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 Wild off-season news

Sources: Wild goaltender Josh Harding sidelined by ankle injury

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 16, 2014 - 5:40 PM

Training camp hasn’t started and the Wild already has serious goaltending issues.

Josh Harding, looking to resurrect himself after missing last season’s second half because of complications from multiple sclerosis, has been sidelined by an ankle injury, multiple sources said Tuesday.

The team, experts when it comes to bad luck with its goaltending health, was totally caught off guard Monday when Harding limped into the trainer’s room. For a month, Harding had been feeling great off the ice and looking great on the ice. He even sat down last week with the Star Tribune to talk about how much he was looking forward to this season.

But suddenly, Harding didn’t take part in the team’s captain’s practices the past two days at Xcel Energy Center, is walking with the use of crutches and will miss at least the start of training camp when players take the ice Friday. The injury did not occur on the ice, sources say.

General Manager Chuck Fletcher was scheduled to return to the Twin Cities from Traverse City, Michigan, where the Wild participated in a prospect tournament, on Tuesday night. The Wild does not yet know the extent of the injury or how long Harding will be out, although it’s expected to be awhile.

Fletcher is expected to meet with coach Mike Yeo, Harding and athletic therapist Don Fuller on Wednesday, as well as speak with team orthopedic surgeon Joel Boyd.

Harding didn’t reply to text messages Tuesday.

With veteran Niklas Backstrom healthy and Harding set to be ready, the Wild had been playing hardball with unsigned restricted free agent Darcy Kuemper. Harding’s injury could have implications on the negotiations with the young goaltender.

Kuemper was seeking a one-year, one-way contract, while the Wild was offering a two-year deal with the first year being a two-way and the second year being a one-way as of last week.

Kuemper’s agent floated that his client, who at least then had little leverage, was contemplating offers from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

If Harding is out long-term, the Wild also has unsigned unrestricted free agent Ilya Bryzgalov as an option.

Last season in 12 regular-season games with the Wild, Bryzgalov went 7-1-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. In the playoffs, he went 3-6-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.

Bryzgalov, 34, made clear publicly through his agent last month that he wanted to return to the Wild. It’s believed Fletcher has already reached out to Bryzgalov to see if he would be willing to come to training camp on a tryout.

Backstrom, whose 189 wins rank first all-time on the Wild, has so far looked good in his skates. Two seasons ago, he tied for the league lead with 24 wins but sustained a sports hernia minutes before Game 1 of the playoffs. Last season, Backstrom sustained myriad injuries and never felt completely healthy coming into the year. He went 5-11-2 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.

He ultimately underwent season-ending abdominal and hip surgeries. He is now 36 with two years left on his contract.

“This is an opportunity for him,” Yeo said Monday before knowing that Harding was injured. “Backy’s kind of been the forgotten soldier right now. Nobody even talks about him. He’s won a lot of hockey games for us, there’s been many games where I know he stole games for us. He’s a guy who can come in and do that again this year. I think he’ll be motivated.”

Last week, Harding sat down with the Star Tribune for an interview. That article was supposed to appear in Tuesday’s editions. In the story, Harding discussed how great he felt on and off the ice and how he was looking forward to this season.

“It’s one of those summers where everything clicked and I feel even better than I did last summer and feel like I’m in better shape,” said Harding, 30. “With the year of knowledge of what I’m dealing with, with a different mind-set and different mentality about what I did this offseason, I think it’s definitely going to help out tremendously.

 “I just feel … great. Physically, mentally, knowing everything that’s been working for me, I believe I’m going to show I’m capable of playing a full season. I just feel … great.”

Last year, Harding was in the midst of a sensational season, reeling off 18 victories by Dec. 17 before missing a road trip for what even doctors felt would be a minor adjustment to his treatment.

That season, one in which Harding led the NHL with a 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, would be stopped in its tracks. He returned to start two games, including one where he clearly wasn’t right and the Wild blew a three-goal lead to the Islanders. He didn’t play again after Jan. 1 – the second season in a row he missed significant time due to the debilitating illness.

It’s clear Harding had a relapse.

“Without going into big details, one plus one equals two. The changing of the medication, the changing of the treatment over the Christmas break, things happened and things happened quick,” Harding said.

