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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Zach Parise, along with fellow Olympians Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund, was given the day off today by the Wild, but the veteran winger and United States captain wanted to clarify comments he made after the Americans' loss to Finland in the bronze-medal game.
Parise was quoted as saying the Americans were "passive" and sent one guy in on the forecheck and allowed the Canadians (in the semifinals) and Finns to break out of the zone easily because of that.
It was construed by some in the media and by fans as Parise taking potshots at coach Dan Bylsma and his system.
Via email today, Parise said that wasn't the case.
“I liked his system, along with each of the other players. His system didn’t have anything to do with why we didn’t win a medal,” Parise said. "I wasn't even misquoted, someone just took a response to a different question and made it sound like I was referring to him. I was asked about how we played in a particular game and I said we were passive as a team, not playing a passive system. We seemed slow as a group that particular game. Dan did a great job coaching us and preparing us for all of the games, along with the other coaches. They put in a lot of work and it's unfortunate someone would say different."
Parise, who was pursued by the Penguins before he chose Minnesota two summers ago, said he had a good relationship with Bylsma throughout the Olympics and the months leading up to it. That included phone calls and meetings.
"He always asked for the opinion of the players on different things," Parise said in the email. "And on the ice he let us play and demanded us to work. He was always detailed in his approach and his meetings and like I said earlier we were more than prepared from a scouting standpoint for each game."
Parise spoke Sunday with Penguins GM Ray Shero, also the associate GM for the U.S. during the Olympics (became acting GM when David Poile was struck by the puck in Minnesota on Feb. 6), to clarify his comments and to assure Shero that they were not meant to take aim at Bylsma.
I think I mentioned on the previous blog, but Parise also told me in an email that his hand is fine from the Olympics, that he's actually not quite sure what happened, but it just started to hurt during the bronze-medal game.
As for the Wild, the team practiced for an hour this morning and captain Mikko Koivu continues to progress from his return from ankle surgery Jan. 6.
If the Wild had a game today, coach Mike Yeo said Koivu would be unable to play. The hope though is that he continues to progress during practices Tuesday and Wednesday and can maybe play in Edmonton and/or Vancouver Thursday and Friday.
"Individually you know when you’re ready," Koivu said. "When you know that you don’t think about it in the back of your mind, then you know for sure you’re ready to go. It’s a lot better right now than what it was last week, so that’s a good sign. Still have a couple days here before the first game. We’ll see tomorrow morning [how it feels]."
Yeo said the Wild has a bunch of meetings here to figure out what the lineup will look like if Koivu can return. He indicated the centers would be Koivu, Granlund, Kyle Brodziak and Erik Haula (recalled back from Iowa), so that seems to indicate that Charlie Coyle will move back to wing.
Yeo said that potentially Parise, Granlund and Jason Pominville, a line the last four-plus games before the Olympic break, would remain intact. However, after some terrific shifts together in a win at Anaheim and an offensive explosion during a loss in Colorado, the Parise-Granlund-Pominville line combined for one goal and two assists the last three games (and the Parise goal was a power-play goal). All three players were minus-3 those three games.
But with Granlund coming back from Sochi on a high and probably the need to ease Koivu back into things, my guess is Yeo separates Parise and Koivu for the first extended stretch in their Wild career together.
I'll be on KFAN at 5:15 p.m.
Good morning from the X, where Mike Yeo's putting the Wild through a practice.
Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund have the day off, and my guess as of now is they'll have Tuesday off, too. If that's the case, they'll be on Wednesday's charter to Edmonton, where the Wild will practice in preparation for Thursday's game there. By the way, Parise emailed me that his hand is OK and that it just started hurting out of the blue the final game against Finland. He doesn't know what happened, but he says he's fine.
Nino Niederreiter, who returned last week from Sochi, has rejoined the Wild for today's practice. Mikko Koivu is practicing again and is taking part in game-like situation drills, which could be a good sign for a return Thursday.
Erik Haula, as expected, has been recalled again from AHL Iowa with Jason Zucker sidelined at least through the Wild's two-game road trip. Haula scored five goals and five assists in seven games with Iowa during the Olympic break.
