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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

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Posts about 2010 Winter Games

Barker arrives; Harding in as backup against Canucks?

Posted by: Updated: February 13, 2010 - 1:01 PM

By Brian Stensaas

Unless something changes, I've covered my last Wild practice for awhile. After tomorrow's game, there's the big Olympic break and then Russo is back with you for the majority of the season. I do know of one road trip in March that he won't be on. But neither will I.

Today's practice was the second I've covered at St. Thomas Arena and the score is now Directions 2, Stensaas 0. BOTH times I've driven home from STA, I've taken the wrong way. I got a nice little tour of Eagan/Mendota Heights/Inver Grove Heights, though. Nice place.

New Wild defenseman Cam Barker was on a 6:30 a.m. flight to MSP today. He arrived here in time to hop a ride to the Xcel Energy Center, meet with coach Todd Richards and then join his new teammates over at STA for an hour-long on-ice workout. Barker, who will wear No. 45, will be in uniform tomorrow night. No word yet who he'll play with on the blue line, but Nick Schultz is an obvious guess.

A few players were not around today (Khudobin, Zanon, Zidlicky, Nolan and Scott for sure were not) and Richards said there is nothing to be too concerned about. Some guys were given the option. Scott is sick.

Khudobin? Here we go again with the "H" word. Richards told us that the rookie goaltender "tweaked" his hip flexor during warmups last night. Niklas Backstrom will start Sunday against Vancouver, but there is no word on the backup and with no morning skate tomorrow because of the 2 p.m. start, we won't know until warmups. Remember, Richards has been saying all week that the hope was to not use Josh Harding until after the break. If Khudobin is ailing and Harding has to go in for any reason at all tomorrow as Backstrom's backup, the Wild is one fluke play from being in some seeeeerious trouble. I guess you could say that always. But Harding just has been so unfortunate with his hip problem. You wonder how confident the team is having him back up?

Sorry for the woefully short blog post. Big, big game for the Wild tomorrow against the Canucks. I'm saving all my energy for that one. The early start means all of my work tomorrow (blogging, tweeting, game story, notebook story, game recap) will be done pretty much during and after the game. No prework time. Gameday afternoons might get a little tiresome, but it sure is nice having some work done once the puck drops. Tomorrow? Not so much.

Enjoy your Saturdays, folks. Hey - Olympic hockey begins in two hours! Switzerland v. Sweden followed by Canada v. Slovakia in women's Class A action - catch the fever!

Snowed out in Whistler; Olympic break trade freeze on horizon

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 11, 2010 - 8:36 PM

I'm baaaaaaaaaaaacccccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkk

Not in the Twin Cities. At the Vancouver media center waiting for Jim Souhan to finish his column so I can give the shock jock a Wild beat writer-like tour of North America's coolest city. Guess what? Sid Hartman's doppelganger just walked into the room. Rachel Blount and I stopped in our tracks.

(Here's your weekly Minnetonka fix -- Just got a text from Kevin Gorg: Late first period, Minnetonka 4, Edina 0).

So, this is what I dealt with today:

I know you all in Minnesota don't know what it's like to be in a snowstorm, but it's a pain in the butt.

These flakes were massive and pretty much hurt, especially when I was taking the chair lift back down the mountain in my slacks and loafers, because that's what I wore to a giant ski slope because I've got a brain the size of a pea pod.

I did wear a snazzy new Whistler 2010 sweatshirt with it, so I looked smooth.

The funniest thing about the 3:15 a.m. wakeup call and 4 a.m. cab and 5 a.m. bus and 7:30 a.m. arrival to the Whistler media center and 7:45 a.m. bus to Whistler Creekside and 8 a.m. chair lift up to Franz's slope and 8:15 a.m. walk around the slopes and 9 a.m. coffee to remain awake is that the 9:30 a.m. women's training run session ... NEVER HAPPENED!!!!!!!!!

I did all of the above to watch ONE woman skier make it down the hill. The second, terrifyingly, crashed violently into the safety fence after landing a jump on the back of her skis. Luckily, Mammoth Mountain, California's Stacey Cook is said to be OK by the U.S. ski team's chief medical officer.

But because of THICK fog and LOTS OF snow, the training run has been postponed until Friday morning. Lindsey Vonn, since we are the 24/7 Lindsey Vonn paper, did a free ski down an adjoining hill to test her injured lower leg. She released a statement on her Facebook that she still feels pain but thinks she can fight through it.

