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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First, defenseman Keith Ballard has been released from Regions Hospital. He suffered multiple facial fractures and a concussion when hit by Matt Martin of the Islanders last night. Doctors will wait until the swelling subsides before determining if surgery is necessary.
Second, defenseman Marco Scandella has a phone hearing tonight with the NHL following his second illegal check to the head penalty in 10 days.
Scandella caught Brock Nelson in the head late in last night's 5-4 win over the Islanders. On Nov. 29, Scandella was assessed an illegal check to T.J. Oshie's head and fined without a hearing.
Clearly, Scandella hates former Warroad High players that went to the University of North Dakota and is from Roseau, not Montreal.
Two penalties like this so close together was an all but guaranteed league discipline. Checks to the head usually result in two-game suspensions on a first offense. We shall see. A decision will be made tonight by the NHL, I am told.
Scandella flew with the Wild to San Jose, which has a storm of the century coming tomorrow, by the way. I have some serious travel problems today due to weather in the Bay Area, so if I don't make practice, I'll update the blog later after I get availability with players and coach Mike Yeo at the team hotel in San Jose -- assuming I make it out there.
The Wild has recalled Justin Falk to replace Ballard.
I am told no discipline for Martin. I think it was a needless, reckless hit, but often in this case, when a player turns to dodge a check the way Ballard did, the onus is now on him and that turn at last second is viewed as contributing to the incident and injury. I still feel it was a run and late, but the fact Martin looks to escape discipline doesn't surprise me. The league, which has the technology that I don't, says the hit was .5 seconds after Ballard gave up the puck. .7 or more is considered late, as I wrote in last month's Department of Player Safety feature here. It's also not considered a charge, I'm told, because he comes off the ice after contact and rides up Ballard.
Guy Lapointe, the Hall of Fame defenseman who had his No. 5 retired by the Montreal Canadiens last month, is heartbroken today along with the rest of the hockey community at the death of Jean Beliveau, the Canadiens’ legend who died at 83 years old last night.
“It’s a pretty sad day,” Lapointe said earlier today during a phone interview from his home in Montreal. “It's almost like the Montreal Canadiens lost their dad.”
At the request of Beliveau, Lapointe, the Wild’s chief amateur scout, was invited to Beliveau’s home last month by his wife, Elise. It was the day after Lapointe’s No. 5 raised to the Bell Centre rafters.
“He was still lucid but pretty weak,” Lapointe said. “He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t stand up anymore. He had lost a lot of weight with the cancer and had a care service. But when I walked in, I know he recognized me. I saw a smile on his face. I came close to him and touched his hand. He wasn’t moving very much, but he touched my hand. And with slow words, he told me what I accomplished and how well deserved it was that the Canadiens retired my number.
“Thank God I didn’t cry. I held it in. He was classy to the end, a gentleman to the end. He found the energy and wanted to see me. It was pretty touching. I walked out the door and saw his wife and daughter [Helene] and we cried like babies. Wow. I mean, wow.”
As I wrote last month when we were in Montreal for the incredible banner-raising of Lapointe’s number and the reunion of the Big Three (Larry Robinson and Serge Savard), Lapointe wanted to be a cop as a kid. He had to be convinced to even attend the Canadiens’ training camp by his dad.
“As a kid growing up, he was my idol,” Lapointe said of Beliveau. “The No. 4, playing hockey in the street, we had his jersey. As I’ve told you before, my dad convinced me to go to the Montreal camp because my dad knew how much I loved Jean Beliveau. My dad told me, ‘Just think, even if you don’t make the team, you’ll be able to say one day you skated with your idol, Mr. Jean Beliveau.
“I had a chance to play one year with him and I’m telling you he was a gentleman, a classy guy, a good captain, a leader that any team in hockey dreamed to have. His last year was my first year, and I won a Cup with him. That was pretty special. I won other Cups, and for me and my teammates, he was still part of it. We were a family, we were a team, everything was about being a hockey team, to be a teammate, not about your individual stats whatsoever. Somebody need help, you help him, enjoy somebody else’s success even if you’re not having it. Be a family. That’s what Mr. Jean Beliveau taught all of us.”
