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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Coyle scores highlight-reel goal and Parise has a new type of highlight

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: January 28, 2015 - 12:33 AM

Zach Parise called it a “boring game.” He said there “was just not much going either way, a lot of chipping pucks, throwing them off glass, not much sustained pressure either way.” He called it kind of a “blah game.”

Yet, there were two major highlights that came from Tuesday’s 2-1 Wild win at Edmonton.

There was this:

And this:

The first was Charlie Coyle scoring a tremendous winning goal with 4:23 left that ESPN anchor and birthday boy John Buccigross just DM'ed me was the top play on tonight's SportsCenter. Jordan Eberle, in a tie game, passed the puck into Matt Fraser’s skate and Coyle was right there to turn and counter. His eyes opened when he saw nothing but open ice, but he said he was surprised when goalie Viktor Fasth challenged so aggressively.

Coyle ran out of real estate, but despite being five or six feet behind the net, he used his long reach to tuck the puck inside the post for his seventh career winning goal.

The second was Zach Parise taking a puck to the face in the first period. Spitting up blood, Parise almost humorously reached down with his left arm, picked up one of his bottom-right teeth (may have been a premolar or canine, I’m no dentist) and handed it to athletic therapist Don Fuller.

Parise, whose face has been a magnet starting with that ugly incident at the Garden in October when he took a stick to the face and needed major plastic surgery below his nose and on the right side of the upper lip, had several stitches on his lower lip after the game, the missing tooth. But no lisp.

Sadly, they won’t be able to save Parise’s tooth. He’ll need another fake.

“I thought maybe there was a chance, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to go back in,” Parise, who was back by the start of the second period, said.

Much-needed win by the Wild, which defended real well but didn’t manage the puck well and wasn’t sharp offensively.

Originally, I was writing a big story for Thursday on Nino Niederreiter’s 18-game goal drought. Well, I assumed it would get to 18. It didn’t. He ended a 17-game drought tonight in the first period when Justin Fontaine stole a puck and set Niederreiter up for his first goal since Dec. 16 at the goalmouth.

I had a long chat with him this morning for the interview and he joked that he’d use it as motivation tonight to ruin my story. I said, “Take it as a pep talk.”

After the game, he came out of the locker room with a big smile and said, “That’s exactly what I needed. Our chat sure worked out.”

Now, I guess I’ll write for Thursday on Niederreiter and Coyle, who always seemed to be connected at the hip when it comes to Yeo trying to spur them along, scoring big goals.

Niederreiter said it was a “big relief,” gave Fontaine full props and Yeo also said he was happy with each forward’s overall game for most of the night despite limited ice time. Neither hit 12 minutes.

Devan Dubnyk made 23 saves and is now 4-0 against his old team (three 2-1 wins) and has stopped 113 of 117 shots against the Oilers. He was big in the second period and the only goal of the game that beat him was a cheesy, off-the-mark wraparound that, par for the course, deflected in off a Wild player’s toe – Kyle Brodziak.

Needed win by Minnesota because Calgary won, so the Wild’s still seven back. But Vancouver, Winnipeg and Dallas – three teams the Wild’s chasing – all lost.

Yeo loved the way the Wild competed, from Parise losing a tooth to Mikko Koivu blocking a big shot and having a couple big hits to Mikael Granlund still courageously going to the dirty areas despite coming off injuries (although judge for yourself if you want him to get clobbered the way he does). Nate Prosser, at least for now, seemed to survive a head scare in the third period because he returned to the game. Ryan Suter was limping after the game, but Yeo had no reports of an injury as of his presser.

Onto Calgary. Talk to ya Wednesday.

Yeo looking for more production from No. 2 power-play unit

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: January 27, 2015 - 1:57 PM

First off, to answer a question I have received a lot, I asked Bob Waterman from Elias Sports Bureau, historically, is the Wild's seven-point playoff deficit this late in the season a surmountable one?

Yes.

The biggest comeback came in '93-94 by the Islanders when they were 12 back after 47 games. Last year, Dallas was seven back through 53 games and made the playoffs. The Wild's seven back after 46 games.

As I wrote in today's article here, the Flames, whom the Wild play Thursday, are on pace for 92.4 points, meaning the .500 Wild (46 out of a possible 92 points amassed) would need to grab 47 of a possible 72 points (.653) to eclipse that.

