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

No. 1 Gophers vs. No. 2 Notre Dame tonight at Mariucci Arena

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 8, 2013 - 6:02 PM

Tonight at Mariucci Arena, the No. 1 ranked Gophers face off against the No. 2 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The Gophers are coming off an 8-1 win Dec. 30 against Boston College to win the Mariucci Classic and overtake the Eagles for No. 1 in the nation. Notre Dame has not played in 24 days and once since Dec. 8. The Irish has won six in a row.

The game will also feature Don Lucia going up against his son, Notre Dame freshman Mario Lucia, for the first time. Here is the feature I wrote on them today.

Lucia, Gophers assistant coach Grant Potulny are just back from Russia, where they won gold with the U.S. at the world juniors. The team will be honored before the game.

Don Lucia flirted with not dressing defenseman Mike Reilly, but he is listed as an extra skater on the line chart. So I'd assume that means Lucia monitors his ice time and energy level.

Erik Haula is out with a finger injury. Nate Condon takes his spot.

Here are the lines

Gophers

Forwards

Kyle Rau-Nick Bjugstad-Christian Isackson

Sam Warning-Nate Condon-Zach Budish

Tom Serratore-Travis Boyd-Seth Ambroz

XXXXXXXXXXX-A.J. Michaelson-Justin Holl

Defensemen

Seth Helgeson-Mark Alt

Jake Parenteau-Ben Marshall

Brady Skjei-Nate Schmidt

Mike Reilly

Goalies

Adam Wilcox

Mike Shibrowski

Notre Dame

Forwards

Jeff Costello-Anders Lee-Bryan Rust

Mario Lucia-T.J. Tynan-Mike Voran

Nick Larson-David Gerths-Austin Wuthrich

Thomas DiPauli-Steven Fogarty-Peter Schneider

Defensemen

Shayne Taker-Stephen Johns

Kevin Lind-Robbie Russo

Eric Johnson-Sam Calabrese

Goalies

Steven Summerhays

Mike Johnson

 

USA snags second world junior gold medal in four years, beats defending champion Sweden

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 5, 2013 - 10:02 AM

In a remarkable turnaround after one-goal losses in the preliminary round to Canada and Russia, the United States reeled off four consecutive victories and capped it off with a 3-1 win over defending champion Sweden today to win the gold medal at the World Under-20 Championship in Ufa, Russia.

The gold is the Americans' second since 2010 and third in history.

Just a tremendous job by coach Phil Housley (South St. Paul, Stillwater High), who juggled the lineup around, found the magic formula and helped this team jell in wins over Slovakia, Czech Republic, Canada and Sweden.

"They inspired a nation today," Housley told NHL Network after the game. "We're bringing home the gold, guys!"

Housley's group continued to grow game by game.

Congrats also to Minnesotans Mike Reilly (Chanhassen, Gophers) and Mario Lucia (Wayzata, Notre Dame) and Housley's staff, which included Grant Potulny (Gophers assistant) and Mark Osiecki (Ohio State).

(You can read quotes from Reilly, Lucia and Potulny from a few nights ago on the previous blog).

University of North Dakota redshirt freshman Rocci Grimaldi was the offensive whiz today, scoring two goals, including the winner. This came after Grimaldi was relegated as the 13th forward four games ago.

"He played unbelievable these last three games," Housley told NHL Network. "My hat goes off to him. He took [the 13th forward slot] the right way."

The world junior All-Star team was selected as John Gibson (USA) in goal, Jacob Trouba (USA) and Jake McCabe (USA) on the blue line and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins (Canada), Johnny Gaudreau (USA) and Filip Forsberg (Sweden) at forward.

Rock-solid Gibson was named tournament MVP and top goalie. Trouba was top defenseman and Nugent-Hopkins top forward.

I will be on KFAN at 10:35 a.m. to talk world juniors, Gophers and NHL lockout (mediation today after 12 hours yesterday, 5 p.m. CT deadline for NHLPA disclaimer of interest vote to be concluded).

Reilly, Lucia, Potulny go for gold with the U.S. at the world junior championships

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 4, 2013 - 4:44 PM
Moments after beating Canada in the semifinals of the world junior championships in Ufa, Russia on Thursday, Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly texted back and forth with buddy Jake Gardiner, the former Minnetonka High star that plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
 
In 2010, Gardiner represented the United States and won gold with fellow Minnesotans Derek Stepan, Danny Kristo, Jordan Schroeder and Mike Lee in Saskatchewan.
 
“We talked quite a bit the other night and Jake says it was one of the best moments of his life to win, so that’s what I’m shooting for – to bring back a gold,” said Reilly, who hails from Chanhassen, played at Holy Angels and won a BCHL title with Penticton last year.
 
