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 Olympic hockey

Parise will captain U.S. Olympic team; Suter is alternate captain

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 31, 2014 - 1:31 PM

With the Wild lounging around Newport Beach, Calif., earlier this week, Zach Parise had to step out when his cell phone buzzed with Dan Bylsma’s name coming up on the caller I.D.

Parise, the Wild star competing in his second Winter Olympics with the United States later this month, figured it was just a routine update being provided to the five-player leadership group, which includes himself, Wild teammate Ryan Suter, Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes and New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.

It wasn’t.

Parise was informed by the U.S. coach that he will captain the red, white and blue in Sochi.

“We’ve got a lot of players that are great leaders,” Parise, 29, said. “I’m going to get a lot of help and I’m going to need a lot of help. It is a special thing, though. It’s very humbling.”

While Parise was named “Captain America,” Suter and Brown were named alternate captains.

Suter was a no-brainer. No player on the U.S. team has worn an American sweater in international competition more than him (64 games). Along with Parise, Suter was an alternate captain during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and previously captained the U.S. at the 2005 world junior championship.

Parise, the former captain of the New Jersey Devils, tied for the team lead in both goals (four) and points (eight) for the silver medalists in Vancouver. He forced overtime in the gold-medal game by scoring with 24.4 seconds left in regulation.

He previously was alternate captain on the gold-medal winning 2004 world junior championship team.

Bylsma coaches the Pittsburgh Penguins, so his team faced off against Parise often when he played for the Devils. Bylsma said Parise embodies the blue-collar attitude he wants from his team in Sochi.

“Every time we played against Zach Parise, there has been a work ethic, a never quit, a determination, an abrasiveness about a hard-to-play-against type of player -- and it’s every time,” he said. “Regardless of the score, regardless of the situation our respective teams might be in, that’s what you see and that’s what you get every time I’ve coached against Zach Parise."

Parise has played four games since returning from a broken foot that kept him out of the Wild’s lineup Dec. 23-Jan. 21. In two games since finding out he was named the U.S. captain, Parise has scored three goals and seven points.

In 591 NHL games over nine years, Parise has 230 goals and 482 points. He has played in the playoffs seven times, helping the Wild snap a four-year playoff drought last season. He captained the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Kings.

His mentor in New Jersey was recently-retired Jamie Langenbrunner, who captain the U.S. in 2010.

“I sat next to him in the locker room while he was our captain [in New Jersey], and while he was our captain in Vancouver,” Parise said. “Not an overly vocal guy in the locker room, but you know he’s going to play hard the right way in every game, and he leads by example. 

“As I get older in the league, you kind of remember those kinds of things. What was unique about Jamie was that he was able to lead the same way when the team was winning and the team was losing, which is a hard thing.

Wild captain Mikko Koivu is expected to captain Finland during the Olympics. Koivu has missed the past 12 games with a broken ankle.

Next up: Avalanche; Team USA captain named Friday

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: January 29, 2014 - 2:34 PM

The Anaheim Ducks are the NHL's best team, but suffered only their second home loss in regulation on Tuesday night when the Wild skated away with an impressive 4-2 victory at the Pond.

The Wild is in Colorado today to get ready for a game against the Avalanche tomorrow night. Practice is optional.

Beat writer Michael Russo is still away from the team following a death in the family, but should get to Denver tomorrow -- although he's stranded in Atlanta, which has been shut down by a blizzard, er, one inch of snow.

Update: USA Hockey announced it will name the Olympic team captain on Friday at noon. The U.S. captain will be on a conference call.  Wild alternate captains Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are among the five candidates, as the team's "leadership" group includes those two, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, Kings captain Dustin Brown and Blues captain David Backes.

Back to Tuesday's victory, some quick stats on the game:

Mikael Granlund had a power-play goal to break an eight-game streak by the Wild where it did not score with a man advantage.  Still, it was 1-for-5 on power plays, and that nine-game stat now reads 1-for-26.

Parise had the game-winning goal on a very skilled deflection of a Marco Scandella shot, and also had two assists. The Wild is 4-1-1 in the past six, and the Ducks are now 21-2-2 at home.

The Wild improved to 9-3-1 in 2014. At 29-20-6 (64 points), they moved into the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. Remember, top three teams in each division make the playoffs, along with two wild card teams with the next best records in the conference.

Darcy Kuemper made 31 saves to improve to 6-3-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 11 appearances this season.

Our game story from LA-based Joe D'Hippolito is here.

Randball weighed in this morning on Wild fever here.

Parise models USA gear, will play tonight for Wild

Posted by: Kent Youngblood Updated: January 23, 2014 - 12:54 PM

Zach Parise took a lot of ribbing from Wild teammates today when pictures of him modeling Team USA Olympic gear were released (see below).

But the good news for Parise is he will return to action tonight against Chicago after missing 14 games with a left foot injury. He will open the game skating on a line with Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter.

“It felt good again this morning,” he said after an optional morning skate. “So I think we’re going to give it a shot. I’m excited. It’s tough when you’re watching the game from the press box for such a long time. So I’m looking forward to playing again.”