Devan Dubnyk, a 2004 Oilers first-round pick, vs. Viktor Fasth tonight when the Wild and Oilers play their first games after the All-Star break.

Dubnyk is 2-1 in four games with the Wild with a 2.34 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. He got a no-decision in his last start at Detroit, getting pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots before Darcy Kuemper came in and technically got nailed with the shootout loss because of the Wild’s third-period comeback.

Dubnyk is 11-6-2 this year with a 2.66 GAA and .914 SV%. He is 3-0 this year against Edmonton (all with Arizona) and stopped 90 of 93 shots for a .968 SV% and has a 0.97 GAA.

Fasth is 4-10-2 with a 3.37 GAA and .888 SV%.

Taylor Hall blocked a shot in Monday’s practice and won’t play tonight. The Wild gets Mikael Granlund back tonight. Wild’s completely healthy tonight for the first time in a long time except for Keith Ballard, who remains out indefinitely.

The Wild has won eight of its past nine games in Edmonton.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North during Wild live at 8 p.m. CT and the first intermission. I’ll be the guy with a scratch on his face … from a toothbrush injury. I was brushing too hard because my Uber was waiting yesterday morning and it snapped in half. Luckily it missed my eye and more importantly my typing fingers and nailed my cheek. But I’m going to tough it out tonight because I'm a hockey writer.

Same lines and D pairs as yesterday’s blog.

First game for the Wild in seven days, so coach Mike Yeo said the big emphasis in yesterday’s practice and today’s skate was battle and attention to details and system work.

“You’d expect probably both teams execution wise to not be completely sharp right off the hop,” Yeo said. “Where you’re going to see which team is most successful is how quickly they get to their game.”

This game is always a weird one. I’d presume it’s awfully hard for the goalies, who have seen no pucks for a week besides yesterday and this morning. And you can always tell pretty quickly in a game which players enjoyed the buffet and didn’t hit the workout room during the break, too.

The Wild’s power play has been connecting more and more lately. I’ll update the blog later with the numbers, but it’s pretty much only the No. 1 unit of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville scoring.

Yeo has not been happy with the second unit, but as long as the first unit is scoring, he’s not looking to break them up for now. So his hope is Granlund’s return will help.

I’ve got to think it’s tough for the second unit to get into rhythms when they’re only getting 35-45 seconds a shift it seems, and that always starts with a regroup obviously.

But besides the lack of production, the failure to protect pucks or just throw them away has been troublesome.

That also is an area where Granlund may help because he has the ability to get the puck up ice on breakouts with speed and control pucks on the half wall.

“If we could get a little more production from that second group, I always like the competition,” Yeo said. “If you have a minute, make sure you get the most of it. With that said, if you’ve got 30 seconds, that’s 30 seconds that somebody else on the team would like to have, so make sure you take advantage of it.

“Getting set up has been tough enough for that group, that’s where I think Granny will make a big difference.”

Granlund was on the No. 2 unit today with Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker rotating in and out at the morning skate, so we’ll see which two forwards gets the majority of the ice time tonight. The pointmen are Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin.

Spurgeon is on the left for the one-timers. Why Brodin instead of Marco Scandella, who leads the team with nine goals?

I asked Yeo, and he said, “There will be times where Marco is out there as well, but … if we were setting up on the other side, then it would probably be Marco. But as far as that strongside, it’s a little bit easier for [Brodin] to walk the line and get to the middle of the ice. When we can do that, we’re much more dangerous. Marco is a left shot as well, but he’s a little bit more of an offside shooting guy.”

I'll update those power-play tallies later this afternoon. Talk later tonight.

Granlund returning to Wild lineup; Kuemper sent to Iowa on conditioning stint

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: January 26, 2015 - 6:14 PM

The Wild, minus goalie Darcy Kuemper, boarded a charter this morning for Edmonton, Alberta.

As was indicated last week, the Wild still went through with a two-week conditioning stint for Kuemper to Iowa after the All-Star break. As he said after the game in Detroit, Kuemper was open to it, although after seeing him save the day there for at least a point by stopping 14 of 14 shots prior to the shootout in relief of Devan Dubnyk, I wondered if the Wild would change its mind and not mess with the goaltending right now.

But since the plan is likely to start Dubnyk all three games on this road trip and the fact the Wild only has six games in the next 14 days and won’t play back-to-back next until Feb. 9-10, the Wild’s willing to send him to Iowa for a little bit to get some games.