Steve Kampfer has also been recalled with the Wild short defensemen. Suter isn't here and Marco Scandella isn't practicing today, so Kampfer, I assume, is here for a few days just to practice.
More after practice.
Wild center Mikael Granlund, who won a bronze medal at the Olympics, was named to the Olympic All-Star team after Canada's gold-medal win over Sweden today.
Granlund led Finland with seven points and 20 shots and all Finnish forwards in ice time at 18 minutes, 15 seconds a game. Here is the rest of the Olympic awards.
If you didn't read my Sunday Insider on the Wild's goaltending situation heading into the March 5 trade deadline, here that is.
The Wild held an outdoor practice this morning at the John Rose OVAL in Roseville. Afterward, defenseman Marco Scandella skated with strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson. We'll find out Monday if Scandella practices with the team.
My guess is the Wild will recall a couple players later today. With Jason Zucker hurt and Mikko Koivu up in the air, my guess is Erik Haula is one. Another will likely be a defenseman.
Nino Niederreiter is back in town and may practice Monday. I believe Granlund, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were due back today.
Talk to you Monday and I'll update the blog later if the callups are announced.
The Wild, five points up in the playoff race with Phoenix and Dallas, resumes its schedule Thursday in Edmonton. It'll practice at the X Monday and Tuesday and in Edmonton on Wednesday.
I'll be on Rosen's Sports Sunday tonight on Channel 4. I'll be on "Hockey This Morning" on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio Monday at 8:25 a.m. and on KFAN with Dan Barreiro at 5:15 p.m. Monday.
Coach Mike Yeo updated us on a couple injuries after this morning’s practice.
Wild winger Jason Zucker will miss the upcoming road trip to Edmonton and Vancouver. After a doctor’s appointment Wednesday, it was determined that Zucker won’t be able to get on the ice for another week.
The Wild leaves for Edmonton next Wednesday, plays there next Thursday and in Vancouver next Friday.
He had an operation on his leg after the Olympic break began. The good news is it’s clearly not serious. He’s got a little noticeable limp, but when the players did their off-ice workout with strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson after practice, Zucker accompanied the group.
Also, Yeo said defenseman Marco Scandella, who sprained an MCL on Feb. 4, was cleared to begin skating alone with Olson and the hope is that Scandella can join the group in the next couple of days.
The Wild has a Friday morning practice, is off Saturday and on Sunday at 11 a.m. has a fun, open to the public practice at Roseville’s OVAL. Unless the Wild’s going to allow Scandella’s first practice to come outdoors, he’ll more than likely start practicing with the team Monday.
Yeo did say he’s very confident that Scandella will be able to practice next week.
With Zucker out, unless Mikko Koivu can definitely return by Thursday’s schedule “resumer” in Edmonton, I’ve got to think Erik Haula returns to the team (barring a trade once the freeze is lifted after 11:59 p.m. Sunday).
“I was real impressed with what he’s doing down there and real impressed with what he was doing when he was here too. Certainly he’s in our minds, but we’ve got to figure out where we’re going to be with Mikko,” Yeo said.
The Wild got into more 5-on-5 and game situations during today’s practice and Koivu, who practiced Wednesday for the first time since breaking his right ankle Jan. 4, was held out of those.
“So obviously he’s not quite there yet,” Yeo said. “But you see guys are moving. We’re going up and down the ice pretty hard. When you don’t have as many bodies, you’re getting a lot more reps, so it’s a challenge conditioning wise. He’s responded really well. He looks strong and he’s skating well. Hopefully the pain keeps decreasing for him and we get to a point where he feels comfortable enough to get into this game situation stuff.”
Really, not much else going on. Things will really ramp up next week.
Yeo graciously moved practice up to 10 a.m. Friday so he and his players can watch Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and the rest of the Americans take on Canada in the men’s hockey semifinals at 11 a.m.
Remember, Mikael Granlund and the Finns take on Sweden at 6 a.m.