But Harding had been feeling great since the springtime and came close to returning in the playoffs. Conditioning was the only reason why he couldn’t. Last week, even Harding said the only thing that has kept him from being an everyday No. 1 is health. Even before being diagnosed with MS, Harding was often derailed by injuries, whether it being to his knee or hip.

Asked last week what his biggest objective was this season, Harding didn’t hesitate: “To stay healthy the entire season and be available for every game and give the team whatever they need from me and try my best and have fun while I do it.”

Harding's Hope makes donation to National MS Society programs

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 13, 2014 - 9:08 AM

Harding's Hope, the nonprofit founded by Wild goalie Josh Harding, donated $83,000 today to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Upper Midwest Chapter, to help fund direct financial assistance for families affected by MS.

"Thanks to the generosity of donors and partners, Harding’s Hope is proud to announce our first year gift of $83,000 to the MS Society programs," said Harding's Hope advisor Lana Quinn of QuinnMcCauley. "We hope that through this season’s ‘Make the Save’ campaign we can increase that amount for next year.

"Camp opens next week and Josh’s focus returns to the ice, but off ice we will continue to work to raise funds for people living with MS and hope hockey fans everywhere will join us."

“This generous donation will make a tremendous impact in the lives of families struggling to cope with

the financial burden of this lifelong disease,“ said National MS Society, Upper Midwest Chapter President
Holly Anderson. “We extend our deepest gratitude to Harding’s Hope for their dedication to helping
people with MS live their best lives.”

Harding’s Hope raises awareness and funds to support people living with MS. Today, the charity also transitioned to a new web site, www.hardingshope.org.

“On behalf of Harding’s Hope and all those affected by MS, we are thankful to the hundreds of individuals and organizations that contributed this past year to make this donation possible,” Harding said.

The four Society programs chosen for funding include chore services, care partner relief, exercise and wellness, and aids for daily living ― all designed to help people with MS stay strong and independent, and remain in their homes and communities.

I sat down with Harding last week and will be doing an article on him in the next few days. Harding, who led the NHL last season in goals-against average and save percentage, has looked great on the ice the past month and is determined "to show I’m capable of playing a full season."

“I’m excited for this season and I don’t know if I’ve felt this good in my life," he said.

Bob Suter wake, funeral information

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 10, 2014 - 5:39 PM

To honor the life of Bob Suter, there will be a wake at Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin, Friday from 3-7 p.m. Bob's funeral will be held at Alliant Energy Center on Saturday at 11 a.m.

The venue was chosen because there's not a Lutheran church in the area with the capacity to hold the expected number of guests. The public is welcome to the wake and the funeral.

Mark Johnson, Tom Sagissor and son Garrett Suter will eulogize Bob.

Bob Suter, a Wild scout and member of the famed "Miracle on Ice," died Monday in Middleton, Wisconsin, at the age of 57.

Earlier today, Wild defenseman Ryan Suter released the following statement through the team regarding the loss of his dad:

The sudden loss of my father has been difficult for myself and our family - my dad was my hero and he taught me about life, hockey and what was truly important - family. He will be missed greatly and his legacy and spirit will be with us every day. He lived with the motto “it’s all about the kids” and forever he will be remembered by this.
 
My family and I also want to say thank you for the tremendous outpouring of support we have received from the hockey community around the world. It means a lot to us to know how much he was loved and will be missed.

Wild owner Craig Leipold is chartering an aircraft to bring the team -- teammates, coaches, management, staff and family members -- to Bob's funeral, calling it a "no-brainer. It's just a sad time."

Friend and teammate Zach Parise told me today, "It’s the right thing to do. It sounds cliché, but you have your team and you consider that your second family. I’ve known Ryan for a long time, and I’m glad that we’re doing that. Even if we didn’t have a plane, I’ll bet you the whole team would drive. I’m just glad that we’ll be there for Ryan and his family.”

Wild captain Mikko Koivu discusses brother Saku Koivu's retirement

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 10, 2014 - 2:39 PM

For nine seasons, we have witnessed Koivu vs. Koivu matchups, whether it be Minnesota vs. Montreal or Minnesota vs. Anaheim.

Well, after 18 seasons, Saku Koivu retired from the NHL this morning. He scored 255 goals, 577 assists and 832 points in 1,124 games for the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks. He captained the Canadiens 10 years and won four medals with Finland in the Winter Olympics.