“Playing time, practice time before he gets the playing time,” coach Mike Yeo said is his goal for Kuemper. “But more than anything else, just to mentally get himself back on track. I actually thought he played well in the Detroit game, but he needs to get more of a base underneath him. Just as far as the way things had gone, we were able to get him in a game here and there and once in a while it was a good game, once in a while it was a bad game. I’m just hoping for him to get a real good foundation coming back here as far as the confidence level, and obviously the playing time will be huge for him.”

Center Mikael Granlund will return Tuesday night when the Wild opens its western Canadian swing in Edmonton.

He underwent wrist surgery on Dec. 29 and the Wild went 4-7-2 without him. He’ll skate on a line with Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek. Mikko Koivu will center Jason Zucker and Jason Pominville. Kyle Brodziak will center Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine, and Charlie Coyle will center a line with Ryan Carter and Nino Niederreiter. Erik Haula isn’t slated to play, nor is extra Stu Bickel, who was called up from Iowa to add an extra body for the trip.

Parise, named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week today for scoring three goals in two games, is excited to get Granlund back.

“You need depth at center. That’s the only way you win in this league. You need deep centermen,” said Parise, who’s riding a four-game goal streak. “Everyone knows how good a player he is and how well he’s played, so for him to hop right back in and make a difference in our top-6, and power play as well, we’re ready and excited to get him back.”

Mikko Koivu has 10 points in the past 12 games and 26 points in 46 games. Charlie Coyle has five in the past 11 games. Kyle Brodziak and Erik Haula have combined for 19 points this season.

Granlund has 15 points in 32 games.

That is not enough production up the middle, something Yeo has mentioned more and more lately.

So Yeo is hoping Granlund can add speed and scoring.

“Mikko has certainly been putting up some points lately, but you need more than one guy,” Yeo said. “And that’s not anything against Brodzy or Charlie or Erik. That’s not really their role. Their role is a little bit more of a checking role and so to get a scoring top-2 line centermen back that’s obviously a huge addition for us.”

Look at the standings, and the Wild’s quite the chore to get back into the playoff race. It’s seven points behind Calgary for the second wildcard spot, FOURTEEN behind Winnipeg for the top wildcard spot and even to get back into eighth, the 12th-place Wild has to hop four teams.

“We’ve got to win. There’s no other way to put it,” Parise said. “There’s not a lot of room for error and it’s going to be hard. We know that. It’s going to be very hard. But we’re not going to quit. We’ve got to keep improving and get our game going in the right direction.”

How do you play when every game you go in, you feel it’s a must-win? Parise said, “We can’t put ourselves in an every game’s a win or season’s over type scenario. You stress yourself out and all of a sudden mentally you’re making the game a lot harder. You try to put it in small things where tomorrow night we’ve got to win the first period and then go from there. We can’t win the game right away, but we’ve got to win the first period. That’s got to be our approach as we go on through this road trip and the rest of the season. We know what the standings look like. That’s no secret. But we can’t make up all those points this week. We’ve got to start small.”

Granlund said, “There’s still 30-something games left. A lot of things can happen and I think every guy in this locker room believes we can make it to the playoffs. We need to go game by game. That’s the only thing we can do now.”

Yeo said the break was a “good opportunity to clear the head. And it was an opportunity to re-charge and I think that we had a pretty good energetic practice today so hopefully everybody feels the same way.

“Where do we go from here? That remains to be seen. But as much as anything message wise, certainly when you look at the standings and where we’re sitting right now, a very large portion of the season remains here. If we start looking at the big picture too much, then we’ll lose sight of the individual focus that we need on each day and that’s the message from here. We can’t get caught up about what other teams are doing or what’s out of our control. We just have to make sure that we’re prepared and ready for a good hard test tomorrow. It’s a team that’s been playing well. They definitely have a little more confidence in their game and they’ve been playing hard.”

The Oilers, yes, have been playing much better since Dallas Eakins was fired and has won two in a row.

Matt Dumba is in the AHL All-Star Game tonight and that game can be seen on FSN-plus. Yeo said, “What you’re looking for is progress from those guys. He’s just playing in every situation. His ice time is so valuable down there. The game is on his stick every game and [John Torchettii] is doing a great job with him, so we’ll keep letting him develop and if we need him and we feel he can help us win, then we’ll make that decision. But certainly we’re very focused on his development too. “

Yeo didn’t watch Ryan Suter in the NHL All-Star Game, joking, “I watched that game about as intensely as it was played.”