Reilly and Mario Lucia, the son of Gophers coach Don Lucia, are the two Minnesotans wearing red, white and blue (Lucia was born in Alaska but moved to Minnesota in kindergarten). The team is coached by three Minnesotans – head coach Phil Housley and assistants Mark Osiecki and Grant Potulny.
 
They are going for the Americans’ third-ever gold medal in the Under-20 world championships Saturday (7 a.m. CT; can be watched on NHL Network and NHL.com) against Sweden.
 
I talked with Reilly, Lucia and Potulny late last night from Russia.
 
“You watched [the U.S. win gold] on TV twice and think, ‘Wow, what a great day to be an American. Now getting an opportunity is obviously very exciting. We’re halfway home,” said Potulny, a Gophers’ assistant. “You almost want to stay in the moment here a little bit so you don’t start planning ahead too far because there will be plenty of time to celebrate if we do in fact win the game [Saturday].”
 
The Americans opened the tournament with an 8-0 win over Germany in the prelims, but then suffered 2-1 losses to Russia and Canada. That caused a must-win against Slovakia, and the Americans blew them out, 9-3.
 
They advanced to play the Czechs in the quarters, winning 7-zip, before beating Canada, 5-1. Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau continued his offensive assault with two more goals (seven in the past three), Wisconsin's Jake McCabe, the U.S. captain, had two goals and an assist and John Gibson made 36 saves.
 
“I think game by game we’re getting better and better as a team and that’s just what we need coming into the gold-medal game,” the superb-skating Reilly, now Connor Murphy’s defense partner after opening the tournament as Seth Jones’, said. “Playing the first games against Russia and Canada gave us a little scare there, but we just got to stay the path and keep betting better as a team. We played well against those two teams but just couldn’t put enough goals in the back of the net.”
 
Reilly and Potulny say the issues against Russia and Canada in the prelims were as simple as running into hot goalies and just not doing enough to create around the net.
 
“We had to create chemistry between one another,” said Reilly, who has three points and is plus-4. “We’re all used to playing on different teams – almost every guy, so in a quick tournament like this with only about seven games, it does take a bit of time to come together as a team. I feel we’re there now.”
 
Added Potulny, “With some of the guys, you hate to say it, but you almost had to stay patient because you knew that their history has shown that they can score. They’ve scored at every level. We juggled a little bit with moving a couple guys around. That may have kickstarted it. But my opinion is after awhile you play together, you get a little chemistry going.”
 
Defenseman Jacob Trouba has been outstanding throughout the tournament with eight points, while JT Miller and Alex Galchenyuk have caught fire with eight each as well.
 
Reilly says the U.S. will have its “hands full” with Sweden. The Americans beat Sweden 3-2 in overtime in an exhibition game in Finland, but both teams didn’t play their full lineups.
 
Sweden beat Russia in a shootout to advance to the gold-medal game and Potulny said, “That game was like a track meet. The pace of that game was crazy. The Swedes are probably the best team here at protecting the puck. It’s almost like keep-away. You’ve got to find a way to shut them down because otherwise, they’re going to hold onto it and hold onto it and hold onto it. You can’t puck watch because the moment you leave a guy open, they’re going to make a play because they’ve got skill.”
 
The U.S. coaching staff got to watch Sweden practice before they left Finland and Potulny said, “It looked like a North American practice -- competing and 1-on-1’s and 2-on-2’s and net battling and things at least I didn’t expect to see out of the Swedes.”
 
It’s been a tough tournament for Wild prospect Mario Lucia, the Notre Dame freshman (CCHA Rookie of the Month) slotted as the team’s 13th forward the past two games. He has sat on the bench the past two games but didn’t see a shift. After the win over Canada, his father, Don, sent him an email.
 
“I said, ‘Just think, you got hurt in August (broke tibia, tore ligaments in his ankle) and now you’re a part of it. This is your role right now. There’s only two Minnesota kids on the team and only one forward. Think of those odds. Be the best teammate you can be,’” Don Lucia said. “And he understands that. He’s an injury away, so be ready to go. Would he like to play? Sure. But this is the role he’s been given and be proud of the fact you’re a win from gold.”
 
Potulny said Lucia has handled this maturely.
 
“Anytime you come here and move guys around and juggle lines, a lot of times when you juggle, whoever becomes that 13th forward, it’s not because of what he hasn’t done,” Potulny said. “It’s just trying to get a different look for your lineup after losing to Russia and Canada.
 