Lapointe, like everybody in hockey, remembered Beliveau for his class and his grace.
“He’d shake your hand, and it was always, ‘How’s your family? How you doing? How’s your health?’” Lapointe said. “He always cared about you. He was just not a great hockey player, he was a great person to be around. If somebody wrote him fan mail, he answered it back. Every one. It was unbelievable, I’m telling you.
“Respect your fans, have time for them, he’d tell us. Respect the media, he’d tell us. They’re going to be good with you. At times, they’re going to be critical. Accept that. Be a man. They’ve got as much a job to do as you guys on the ice.
“Life is so unfair at times. Mr. Jean Beliveau was such a great man. What he did for hockey, not just Montreal, for the fans and the media, he was all about respect. Great man like him, the way he conducted himself, he deserved a better finish than the way he went.”
Lapointe talked about his banner-raising last month and how emotional he got when he saw his banner rise. He thought to himself how for the history of the Habs, of the Bell Centre, of his family going on generation after generation long after he's gone, how that banner will be there.
And he thought about his dad.
“It was very emotional, especially when that banner went up,” Lapointe said. “My dad made me go to camp because of Mr. Jean Beliveau, and my career became magic. My career was about work ethic and passion, and when you want to be a player, if you find that work ethic and passion, more times than not you’ll work yourself to a good career. I learned that my first year with Mr. Jean Beliveau.”
With the passing of Mr. Beliveau last night and the funeral of former North Stars coach and player Murray Oliver today, the Wild will hold a moment of silence before the Anthems prior to tonight’s game against the Habs.
All Canadiens players will don the # 4 on their helmets to honor the legendary captain tonight, too.
Word started to trickle out earlier today that things were heating up on the Marco Scandella extension front and boy did it ever happen quickly.
The Wild has signed the breaking-out defenseman to a five-year, $20 million extension one day after his second overtime winner in the past 12 days. This buys out three of his unrestricted free-agent years. Escalating salaies throughout.
"Marco has shown tremendous improvement in his career and is one of the best young, two-way defensemen in the NHL," said GM Chuck Fletcher. "He is a hard-working, energetic player who is just scratching the surface of his potential in the NHL."
Scandella, whom I'm doing a big feature on for Wednesday's paper incidentally, really came into his own last season as mostly Jared Spurgeon's partner. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound 24-year-old, drafted in the second round in 2008, had a career-high 17 points and was plus-10.
This season, he has scored five goals (all go-ahead goals), three of which were winning goals. Five of his 12 career goals are winning goals. That's the fourth-highest percentage of goals being game-winning goals (.417) since 2011.
He has also turned into a rock solid defender or as coach Mike Yeo said last week a "heck of an NHL defenseman."
The Wild seriously considered sending rookie defenseman Matt Dumba to the minors for the first time two weeks ago, but suddenly, defensemen Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin got the mumps at the same time and Dumba stayed and Christian Folin went to Iowa in large part because Dumba could maybe assist on the power play.
But with Brodin having returned for the first time since Nov. 11 Friday night in Dallas, the Wild assigned Dumba to the American Hockey League for the first time in his pro career this morning.
Dumba, as well as Josh Harding, are expected to make their Iowa Wild debuts Sunday at 4 p.m. at San Antonio.
Dumba, 20, logged 4:10 in last night's overtime win at Dallas and I'm pretty sure was supposed to be scratched until Keith Ballard ended up not playing. Not sure if he was a healthy scratch or if he's sick or hurt, but the Wild has recalled Justin Falk to likely play tonight against St. Louis. But that could be just because the Wild wants Falk's 6-foot-5 frame on the back end to defend the Blues' deep, big forward corps.
Back to Dumba, he made the Wild out of camp last year, but that was in large part because the Wild wanted him to work hand in hand with assistant coaches Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor. Because he was younger than 20, he was not permitted to be sent to AHL Houston. (His three games with Houston plus five playoff games in 2013 was on an amateur tryout after his Red Deer season ended).
