Blum and Stephane Veilleux. Several players will require waivers to get there, but these days, dozens of players have to be put on waivers to be sent to the minors. Rarely are they taken.

Zucker, who strained his groin Tuesday, returned tonight. He had a rough first period, especially with turnovers inside his own blue line, but that was his second period of the preseason. He rebounded, assisted on Ballard’s goal and late impressively beat out an icing and forced a penalty that resulted in a late third-period power play that carried into overtime.

“I don’t think the dman realized I was there,” Zucker said. “You guys know, I just try to skate out there, but as you saw by the [pass to] Ballard, my stickhandling’s not exactly the best because that was supposed to be a shot on goal (laughing).”

Yeo said Zucker “changed the game” after struggling in the first.

Dumba had a very, very tough first two periods. Turnovers, a penalty, screened goalie Josh Harding on the lone goal. On one power play, he looked panicked as he kept turning pucks over. It was a far cry from his game Thursday in Winnipeg when he scored a goal and was solid all night alongside Clayton Stoner.

Yeo met with Dumba during the second intermission.

“I told him, ‘Young players, you can’t let a bad shift, a bad period turn into a bad game. And what I’m really looking forward to is how you respond this period,’” Yeo said. “I didn’t like his first two periods at all and I really liked his third period. Given the way he responded, it shows a lot of maturity.

“You could tell he was just off his game. I’m sure he was feeling the pressure of needing to go out and perform. Once he got off to a bad start, I think he kept on getting into quicksand. The harder you work you dig yourself even deeper. But I was happy he was able to pull himself out of that.”

Harding wasn’t beaten in the shootout and made 20 saves. He still was hard on himself after the game, saying he’s not happy with the way he played and he needs to be cleaner. To me, his only glaring issue was three turnovers behind the net where he had to rush back to the net for scrambles. He had to rob Marian Gaborik on one turnover.

But Harding was also playing behind a bunch of defensemen he’s not accustomed to playing with, so communication issues and mishaps could be expected.

Frankly, I think he’s being a little hard on himself considering the Wild’s plane landed two hours before the game and the team arrived 90 before the game. Goalies like routines, and he felt rushed stretching and taping his sticks.

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