“Unfortunately for Mario, the moment we did roll those around, that’s when Gaudreau gets hot, that’s when the power play gets going. By no fault of his own, almost bad timing for him, we caught fire when he became 13th forward. But he’s handled everything with class. He’s been our biggest cheerleader on the bench. He’s been into it and engaged. Right now it’s hard, but we had a conversation, two years ago when he was at Wayzata if we would have said, ‘hey, you’re one game away from playing in the gold-medal game at world junior,’ he would have taken it and thought it would be cool to be part of it. And if we do need him [Saturday], he’ll be ready.”
 
And that’s exactly what Mario Lucia said.
 
“The first time I was slotted as the 13th forward, it was a little hard to swallow,” Lucia said. “But I accept it. I worked my butt off to get back and get healthy and to be here. I’m looking at it this way and looking at the glass half full, not empty. My goal was to make the world junior team.
 
“Any kid would be dying to be in my shoes right now, to be here and be at this tournament. I’m thrilled to be here. We’re winning and that’s all that matters. When you look at it 10 years down road, you’re not going to know who scored the goals, they’re just going to know you were part of the team that won. Hopefully we’ll win gold on Saturday.”
 
And as Reilly said, “It would be awesome. I’ve never really put the USA jersey on a lot, but a lot of guys here have and it’s special to all of us. I know a lot of people are watching and rooting for us. It would be great for our country.”
 
--------------
 
The No. 1-ranked Gophers face Mario Lucia’s No. 2-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Mariucci on Tuesday, and Lucia made clear he plans to play despite returning to Minnesota on Sunday night and the 12-hour time difference.
 
Reilly hopes to play, too, but Don Lucia says he may give him the game off to rest up for the weekend conference series against Alaska-Anchorage.
 
Mario Lucia and Reilly are buddies, were teammates on Penticton and roommates in Russia.
 
“I want him to play obviously,” Lucia said. “I think he wants to play. I think it’ll be a fun game, too, and the fans should make it a sold-out barn – No. 1 vs. 2.”
 
I will have a lot more on Mario Lucia facing Don Lucia in Tuesday’s newspaper, but Reilly did say he hopes to play.
 
“I’ll worry more about it when we get home, but I for sure want to play because it’s Notre Dame. They’re the second-rated team and I know Mario’s playing in that. But it’s a coach’s decision. I know the time change will be different. I’ll see how I adjust.”
 
(For Don Lucia’s reasoning as to why he may not play Reilly, see two blogs ago).
 
Potulny and Reilly are excited that the Gophers won the Mariucci Classic with wins over Air Force and Boston College and took the No. 1 ranking in the country.
 
“I think they cut the dead weight and got me out of there,” Potulny joked. “They’ve been rolling. It’s almost the same thing with our group here, you have stay patient with your guys because you knew Nick [Bjugstad], Kyle [Rau], Nate Condon would score. And [goalie] Adam [Wilcox] has given us a chance to win the whole time. We just hadn’t been scoring, and if you think about it, that would have been an odd thing for us to say at the beginning of the year.
 
“But the guys regrouped during the break and they know what the end goal is here.”
 
Ryan Reilly, Mike’s older brother, scored his first collegiate goal in the win over Air Force.
 
“Mom texted me right away. That was awesome,” Mike Reilly said.
 
(By the way, I met injured Connor Reilly for the first time today down at the rink. Nicest kid and he’s coming along well with his rehab on his knee).
 
Potulny, a huge Vikings fans, is looking forward to getting home. He spent a lot of the conversation asking for Vikings and NHL lockout updates.
 
On Ufa, Russia, where the sun rises close to 11 a.m.: “We can take it off my bucket list. We don’t have to come back.”
 
(He was actually very complimentary of the city and the experience.)
 

Don Lucia on Haula, Notre Dame; Bjugstad, Wilcox honored; NHL update

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 3, 2013 - 4:45 PM

 

The No. 1 ranked Gophers face the No. 2 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Tuesday night at Mariucci Arena.
 
The Gophers held availability today and coach Don Lucia addressed a number of subjects, including the injury to leading scorer Erik Haula, how the Gophers plan to overcome the loss, playing his alma matter and his son, Mario.
 
On Haula’s injury, it’s an upper-body injury and he’ll miss at least the next three games, most likely. The hope is he will return vs. North Dakota on Jan. 18-19. Haula was slashed across the right hand early in the third period against Boston College.
 
It appears as if Nate Condon will move from first-line right wing to second-line center. Condon played center for much of his life before coming to the U and played there at times during his freshman year.
 
“It impacts us in every phase,” Lucia said of Haula, the team’s most consistent forward this year, being out. “It impacts the power play, penalty killing. Really, every situation, he’s a key guy. But the good thing it’s not something that’s going to be two months or three months.”
 