I've said the same thing on my Facebook many, many times.

It was a cool day though. Whistler is tremendous, and I'll be back numerous more times during these Olympics, including Saturday and Sunday as I hit the luge beat running. I plan to wear shorts and flip-flops.

Horrible loss for the Wild last night. Couple guys were terrrrrribleeee -- a couple of key guys. I won't say because maybe my Internet feed was warped and I am completely wrong. But I don't think so. One guy -- a forward -- especially didn't show in this very important game.

The trade freeze begins at 2 p.m. CT Friday. Wild's looking for a centerman especially, and as I've written many times that won't be easy. There aren't many out there? Tomas Plekanec, perhaps. Matt Cullen? I'm not sure on that one; Chuck Fletcher had him in Florida and he didn't perform there. Mike Keenan was not a fan. I'm a fan though. Don't get too many better people than Matt Cullen.

Just not many centers out there. I don't know how the Wild missed out on Dominic Moore.

The Wild would be VERY interested in picking up another dman.

As of the other day, Fletcher though was looking to make any additions after the Olympic break because of the team's limited salary-cap room. The roster freeze goes to Feb. 28 at 11 p.m. CT. I've got a feeling (hideous song) that March 1 will be a crazy, crazy (R.E.M.) day -- not another lonely day (Ben Harper).

I know you're going to have trouble believing this, but I've had one or five too many coffees today. I feel the caffeine streaming through my veins, which I don't think is normal.

If the Wild lose either of the last two games on this homestand, I personally think that could make up Fletcher's mind as far as whether this team can make the playoffs or not. I believe they're going to re-sign Marek Zidlicky during the Olympic break or right after. But even if the Wild can't re-sign Kim Johnsson, can they even trade him with a $1.055 million cap hit? I'm not too sure.

Lots of hockey being aired right now in the media room because we're in a hockey country. Ottawa's up on Washington 6-5 with 5:02 left (great game), Vancouver's up on Florida 2-0 after dos. The Panthers are about to tear that thing apart. Nothing ever, ever changes down there.

So far, it appears the only two U.S. hockey writers covering the Olympics are moi and the guy to the very left of me, the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason -- although he just quickly reminded me he's now a columnist, not a lowly beat writer like me.

Says Souhan: "I can't believe we sent a beat writer here."

Bucky's actually not doing many hockey columns during the Olympics, so that leaves me. Lot of pressure on my shoulders. I'm getting jjjjjjjjittery.

OK, I should actually start transcribing for my Saturday feature/advance/takeout/profile on Tony Benshoof.

Lastly, awful picture, but the actual "LOVE BOAT" BELOW: "Love, exciting and new. Climb aboard. We're expecting you, the Love Boat. ..."

Now, get that jingle out of your head. I bet you can't.

Wild recalls Cody Almond from AHL Houston, Robbie Earl sent down

Posted by: Updated: February 11, 2010 - 1:30 PM

By Brian Stensaas

We interrupt Vonn Watch 2010 for a quick Wild update here on Russo's Rants.

The Wild this morning sent Robbie Earl back to AHL Houston and called up Cody Almond. This is Almond's first NHL callup and there is a chance he cracks the lineup tomorrow night against Atlanta, coach Todd Richards said.

"It's something we'll look at, yeah," he said.

Almond, 20, has played well with Houston lately, scoring four goals and six assists in the Aeros last nine games. He was the Wild's fifth-round draft pick (140th overall) in 2007.

"I'm excited to see what he can do," Richards said. "He's a big kid. He's done well down there."

As for Earl, Richards said his game "has slipped a little."

"You want to reward guys that have done the job in Houston and this is a chance for Cody," he said.

 Practice was done in a crisp 35 minutes today, but it didn't start well. Richards had to get the guys going a little bit, asking at one point if they were ready to go or if they were sleeping.

"Some of the guys weren't ready to practice," Richards told the media. "Their minds weren't there. Physically they were there, mentally they weren't."

So did he get their attention?

"The guys that I needed to get their attention, they snapped up," Richards said,

Niklas Backstrom wore his powder-blue Finland leg pads for the first time today in practice. Mikko Koivu wore his blue gloves for a short stretch, too, and they must have felt fine. After a flexed them a little bit, he tossed each into a corner of the equipment room, presumably to get packed up for the trip to Vancouver on Sunday night.