On Haula and what he wants to see from him the last couple months, Yeo said, “I would say consistency in his game. And consistency in the battle level. To me it’s not about skating in open ice and it’s not about skating fast in a straight line. It’s about the compete level in the small areas, it’s about being strong on the puck and puck strength and stick strength and D zone coverage. These are the things that we need to see from him.”

Dubnyk went back to Arizona during the break to, well, pack up his life. His wife and child will be moving to Minnesota on Feb. 4 and he found a place in the Twin Cities.

“It was nice to have that timing wise to get back home and gather up some stuff and get prepared to move some things and all that. It actually worked out great to get that timing to go back there and organize everything and be ready to go when we get back from this trip.”

The Oilers first-round pick, who lost his starting gig with them last year, is 3-0 against them this year with a 0.97 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.

“It’s been fun. I played with a lot of those guys for a long time so I still have some great relationships there and played a lot of games at Rexall,” he said. “The first one I was definitely most nervous for. It’s still a little bit weird to play there, but probably not as weird as having to play Arizona three days after the trade. So it’ll be alright.”

I better write for the paper. I’ll be on KFAN on Tuesday at 9:55 a.m. and Fox Sports North during Tuesday’s pregame show and first intermission.

I got a lot of questions about Mike Richards being on waivers from Wild fans. He has a $5.75 million cap hit the next five years and the big problem with him is the same problem with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise if they retire prematurely (see this story). If Richards hangs it up early, the team that picks him up (or frankly ever trades for him) would be on the hook for a cap recapture penalty. So it’s a big risk.

Can’t see anybody taking Richards. This is just a way to maybe drum up more trade interest. The problem is the Kings is so close to the cap, if you’re making a trade with the Kings, it’s hard for them to take any of your bad contracts or even retain some of the salary and cap hit. Hope that makes sense.

Have to really write for the paper. Just realized it’s 6:15 back there.

Wild resumes season Tuesday night in Edmonton; Brett Sutter's bro a hit at All-Star Game

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: January 26, 2015 - 11:25 AM

The All-Star break has ended, Team Toews beat Team Foligno 17-12 and Wild defenseman Ryan Suter had a goal, assist, was plus-2 and blocked two shots in 19 minutes, 46 seconds.

This morning, barring any player's travel issues returning to the Twin Cities, the Wild will meet at MSP for a charter flight to Edmonton. It will practice in surburbia this afternoon and resume its schedule tomorrow night against the Oilers. The Wild has won 8 of its past 9 in Edmonton and 15 of past 19 overall.

The Wild, with points in three of its past four games (2-1-1), makes its first trip to western Canada this season and plays former now-defunct Northwest Division crying rivals Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver each for the first time (believe it or not).

Stu Bickel was recalled to add an extra body (he can play wing or defense if needed) for at least the start of the road trip. I would presume (barring anything unknown) that coach Mike Yeo will go with the Suter-Jonas Brodin; Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon; Nate Prosser-Christian Folin defense pairs he did last Tuesday in Detroit.

Matt Dumba is at the AHL All-Star Game in Utica. That game is tonight. So Justin Falk and Jon Blum were the only other options to be called up. If the Wild gets to a point this trip where it needs a D, it wouldn't shock me if Bickel and Dumba are swapped.

We'll maybe find out later if Mikael Granlund can return against the Oilers. Unless he's been skating on his own during the break, I would think that would be a stretch, but we shall see.

I will let you know later and of course you can follow me on Twitter at @russostrib.

Also, if you didn't see this cool moment during the All-Star Game, here's a tweet from Iowa Wild forward Brett Sutter (one of L.A. Kings coach Darryl Sutter's three kids) and a great article from the L.A. Times' Helene Elliott. What I love about the video is the like-father, like-son sight of Chris putting his arms around the shoulders of Bobby Ryan, Radim Vrbata and Alex Ovechkin. Darryl Sutter is the king of talking to players that exact same way during games on the bench.

Lastly, this is amazingly the one-year anniversary of the death of my stepdad, Lenny, who died peacefully five minutes after the Wild lost to San Jose in overtime last Jan. 25 (Pacific Time).

He made quite the influence on my life and how I became a sportswriter. If you don't remember, I found a blog he wrote meant for hospice patients on his iPad and posted it on my blog when I returned to the team in Denver a few days after he passed away. Unfortunately, it was the only blog he got a chance to write.