It will be a challenge, and not just because his return happens to be against one of the league’s most talented teams. He hasn’t played since Dec. 22, when his first attempt to return from the injury ended after 12 games. So it will take some time to get his rhythm back, to become reacquainted with the pace of an NHL game.

“Just getting that pace down,” he said. “When you’re out for a long period of time? Practice is one thing. But games are just another pace. It’s another speed. Hopefully that won’t take too long to get back to where I was when I was feeling good.”

Parise said he’s confident the foot has healed, that there is no risk of re-injuring it simply by playing. He also said he feels worlds better than the first time he returned and tried to play through the injury. “It’s night and day how much better I feel,” he said. “That’s a good sign. It still hurts a little bit at times. It gets sore after {skating]. But it feels better than it did before when I was playing. The biggest test will be playing in a game.’’

Wild coach Mike Yeo said he and his staff will monitor Parise closely. Parise is not necessarily on a minutes limit, but Yeo will keep track of how he’s playing and where his conditioning is.

“No. 1, we want him on the ice,” Yeo said. “We have to get him back in there, and we wouldn’t be putting him in the lineup if he wasn’t ready. …  We’ll monitor it as far as how he’s doing conditioning-wise and how he looks out there. But we have to get him out there and back to playing his best hockey.’’

Parise’s return should help a team that has struggled to get shots on net, even though the Wild did win seven of their last 10 games.

“He’s going to help us with puck possession, which will help us get more pucks to the net,” Yeo said. “The way he hounds pucks, his work ethic, his skill level, executing, his skill level? We’re talking about a guy who consistently puts five-plus shots on the board. For a team that’s been having a tough time getting shots, that’s enormous.’’

On a lighter note, Parise had to withstand his teammates' teasing  for having modeled the outfit Team USA members will wear at the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics. The picture of Parise in the cardigan sweater and white pants has been copied and distributed around the team’s locker room and lounge areas.

The good news is that the U.S. hockey team will arrive in Sochi, Russia too late for opening ceremonies and will leave before the closing ceremonies. So neither Parise nor Ryan Suter will have to actually wear the outfits.  But that picture of Parise is here to stay. “There are a couple 8x10s of that picture hidden around the room that I’ve come across,” Parise admitted.

And there was this, too:


Meanwhile, the return of Parise has pushed Jason Zucker to the fourth line. It’s a new role for him. And, according to Yeo, a chance for Zucker to stick with the Wild long-term. To this point  Zucker has been targeted for the top two lines. When there wasn’t a spot for him there, he was sent back to the Iowa Wild.

“We’re giving him an opportunity here,” Yeo said. “There are no promises that go beyond tonight. If he can prove he can get an asset there, and he can be effective? He’s giving himself a better chance of staying here, long-term.’’

Agreement reached: NHL players will compete in Olympics

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 19, 2013 - 11:26 AM

NHL players will compete in the 2014 Olympics, and the agreement reached means the long-awaited release of the NHL schedule for 2013-14 is expected to happen later today. The Olympic break will start Feb. 9 and NHL play will resume Feb. 26.

Per a news release:

The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) announced today that an agreement has been reached with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to secure participation of NHL players in the upcoming 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

NHL players will be available to the 12 participating IIHF Member National Associations for the men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament (February 12 – 23, 2014). This will mark the fifth consecutive time dating back to Nagano 1998 that NHL players have participated in the Olympics. More than 120 NHL players are expected to compete for their respective nations in Sochi.

“The National Hockey League features the most international player population in professional sports, and our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “The decision to participate in the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi was in many ways a difficult one, but one that we know will be well received by our Players and, most importantly, by the vast majority of our fans and sports fans everywhere.”

The Wild should be well represented in the Olympics. It could have as many eight players participate. Zach Parise, a captain contender, and Ryan Suter are shoo-ins to play for the United States, while Jason Pominville, born in Canada but with dual citizenship, is a roster contender.

Mikko Koivu should captain Finland, while Niklas Backstrom and Mikael Granlund are contenders. Nino Niederreiter is a shoo-in for Switzerland, while Jonas Brodin has already been invited to Sweden’s summer Olympic camp.

Parise and Suter won silver at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, while Koivu and Backstrom won bronze and silver respectively in 2010 and 2006 in Turin, Italy. Backstrom turns 36 on Feb. 13. With Pekka Rinne and Antti Niemi also options for Finland, Backstrom could be a longshot unless there’s injuries.

U.S. junior team routs Germany

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: December 27, 2012 - 12:29 PM

John Gibson and Jon Gillies combined on a 26-save shutout and eight different players scored as the U.S. junior national team opened the world tournament by beating Germany 8-0 in Ufa, Russia today.

Gibson had 19 saves in two periods and Gillies seven in the third.

Two Minnesotans, defenseman Mike Reilly and winger Mario Lucia, played for the U.S. but were held off the scoresheet.

Chris Peters' United States of Hockey has video highlights and an in-depth breakdown of the game here.

The U.S. plays Russia on Friday.


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