That's really about it, other than most of the players and a few staffers really getting a kick out of their noontime entertainment today. A local TV station featured Wild PR guy Ryan Stanzel and his new bride on a "Love Stories" segment during the midday news. You should have heard the howls from the player's lounge as they watched the lovey-dovey pictures flash on the screen and listened to the interviews - with Stanzel right there I should add. Priceless.

Kim Johnsson walked out shortly after with a huge smile on his face.

"Oh - thanks for that," he said.

Wild back at it tomorrow against the Thrashers. Check for updates in the early afternoon after both teams get in their morning skate.

Now, back to the Olympics.

 

Heading to Whistler

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 11, 2010 - 7:50 AM

Good morning back in the Twin Cities.

I am sitting in the right bulkhead seat of a giant charter bus in the pitch blackness of 5 a.m. heading up to Whistler. In the left bulkhead is Star Tribune photojournalist extraordinaire Brian Peterson. Behind us on this 54-seat, 45-foot bus is nobody!!!

Brian and I have the bus to ourselves as we wanted to get a head start up to Whistler, which meant a 3:15 a.m. wakeup call to get to downtown Vancouver from our Richmond hotels. Driving is Ian from England. He currently lives in Prince George, British Columbia. Not only is he driving the bus, but he's giving us a tour. In a few minutes, we'll be driving along an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. "If you go left, next stop Japan. Unless you're a really bad sailor, you might actually hit Hawaii," says Ian.

He says in a few minutes we'd normally be seeing everything from submarines to the original "Love Boat," which is now an accomodation for the Olympic working crew in Whistler, Ian says. He says the boat was just brought in for the Olympics. But unfortunately it's black out right now, so no dice.

Brian and I will be on this bus for the next 2 1/2 hours as we head up to watch Lindsey Vonn at least attempt her first training run on a bum leg. As you can see in the paper/Olympics page of startribune.com, Vonn injured her lower leg Feb. 3 in Austria. I was also on the swimsuit edition beat yesterday, which is a slight upgrade on covering hockey pucks for a living.

Brian and I are heading to the Whistler media center. Then, we'll get on another bus for 15 minutes to get to the downhill ski slopes. Then, Brian and I will hop on a Gondola to take us to the bottom of the mountain -- the finish line -- where there will be a media sub station for writing and filing photos, plus the area to get the athletes.

I'll be making this to and from 5-6-hour round-trip trek three or four times in the next three or four days. Saturday and Sunday, I plan on coming up to Whistler again to cover White Bear Lake luger Tony Benshoof's runs in what is "very, very likely to be my last Olympics." Benshoof? Great, great interview. Had the pleasure of chatting with him for a half-hour yesterday and I'll be writing a profile on him for Saturday's paper.

I also plan on coming back one of these days to take a peak-to-peak Gondola ride from mountain to mountain apparently. Supposed to be breathtaking.

Rachel Blount and Jim Souhan will be working in Vancouver today as we at the Star Tribune quadruple team Olympic coverage. This is obviously a blast for me. Rachel and Jim are Olympic veterans, but me, I cover the NHL. I'm not used to muscling reporters out of the way to dig deep into a scrum to get an athlete in a mix zone.

Me? I just have to outmuscle Kevin Falness and his "radio voice" once in awhile.

What else? You should have seen Jim Souhan last night sandwiched against a door of a jam-packed train for 20 minutes. Priceless. I wish I had my camera out at the time. Jim and I picked the exact same time that the Opening Ceremony dress rehearsal was letting out. Fun trip.

It looks like I'll get to take in the Opening Ceremony, which is according to the people I talked to on the train, spectacular. I'm hearing rumors of who might be lighting the flame Friday night, and let's just say I'll be -- and all of Canada will be -- very thrilled. Unless I confirm it though, I'm not going to throw it out.

Speaking of hockey, hint, the U.S. women's team's press conference is this morning. Rachel will have that covered. The U.S. men's team will have two press conferences Sunday and Monday. Grieving GM Brian Burke is expected to address the media for the first time since his youngest son passed away on Monday. Burke won't march in the Opening Ceremony now.

In a cool story, Kings defenseman Jack Johnson is chartering a plane for he and his family and coming to Vancouver to march in the ceremony because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Then, he'll go back to play in the Kings' weekend game.

All the men's teams will be practicing for the first time Monday, and I'll be there to take them all in.

OK, I'm getting bus sick, so I might to catch a cat nap. I'm on 3 1/2 hours sleep thanks to TSN's spectacular behind-the-scenes look at Steve Yzerman and crew picking the Canadian men's hockey team. It was on last night. Great inside look at the debate on picking players, and it showed the coaches, including Jacques Lemaire, talking systems and things like that. Very fun show to watch. And it was on last night at 11 p.m. and I couldn't turn it off.