Here it is if you want to give it a read.

Also, a day after Lenny's funeral, my mom and I got trapped in the Atlanta ice storm. We had to walk three miles to my bro's house. I tweeted a poignant photo that and the Atlanta-Journal Constitution picked up on it. (see below article). My best to my mom today. She's recovering from knee surgery Thursday and unfortunately I didn't make it down there because I was sick all weekend.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
January 31, 2014 Friday
Main Edition
FINAL FAREWELL;
Storm can't stop widow's journey

BYLINE: J. Scott Trubey; Staff

SECTION: METRO NEWS; Pg. 1B

LENGTH: 718 words
 

HIGHLIGHT: Stranded woman, son take a walk with love, death --- and the cold.


 

They faced the same vexing decision countless other motorists faced Tuesday in the midst of the epic Snowjam. Stay in the car, or leave it behind?

Four tedious hours and only three-quarters of a mile into the four-mile drive to Sandy Springs, Mike Russo and his mother, Barbara Tabin, decided to hoof it. Their journey, after all, carried the weight of life and love.

Tabin's husband of 29 years, Lenny, had died Sunday. His funeral was Monday under a brilliant blue sky. On Tuesday, as a snowstorm seized metro Atlanta, relatives and friends were supposed to meet at her youngest son Adam's home in Sandy Springs to sit Shiva, to mourn Lenny's death and celebrate his life.

Thank God, we decided to hold the funeral on Monday, Tabin said she thought, or everyone would have been stranded at the cemetery.

The winter storm that trapped workers in their vehicles and kids in their schools and buses, and locked down one of the critical logistics hubs of the Earth, also ensnared the everyday rituals and happenings of joy and grief.

A baby was born Tuesday night in a car on the Perimeter. Some of the region's most vulnerable citizens hunkered down at home hoping their food and medicine would hold out. Birthday parties were canceled. And, like the Shiva gathering for Lenny Tabin, goodbyes were delayed.

Russo, a hockey writer for The Minneapolis Star Tribune, pulled their car into a parking lot near Perimeter Mall. Tabin, 67, slipped her six-pound poodle, Oliver, into a grocery bag. She wrapped a scarf around her head and looped it around Oliver's neck, lifting the sack to her shoulder.

Barbara and Lenny Tabin lived in Boca Raton, Fla., for nearly three decades, and only moved to Dunwoody in August to be close to her youngest son after Lenny got sick. Atlanta's weather seemed a better fit for a couple of Floridians than the treacherous winters of Minnesota.

Then weather, panic and poor decisions left Atlanta in a straitjacket.

The Tabins had their first date 34 years to the day of the Snowjam at a diner in Plainview, N.Y. But the last time Tabin walked in the snow, she said, was 27 years ago. Ronald Reagan was president.

"I could feel my husband watching, laughing, and saying, 'Only my wife would do this,'" Tabin said. As she got out of the car, the air was sharp but invigorating, she said.

On any normal day, Russo and Tabin's drive to Sandy Springs would have taken about 10 minutes. Now they were looking at a couple of hours of walking through bitter cold.

Things started out orderly, but as nerves frayed, temperatures dropped and the limitations of human bladders set in, some snowbound car travelers became unglued.

"People were hungry, thirsty and had to go to the bathroom. They were cold," Tabin said. "They couldn't move but inches, and they were using up the gas in their cars."

Aggressive drivers tried to force their way around other cars, Russo said. One man got out of his vehicle and started punching the driver's side window of a car that was blocking traffic. Other drivers ditched their vehicles along the side of the road.

They encountered one man wrapped up in a blanket who was walking back toward the office buildings near the mall, Russo said. The man said he was going to sleep in his office.

"He had just given up," Russo said.

They crossed over Ga. 400 where cars and trucks were frozen in place. They slowly walked up one icy hill and down the next.

"I kept thinking of 'The Little Engine That Could,'" said Tabin, a retired speech pathologist at a school in Florida, referring to the children's tale.

"That's how I felt, you can do it, you can do it, keep going, keep going," she said.

As they walked, others poured into the streets. A treacherous walk was better than being stopped.

A little before 7 p.m., Tabin and Russo caught sight of her youngest son's home. The Shiva had been canceled, but at least everyone was safe.

Lenny Tabin, 72, retired several years ago as a banker. But he loved kids, and his wife convinced him to become a substitute teacher. Their Boca Raton school sent a care package of food for the Shiva.