When he only played 13 games by December, the Wild loaned him to Team Canada for the world juniors, then returned him to juniors after his rights were traded from Red Deer to Portland, where now Penguins coach Mike Johnston was coach and GM.
This season, Dumba had a solid training camp, especially late, and made the team. He scored one goal and three assists in 20 games, was minus-4 and had 28 shots.
He made some costly mistakes, often trying to make something out of nothing. That was especially true in a game at Montreal earlier this month. Dumba and Folin were scratched the next game at New Jersey.
The demotion to Iowa is nothing to freak out about if you're a Wild fan. He's 20. The AHL is about development and the Wild now has John Torchetti and Richard Park there, so the Wild trusts that he'll be in good hands.
It is not easy to step into the NHL as a 20-year-old, ESPECIALLY as a defenseman. It takes defensemen and goalies longer to develop. Heck, just look at Marco Scandella, who to quote Mike Yeo a few games ago is turning into a heck of an NHL defenseman at age 24.
An excerpt from my blog after the Montreal loss:
The Matt Dumba one tonight was not good. Scoreless. Everything going well. Team’s following the gameplan and trying hard to get that first goal by Carey Price.
Then Dumba, instead of doing the safe thing and getting the puck deep, tried to chip a puck off the wall. It was too soft, so instead of backing up and realizing it was going to be a turnover, he stepped in front of defender Max Pacioretty (1st big mistake) and then dived to try to keep it from getting to Tomas Plekanec (2nd big mistake).
With the Canadiens coming the other way with speed, Dumba was still picking himself off the ice at the top of the right faceoff circle in Montreal’s end. Yes, the Wild wasn’t outnumbered because Mikko Koivu realized Dumba’s error and backed him up, but it seemed to foul up Marco Scandella because his gap was poor, he surrendered the blue line to the super-fast Brendan Gallagher and 1-0 Canadiens.
Dumba played one shift the rest of the game and none in the third period.
The Wild keeps playing Dumba because it’s about development and has to experience intimidating climates like Montreal, but he’s 20 years old and erratic and hasn’t yet played a second of minor-league hockey (as a pro) even though last I checked, that’s the development league.
The question is can the Wild continue to play him when the bad has thus far outweighed the good.
Jonas Brodins don’t grow on trees. The fact that he could step into the Wild at 19 years old was special. Dumba has all the tools to be a real good defenseman, but he is too reckless at times and tonight characteristically tried to turn nothing into something, made a careless play and it led to a goal against.
Like I said, assistant coach Rick Wilson benched him from there, so perhaps a stint in Iowa is coming for Dumba.
THEN, the mumps hit and Dumba stayed.
The Wild doesn't have a morning skate today. I am currently on a flight home to Minnesota. We will talk to Yeo at 4:45 about today's move. It's expected to be Niklas Backstrom vs. Jake Allen tonight.
Kent Youngblood will be writing the game story for tomorrow's paper. I'll be at the game to write the notebook, get a Sunday for Monday story (day off tomorrow), tweet and probably blog.
Lastly, some Twitter notes from working on my Excel files today:
5 of Marco Scandella's 12 career goals have been game-winning goals. All 5 of his goals this year have been go-ahead goals (3 GWG). #mnwild— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) November 29, 2014
Kuemper's 41 saves last night was a career-high (19 in the third) #mnwild; 1st time in Wild history MIN has beaten DAL in 3 straight— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) November 29, 2014
I wanted to express my heartfelt condolences to Wild owner Craig Leipold and his entire family after their beloved Betty Jo Leipold, Craig's mom, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 89.
Betty Jo was married to her husband, Werner "Lefty" Leipold, for 65 years.
Betty Jo was in great health, but she had a cardiac arrest during hip surgery resulting from a fall in a parking lot walking into church Thursday, Craig Leipold said.
Leipold left after the Wild's game in Philadelphia on Thursday night to be with her.
"She was the kindest, nicest lady you could ever meet," Leipold said. "The family is devastated."
In early October, Leipold invited some reporters down to his suite to watch an exhibition game. Columnist Jim Souhan wrote a column on the Leipold family that can be read here.
My thoughts are with the entire family.
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