That's it. Talk to you later.

Heading to Whistler

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 11, 2010 - 7:50 AM

Good morning back in the Twin Cities.

I am sitting in the right bulkhead seat of a giant charter bus in the pitch blackness of 5 a.m. heading up to Whistler. In the left bulkhead is Star Tribune photojournalist extraordinaire Brian Peterson. Behind us on this 54-seat, 45-foot bus is nobody!!!

Brian and I have the bus to ourselves as we wanted to get a head start up to Whistler, which meant a 3:15 a.m. wakeup call to get to downtown Vancouver from our Richmond hotels. Driving is Ian from England. He currently lives in Prince George, British Columbia. Not only is he driving the bus, but he's giving us a tour. In a few minutes, we'll be driving along an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. "If you go left, next stop Japan. Unless you're a really bad sailor, you might actually hit Hawaii," says Ian.

He says in a few minutes we'd normally be seeing everything from submarines to the original "Love Boat," which is now an accomodation for the Olympic working crew in Whistler, Ian says. He says the boat was just brought in for the Olympics. But unfortunately it's black out right now, so no dice.

Brian and I will be on this bus for the next 2 1/2 hours as we head up to watch Lindsey Vonn at least attempt her first training run on a bum leg. As you can see in the paper/Olympics page of startribune.com, Vonn injured her lower leg Feb. 3 in Austria. I was also on the swimsuit edition beat yesterday, which is a slight upgrade on covering hockey pucks for a living.

Brian and I are heading to the Whistler media center. Then, we'll get on another bus for 15 minutes to get to the downhill ski slopes. Then, Brian and I will hop on a Gondola to take us to the bottom of the mountain -- the finish line -- where there will be a media sub station for writing and filing photos, plus the area to get the athletes.

I'll be making this to and from 5-6-hour round-trip trek three or four times in the next three or four days. Saturday and Sunday, I plan on coming up to Whistler again to cover White Bear Lake luger Tony Benshoof's runs in what is "very, very likely to be my last Olympics." Benshoof? Great, great interview. Had the pleasure of chatting with him for a half-hour yesterday and I'll be writing a profile on him for Saturday's paper.

I also plan on coming back one of these days to take a peak-to-peak Gondola ride from mountain to mountain apparently. Supposed to be breathtaking.

Rachel Blount and Jim Souhan will be working in Vancouver today as we at the Star Tribune quadruple team Olympic coverage. This is obviously a blast for me. Rachel and Jim are Olympic veterans, but me, I cover the NHL. I'm not used to muscling reporters out of the way to dig deep into a scrum to get an athlete in a mix zone.

Me? I just have to outmuscle Kevin Falness and his "radio voice" once in awhile.

What else? You should have seen Jim Souhan last night sandwiched against a door of a jam-packed train for 20 minutes. Priceless. I wish I had my camera out at the time. Jim and I picked the exact same time that the Opening Ceremony dress rehearsal was letting out. Fun trip.

It looks like I'll get to take in the Opening Ceremony, which is according to the people I talked to on the train, spectacular. I'm hearing rumors of who might be lighting the flame Friday night, and let's just say I'll be -- and all of Canada will be -- very thrilled. Unless I confirm it though, I'm not going to throw it out.

Speaking of hockey, hint, the U.S. women's team's press conference is this morning. Rachel will have that covered. The U.S. men's team will have two press conferences Sunday and Monday. Grieving GM Brian Burke is expected to address the media for the first time since his youngest son passed away on Monday. Burke won't march in the Opening Ceremony now.

In a cool story, Kings defenseman Jack Johnson is chartering a plane for he and his family and coming to Vancouver to march in the ceremony because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Then, he'll go back to play in the Kings' weekend game.

All the men's teams will be practicing for the first time Monday, and I'll be there to take them all in.

OK, I'm getting bus sick, so I might to catch a cat nap. I'm on 3 1/2 hours sleep thanks to TSN's spectacular behind-the-scenes look at Steve Yzerman and crew picking the Canadian men's hockey team. It was on last night. Great inside look at the debate on picking players, and it showed the coaches, including Jacques Lemaire, talking systems and things like that. Very fun show to watch. And it was on last night at 11 p.m. and I couldn't turn it off.

That's it. Talk to you later.

      

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