Their trek started as a drive to pay tribute to her husband and to say goodbye. But Lenny never really left, Barbara Tabin said.

"It was the dichotomy of life and death," she said. "My husband had died, but he was there encouraging me. He hadn't left me."

Wild to host Chicago Blackhawks Feb. 21, 2016, at TCF Bank Stadium

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: January 24, 2015 - 12:10 PM

Mark Feb. 21, 2016, on your calendar.

Finally, after a decade of watching other teams play outdoors in Boston, New York and even Los Angeles and soon to be Santa Clara, Calif., the Wild will get its turn to take its game out into the Minnesota winter.

On Saturday, the Wild was officially awarded a Stadium-Series game next season by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman during All-Star Weekend n Columbus. The game will take place against the Chicago Blackhawks at the 52,525-capacity TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“We’re incredibly excited about it,” owner Craig Leipold said during a phone interview. “The opportunity to play the rival Blackhawks, I think, makes it a very compelling game. We clearly understand the Blackhawks have been in a number (three) of outdoor games. So they may have a slight mental advantage if you will, but we’re quick learners and we’re just really excited to be in an outdoor game.”

Wild players are excited.

"The players that I know that have played in one say the whole event is a great experience, not just the game itself," Zach Parise said via text. "Having one here is a little bit overdue, I think. Outdoor hockey is part of the culture in Minnesota."

Leipold said his wish is to turn the Stadium-Series game, which includes an accompanying alumni game, into “a real iconic weeklong event” that could include Hockey Day Minnesota (which includes high school games and maybe a Gophers game), an Iowa Wild game and “basically as much as we possibly can do.”

Because TCF Bank Stadium was chosen by the NHL over Target Field only in the past few days, there is still a lot of planning that needs to be done in order to make this happen. The Wild will have to get with the University of Minnesota and TCF Bank Stadium to rent out the venue for Hockey Day Minnesota, then sublease the rink from the league.

Also, ticket information will be released at a later date. The Wild is also talking to Fox Sports North about a behind-the-scenes reality show similar to HBO’s 24/7.

As I reported the other day, if the NHL had chosen Target Field, the league would have incurred added costs like replacing the sod and winterizing the stadium. Leipold also said TCF Bank Stadium’s ability to fit 15,000 more fans was “ultimately a huge factor.”

Adam Wilcox

Mikey Reilly

Last January, TCF Bank Stadium hosted the Hockey City Classic. The Gophers’ women played Minnesota State, while the Gophers’ men played Ohio State. The announced attendance for the men’s game – a 1-0 Gophers win -- was 45,022 – the largest crowd to ever see a hockey game in Minnesota.

Leipold again made clear Saturday that his ultimate objective is to bring Minnesota the New Year’s Day Winter Classic. The league and NBC has so far scoffed at giving Minnesota a game because the Wild’s not considered a national, marquee draw.

So upset at that sentiment, Leipold had previously turned down the chance of hosting a Stadium Series game or being the visitor in the Winter Classic until recently having a change in heart.

“After talking with the league now for a long time about the Winter Classic, it became apparent to me, particularly after talking with other owners who have hosted the outdoor games, that this is a great way to profile your team and profile what we can do in the Twin Cities. It’s a great way of possibly getting the Winter Classic sooner versus later.”

With the amount of Minnesotan former NHLers, North Stars and Wild players, the alumni game will be a must-see event. The Wild and NHL are already kicking around ideas regarding the makeup of teams and captains.

The great Brian Rolston, who hit the 30-goal mark in all three seasons he played for the Wild, already says he’s in.

“I would be honored to play again in the great State of hockey, where I enjoyed my best years in the National Hockey League,” Rolston said via phone Saturday. “When you think about outdoor games in the United States, the first thing that would come to mind is Minnesota. It only seems fitting to have the outdoor game in Minnesota, where so many young players started their careers on frozen ponds or lakes.  

“I believe one of the reasons Minnesota has produced so many great hockey players is the accessibility to outdoor venues.”

The NHL also announced Saturday that the Boston Bruins will host its second Winter Classic next Jan. 1, this one at Gillette Stadium, against the Montreal Canadiens, and that the World Cup of Hockey will return to Toronto in 2016. A second Stadium Series Game was awarded to the Colorado Avalanche, who will play rival Detroit at Coors Field.

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