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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Posts about Gophers injuries

Gophers goalie news: Shibrowski hurt, meaning it's "Adam's net"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 14, 2012 - 3:57 PM

After a trek to the Last Frontier where they went 1-0-1 in Anchorage, the Gophers’ men’s hockey team (6-2-1, 3-2-1 in the WCHA) returns to Mariucci this weekend to host the Wisconsin Badgers (1-4-1, 1-2-1) – alma mater to Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert and Jake Dowell – four guys who hopefully someday in the future will don Iron Range red.

In Friday’s paper, I will be doing a profile on Erik Haula, a Wild prospect and last year’s Gophers leading scorer and somebody Don Lucia says has been from “start to finish this year our best player.” Some good stuff in this story, so please check it out.
Lucia said backup goalie Michael Shibrowski got “dinged” in Tuesday’s practice and will miss a few weeks, “so it’s Adam’s net,” as in Wilcox, the reigning WCHA Rookie of the Week. He recorded his second shutout of the season last weekend and is 5-1-1 this season with a conference-best 1.58 goals against average.
Lucia also said Sam Warning remains out with an undisclosed injury. The Badgers report junior forward Mark Zengerle, who had points in Wisconsin’s first five games, is out.
The Gophers are 155-86-20 all-time against the Badgers, 90-27-7 at home. This is the first of four meetings. On Feb. 15, the Gophers play in Madison, then play at the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago on Feb. 17. The Gophers last won a season series over Wisconsin in 2006-07. The Badgers are 14-22-6 against Minnesota under Mike Eaves but 12-13-5 since the start of the 2005-06 season. Wisconsin has split or won its last five season series with Minnesota, splitting the last three.
The Badgers have six Minnesota natives (Tyler Barnes, Spencer Bell, Joe Faust, Joseph LaBate, Kevin Schultze, Eddie Wittchow). The Gophers have one Wisconsin native – Nate Condon, who you can hear from below.
Don Lucia quotes:
On Wilcox: “He’s going to be the guy for awhile now. Shibrowski got dinged a little bit in practice yesterday, so he’s going to be out for a few weeks. So it’s Adam’s net, and he would have probably played both games this weekend, regardless. He’s walked in and I think has given all his teammates and coaches confidence. He hasn’t really let in any leakers so far this year. He’s given us an opportunity to win every game he’s started. He’s a confident kid, and he’s athletic.”
More on Wilcox: “Adam’s had an opportunity to start now some weekends, but that’s based on how he’s played and he earned that opportunity. Had he not played as well, then we may have continued to split for awhile. … With Shibby out, now it’s a foregone conclusion he’s going to be playing every game.”
Feel sorry for Shibrowski?: “I feel sorry that he got hurt yesterday because if he didn’t play this weekend, we would have played him in Vermont, and that’s not going to be available to him. But I think anytime you’re a goalie, you understand the deal. Only one gets to play, and right now, Adam’s done a good job. But that doesn’t mean when Mike gets back that he’s not going to play an important role on this team this year.”
On Sam Warning: “He’s out this weekend, so he’s week by week. More than likely he won’t play next weekend either, and then we’ll have to make a decision whether he’ll be back for those next two weeks or do we just shut him down ‘til Christmas.”
On the Alaska Anchorage weekend: “I liked the way a couple of our younger kids played. I thought Mikey Reilly had his best weekend defensively. I thought Brady Skjei looked like he made another step. So it’s good to see the freshmen play better and grow, and that’s what we have been trying to do with them. Overall when you look at the season, we haven’t given up a lot of shots (22.0 a game). That’s a good place to start. And we have to continue to get better at that because if you can play well defensively, then you’re going to give yourself a chance to win on just about every night. Last week we did a much better job of managing the puck. The weekend before against Mankato on Saturday, we just turned it over too many times in the first period and got ourselves in trouble. We were chasing the scoreboard all night long. This past weekend, we were able to score first both games and play with the lead, and the game becomes easier.”
On Wisconsin: “Well, they’ve only played six games. They’ve had a little bit of a disjointed beginning because of a couple off weekends. They’ve only played two games in the last three weeks. So they’ve had two weeks to prepare, and I’m sure they will be champing at the bit to get rolling here. They’ve played well in this building the last number of years. We’ve had a lot of splits with them, and it seems like they’ve been winning on Friday and we’ve been winning on Saturday. So hopefully we can come out with a great effort on Friday.”
On Nate Condon: “Nate’s got a good skill level. He’s got tremendous speed. He’s got good size. He can play in any situation for us, … he’s responsible defensively. Now, hopefully he can continue to make the next step offensively and be a goal-scoring contributor on a weekly basis. And that’s something we’ve talked to him about. Hopefully he can take that next step and get a few more for us this year. We’re going to need it, especially with Warning out and not having Connor [Reilly] available this year.”