Lucia said the Gophers are experimenting in practice whether or not to use Condon or maybe Christian Isackson there, but it certainly sounds like it’ll be Condon.
 
I will be doing a big Don Lucia-Mario Lucia story for Tuesday, but I’ll provide a few quotes from Don below (Mario Lucia, after being named CCHA Rookie of the Week recently, was named CCHA Rookie of the Month today). Here is Lucia on a number of subjects:
 
Freshman Mike Reilly will play in Saturday’s gold-medal game at the world junior championships in Ufa, Russia, against Sweden. Will Reilly play Tuesday against Notre Dame? “He gets back Sunday night, which is the following morning Ufa time. It’s something we’re wrestling with right now whether to play him or not. Originally when we set this up, we thought it’d be three guys (also three guys for Notre Dame) and that was a concern. Now that it is only one, I don’t feel the same necessity. I want to do what’s best for our team, but also what’s best for him. So we’ll gauge that. The good part is we have six good defensemen that can play, so the question becomes, he gets back Sunday night, he’s going to be fatigued, we play Friday, Saturday league games [against Alaska Anchorage]. Is it going to help him and help our team more not to play him on Tuesday and we’ll give him Wednesday and Thursday to get some rest? I mean, this is a long grind they’re going through, the travel as much as anything, not the mention they’re only back Sunday night. It’s a 12-hour time change, so what are his legs going to be like? I don’t know. Maybe we’ll gauge that when he gets back on Monday. We have not made a decision one way or the other. It’s a hard decision to make to be honest. … They leave Sunday morning and they get here Sunday night, but that’s really 8:30 Russia time the next day. So what’s your sleep going to be like the first couple days? It’s not like he’s just coming back from Edmonton or Ottawa.”
 
Will Mario play? “That’s their call what they end up doing. That’s their decision. One reason why we set this up [against Notre Dame] was because he was going to be playing there, but at the same time we knew we’re setting up to play a good opponent, too. If he plays, great. If he doesn’t, I understand it.”
 
(Russo note: Trust me, Mario Lucia is playing vs. the Gophers on Tuesday).
 
Have you watched the world juniors? “I’ve taped them. I have not gotten up at 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s a little bit too early for me. If it was 5 or 6 I can handle that. It’s been a great experience for [Mario]. He’s in a whole new role he probably hasn’t been in, but that’s all part of the growth. The team’s done great and now they can play for a gold medal.”
 
(Russo note: Don Lucia is referring to the fact that his son has become the 13th forward, meaning he hasn’t played the past two games. Lucia sent an email to his son this morning to keep his head up and to let him know this is all part of the growing process, how three months ago, who knew he’d even be in the tournament after breaking his leg. I will write a world junior advance for our web site and this blog on Friday. I will have more on Mario Lucia in there).
 
What’s Mario Lucia think of Russia? “He says the food’s getting better. We sent him over with some protein and peanut butter and some things. He and Mike Reilly are roommates. They lived together in Penticton, so it’s nice he’s got a roommate he’s familiar with and gets along with. They’re like Oscar and Felix.”
 
On Condon: “He’s played center all of his life. … So this will be an easy transition for Nate to make to move back to center. Notre Dames got two [high-end centers] in [Edina’s Anders] Lee and [T.J.] Tynan and Nate’s speed can help us defend there.”
 
On playing Notre Dame: “It’s always your alma mater. I’m looking forward to play an elite program. I’m still trying to figure out how they were ranked ahead of us, they don’t play and now we’re ahead of them. [Assistant coach] Andy [Slaggert] texted me after our [8-1] win [over Boston College] and said, ‘You’re going to be No. 1,’ and I said, ‘No, not a chance.’ That doesn’t matter. We’re playing a top team, the best team at least right now in the CCHA, a team that obviously will be contending at the end. It’s another good opportunity for our team to play an elite opponent.”
 
How they Irish compare to BC: “They’re more methodical in how they play, they don’t beat themselves, they’re a very difficult team to play against, they haven’t given up more than three goals in a game all season long, they’re scoring a little more than they did at the beginning. They’re a big, strong, physical team. I’m looking forward to it.”
 
By the way, Lucia reminded that in 1977, the Irish won the national title in football during his freshman year, so maybe they’ll do the same during Mario’s freshman year.
 
I’ll have a lot more on Don and Mario Tuesday, but Lucia said, “The ideal scenario: he has a great game and we win.”
 
Nate Condon: “Going from wing to playing center, I’ve got to play a lot more defense. Lot of puck movement, you see a lot more of the ice going up the middle, keep your head up in the neutral zone, faceoffs. Not too much changes. Played with Budish before.”
 