Younger brother Mikko Koivu, the Wild’s all-time leading scorer and captain, skated with the team at its informal skate this morning.

“You’re going to look back and see all the things he did with the Canadiens and the Ducks and the Finnish national team as well, I think he has the respect of each and every team and in each and every town that he played for, from his country, from his teammates and from the staffs,” Koivu said. “He has always been a class act, and I think you’re going to hear that a lot from around the league and around the hockey world.”

If you know Mikko, he never exactly loved playing against his big brother starting with that first game way back in 2005.

“It was always tough,” Mikko Koivu said. “I didn’t really like that going against him and my biggest fear was to face him in the playoffs. I don’t know. It didn’t feel right to go against him. He obviously was a center, too, so I would face him a lot of times and it was a tough situation for both of us, but now looking back, maybe I could have taken it a different way. It was a great experience. For our family, not a lot of people get to do that.”

Saku Koivu had a chance to sign with the Wild a few years back but felt it was Mikko’s team.

“We experienced it with Team Finland and obviously that’s a short period of time,” Mikko Koivu said. “More than anything, he wanted to protect me and give me my time to do my thing here. I think it felt right for him and I respected that. Looking back, I think it was the right call for us.”

By the way, Koivu, 31, who scored 11 goals and 43 assists last season, said his ankle doesn’t affect him anymore. He missed 17 games and the Olympics last year after ankle surgery. He said he trained differently this offseason, although he didn’t want to get into specifics. “I feel good and I feel healthy and I’m excited to get going.”

-- In other Wild news overshadowed yesterday, the Wild announced it will have an ECHL affiliation with the Alaska Aces. The St. Louis Blues will share that affiliation. All its main prospects and minor-leaguers will be with the AHL Iowa Wild still.

Also, the Wild will hold an open practice for fans to watch on Sept. 20 at Xcel Energy Center from 9:30 a.m.-noon. Remember, single-game tickets go on sale that morning at 10 at the arena’s box office.

Wild owner to fly team to Bob Suter's funeral

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 10, 2014 - 11:57 AM

An update on the tragic loss of Bob Suter, Ryan's dad and the Wild scout, ...

Ryan Suter issued this statement through Wild PR: The sudden loss of my father has been difficult for myself and our family - my dad was my hero and he taught me about life, hockey and what was truly important - family. He will be missed greatly and his legacy and spirit will be with us every day. He lived with the motto “it’s all about the kids” and forever he will be remembered by this. My family and I also want to say thank you for the tremendous outpouring of support we have received from the hockey community around the world. It means a lot to us to know how much he was loved and will be missed.

Tom Sagissor, the former Badger and close family friend of the Suters, called this morning. As you can imagine, Tom is incredibly broken up by the loss of his friend. Tom and Ryan drove to Madison last night and Ryan plans to put out a statement through the Wild today. The family is obviously devastated.

Funeral plans are still pending, but Tom said Wild owner Craig Leipold has been incredibly supportive and plans to fly the entire team and family members to Bob's funeral.

"I just think that says huge things about Craig and the organization," Tom said. "Bob was a fantastic guy, just a great father and he was great to kids and good to the game of hockey. All those kids were just affected by him and his ability to keep people in the game."

Bob Suter, who died at the rink he co-owned with his son, was, as ESPN's John Buccigross so poignantly said below, a rink rat.

In a story last year, Ryan Suter told me he never grew up dreaming of playing in the NHL. He figured he would go to the University of Wisconsin like his dad and uncle, Gary, and then work at the rink with his dad. His father was always at that rink, whether it was sweeping the locker rooms, resurfacing the ice or devoting his time to the kids who love to skate down at Capitol Ice.

Some tweets from yesterday:

As I mentioned on yesterday's blog, Bob Suter scouted the USHL and Wisconsin high schools the past two years for the Wild. He was a big reason the Wild drafted defenseman Gustav Olofsson.

"Bob was a tremendous asset to our scouting staff," assistant GM Brent Flahr said. "He loved the game of hockey, he was around rinks all of his life, and he had a natural eye for talent. He put countless miles on his truck in order to scout games for us and he loved to talk hockey. He was a lot of fun to have at meetings, he had a great sense of humor, and was just a positive guy to be around. It was a sad day for all of our staff and he will be greatly missed."

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