Power play is on fire (28.6 percent). 5-on-5 has been a chore offensively (10th in the conference, I believe). What gives?: “We’ve got to get to some of the hard areas better. We saw some good signs this past weekend – the way we supported the puck, the way we got to the net on some plays. I think we can continue to generate some more from our back line – getting shots through and to the net. If we can continue to manage the puck and take care of it and work on our puck protection down low in the offensive zone, and then have the ability to make those little five-, eight-foot passes in some tight areas, that’s what you have to do in order to generate more offensively. Now, this weekend is going to be hard because they’re playing -- unless they’ve changed the last two weeks – a 1-1-3. So we’re going to see three guys skating backwards all night long, so it’s not like we’re going to get odd-man rushes. We’re not. So you’ve got to try to grind it out and win low-scoring games.”
Why such a good rivalry? “From my standpoint, it’s a healthy rivalry. It’s not … we go to Wisconsin, and you’re not getting too verbally abused. I mean, you’re going to get yelled at, but it’s not the swearing and it’s not over the top. I think rivalries are good when they’re healthy like that. Our fans get a little more excited when Wisconsin comes into town. I think it’s with all the sports being another Big Ten member. Our building will be more alive than usual this weekend and same when we go there.”
On Kyle Rau: “It was his best weekend. He had a little ankle issue that he finally for the first time all year feels 100 percent with, and I think we saw that last weekend. … He had aggravated [the ankle injury] on an almost weekly basis, but I saw a little more hop to his step this weekend.”
On Bjugstad’s play: “He’s got five goals on the year, which translates to 20-plus goals in the season, which is a good college year. But like all the guys, there’s more there. I think there are a few guys. We need a little more production out of [Zach] Budish, [Christian] Isackson. Those guys that are playing in a top-six role, you’ve got to score on a pretty regular basis, especially goals. I think having a healthy Kyle helps. … In this day and age, if you’re going to score goals, you’ve got to get inside the dots. You can play outside the dots all you want, but you’ve got to get some goals in the blue paint, you’ve got to get some deflection goals, you’ve got to get some rebound goals. That’s something we’ve talked to our guys about. You’ve got to get to the hard areas if you’re going to score goals. If you want to stay on the perimeter, you’re not going to score much.”
Nate Condon (from Wausau, Wisc.) quotes:
On playing the Badgers: “If I lose to the Badgers, when I go home, I’ve got to hear about it. If we lose to the Badgers, that’s all I hear about.”
What prompted you to come to Minnesota: “Right away when I was playing in the Elite League, coach Lucia talked to me first. … Right through the recruiting process, he was pretty good to me. He was up front and honest about what he wanted out of me and what I’d get here at Minnesota, and then when I came here on my official visit, it’s a great school. I like it here. I really like the business school they have here, so it was just a great school for me.”
On his play: “I just kind of know more what’s expected out of me and what I can do offensively. Playing with Haula right now. Obviously he’s a very offensive player.”
Why’s 5-on-5 been an issue? “We’ve have been sitting back a little bit, a lot of dumps and we’re not controlling the puck like I think we can. We’ve just got to get up and get on them and make offensive-zone plays where you can make quick-strike plays at the net.”
More on Wisconsin: “My family had season tickets to football and hockey. … Most people would say the North Dakota rivalry is the biggest for us, but for me, it’s probably Wisconsin just because it’s my home state, it’s who I want to play against, it’s who I want to beat. There’s no more fun than beating Wisconsin for me.”
Adam Wilcox quotes:
On playing Wisconsin: “I’m pumped. I’ve been looking forward to this since the summer. It’s one of those weekends that you mark on the calendar. It’s a homestand weekend, so I’m more than excited for it.”
On Rookie of the Week: “It’s a big accomplishment, especially this early. It’s nice to get, but you just have to look at it for a little bit and then kind of forget about it because it’s a matter of what you do in the end. As a team, we’ve got to get four points this weekend.”
On relationship with Shibrowski: “He’s an awesome guy. He’s one of the nicest guys on the team. Me and him have a great relationship. We know it’s just a healthy competition, especially at this level. There’s always going to be competition, so me and him, we’re good. There’s never any problems. And he’s a really nice kid.”
Feel like defense improved from Mankato? “The defense had a great weekend. They shut down a lot of 2-on-1’s, odd-man rushes, and the biggest thing that I saw is they blocked a lot of shots, especially in the first game. I think they had about 10-20 blocked shots before I even got to five shots on myself.”
The Gophers Hockey Blue Line Club is holding a luncheon that will feature former Gophers Keith Ballard and Paul Martin on Friday at O’Gara’s in St. Paul at 11:30 a.m. It’s open to the public but reservations are preferred by calling 612-625-2886. Cost is $25.
By the way, the next one is scheduled Jan. 17 at Gabe’s by the Park and features Wild GM Chuck Fletcher.

Also, in Wild news, 2011 second-round pick Mario Lucia, Don's son who broke his leg before Notre Dame's season, is expected to return for the Nov. 23 series against North Dakota. The Fighting Irish forward and Fairbanks, Alaska, native is still a world junior hopeful for the U.S.

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

Posted by: Michael Russo 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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