Captain Zach Budish says it’s been a great few days around the program after creaming BC and they’re looking forward to the Irish. On losing Haula: “He’s a big player for us, he plays in every situation, he’s one of our top guys, and it’s definitely a loss, but it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up.”
 
Also, Nick Bjugstad was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week after scoring six points, including a career-high four in the BC win, as the Gophers won the Mariucci Classic. Adam Wilcox, who stopped 50 of 51 shots, was named WCHA Rookie of the Week.
 
--------------
 
Lastly, not a good day in NHL/NHLPA bargaining. There was no formal bargaining session, and the NHLPA will begin a two-day vote tonight to again authorize the union to file a disclaimer of interest.
 
I've been all Gophers today. Here is the TSN story with today's events.

Americans blow out Canada, advance to world junior final; Compliance buyouts have little affect the Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 3, 2013 - 1:22 PM

In the wee hours of this morning, the United States, coached by Minnesotans Phil Housley, Grant Potulny and Mark Osiecki, crushed Canada, 5-1, in the semifinals of the world junior championships in Ufa, Russia.

Here's the story, with video highlights.

The Americans will face defending champion Sweden, who upended Russia in a shootout, in Saturday's gold-medal game at 7 a.m. CT.

Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau continued his offensive assault with two more goals (seven in the past three), Wisconsin's Jake McCabe, the U.S. captain, had two goals and an assist and John Gibson made 36 saves.

Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly tweeted at @mreilly93: "What a game to be a part of. Moving on to the finals. #goforgold"

Saturday morning's game will be on NHL Network and streamed on NHL.com. I will be on KFAN at 10:35 a.m. to talk about the game and NHL/NHLPA bargaining updates.

As you can see on the previous blog, the two sides met late into the night last night and expect to meet again today with a federal mediator. Gary Bettman said the sides agreed to meet at 10 a.m. ET. The two sides haven't begun meeting yet as the NHLPA is reportedly meeting internally and updating its membership of yesterday's events.

I get asked a lot if there's any chance after a handshake agreement that the NHL starts playing while the collective bargaining agreement is drafted, lawyered up and ratified. Doubtful.

In 1994-95, there were tons of wildfires that had to be put out the ensuing months when they tried that, stuff like, "You agreed to this, ... Uh, no we didn't." This morning is a case of the NHL thought they agreed to meet at 10 a.m. moments after this alleged agreement, and the NHLPA didn't understand it that way.

So the two sides can't agree on that, think they'll play with a handshake?

Details are starting to emerge:

-- I have confirmed ESPN Pierre LeBrun's report that the league has agreed to the two compliance buyouts the players want for 2013-14 (wouldn't count against the salary cap). But the owners feel that since they're willing to hand players a lump sum of money to walk away, that should come out of the player share of the 50/50 split of revenues, not the owners. Players don't want it that way; they want it to come from outside the system. This transition rule is a big bridge that must be gapped.

There seems to be a lot of confusion among fans. The purpose of the compliance buyouts are so teams can get compliant with the 2013-14 salary cap that will decline (the league wants it to be $60 million, the union $65 million) as the split in revenues go from 57-43 in favor of the players to 50-50.

Because this affects 2013-14, this really has little affect on the Wild.

The salary cap this year (if they get a deal done to salvage the season) will still be prorated at $70.2 million, so the Wild, with the second-highest payroll in the NHL, are compliant. Even if the cap falls to $60 million in 2013-14, the Wild would be at $50.5 million assuming Niklas Backstrom, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen aren't re-signed. This doesn't include the promotions of Houston prospects other than Mikael Granlund, free-agent signings and the re-signings of potential restricted free agents like Cal Clutterbuck.

But the Wild conceivably wouldn't have to buy out anybody.

By the way, check out the previous blog for Wild injury news and also how an abbreviated training camp may determine which kids from Houston get a look right away. It's interesting because the kids in Houston succeeding are in midseason form, so that could be quite the advantage for the Wild. However, there's very few open spots due to one-way contracts, so there's just no chance more than a handful could start with the Wild.

-- Also, reportedly (I have not confirmed yet), the NHL is willing to move the variance of salaries inside contracts year to year to 20 percent.

-- Pensions, the fact the NHL wants six-year max deals (seven to re-sign your own players) and a $60 million ceiling in 2013-14 continue to be the big "open issues."

I'll be back later with a report on the Gophers after availability, but as I mentioned, Erik Haula is expected to miss at least the next three games with a finger injury. Don Lucia indicated yesterday that Nate Condon may move to second-line center from first-line right wing to replace him.

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