Our Chip Scoggins, Rachel Blount and Carlos Gonzalez are in Sochi, so if you don’t already, give them a Twitter follow at @chipscoggins, @blountstrib and @carlosgphoto.
The U.S. women just blew a 2-0 lead late in the third to lose in the gold-medal game to Canada in overtime. Crushing defeat, to say the least.
By the way, Parise isn’t on Twitter. He emailed me yesterday that he wasn’t on Twitter, but I forgot to put it on here. So any account you’re following that has his likeness or name
Parise was born by somebody with too much time on his hands.
The Olympic break is officially over for 16 Wild non-Olympians and a couple other injured players. The team gathered this afternoon in Edina to resume practice in preparation for its first post-break game at Edmonton a week from Thursday (Feb. 27).
Captain Mikko Koivu, out since breaking his right ankle Jan. 4 – an injury that led to a couple screws being inserted during an operation two days later, returned to practice. He’ll continue to ramp it up as long as his ankle feels good.
Today’s practice was about feeling the puck again for the team. A lot of skill work. The Wild coaching staff will up the ante Thursday with more competitive drills and begin to work again on system work.
Sixteen skaters and two goalies took part in today’s practice. Jason Zucker had a minor procedure on one of his legs and had a doctor’s appointment today, so coach Mike Yeo said he’ll have a better update on Zucker on Thursday. Perhaps we even see Zucker take the ice. Yeo also hopes defenseman Marco Scandella, who sprained his MCL in the second-to-last game before the break, rejoins the team soon.
Yeo expects that Nino Niederreiter will return to the country from the Olympics on Thursday. The team plans to give him a few days off. It’ll be interesting to see how it works with Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund. The two Americans and one Finn play in the semifinals against Canada and Sweden, respectively, on Friday, so they likely won’t be back to the country until Monday regardless if they win or lose.
If that’s the case, one can assume they won’t practice Monday or Tuesday, meaning their first practices with the team could come Wednesday in Edmonton the day before the game vs. the Oilers.
Josh Harding didn’t practice and there’s no change to his status. He hasn’t started since Dec. 31 and twice since Dec. 17 after having an adjustment to his treatment for multiple sclerosis.
The longer this goes, the less likely it is that Harding will be able to rejoin the team this season, but the Wild is holding out hope.
“We feel for him right now,” Yeo said. “We’re behind him and we just want to see him get better and get ready to get back with us. … We want to be here for him, so when he feels better and when he’s ready to rejoin us, we’ll be more than ready to welcome him back.”
Niklas Backstrom saw abdominal specialist William Meyers in Philadelphia over the break. He’s the doctor who performed his sports hernia surgery after last season. Backstrom said they know now what’s been ailing him, but he wouldn’t divulge it. Backstrom has said before he believes his season-long soreness is related to last year’s ailment. Backstrom said they have some new treatment plans and he hopes it solves the issue.
Yeo said the break should have helped Backstrom more than anybody else on the roster.
Erik Haula will play three games this week for Iowa and then the team will decide whether or not to flip him with Jake Dowell and bring him back. The team though has some roster decisions to make if Koivu is able to come back next week in Edmonton and/or Vancouver, and maybe that affects Haula. Obviously, Haula was playing great before the break, but the roster isn’t unlimited.
Jon Blum, a defenseman, is up now with Suter in Russia and Scandella hurt.
As for Koivu, he felt good today. The Wild’s not going to put pressure on him by announcing a target date. Obviously, the hope is that Koivu can return in Edmonton, but Koivu said today, “I think it’s the worst feeling watching the games and not being part of the team. As soon as I can, I will play. But I thought I would be ready right now in the Olympics, so I don’t really want to put a timetable on when I’m going to play. We’re going to go day by day. As long as it’s getting better each and every day, I’m happy.”
Koivu said his ankle felt “a lot better” than before the break, but he admits there’s still discomfort and as good as he looked today, even Yeo said you could tell he was laboring late in practice.
Koivu said, “I think it’s stronger, but it’s still a ways to go, too. For sure, it’s going to get better each and every day. Just trying to make the right calls now with treatment and get it still stronger and hopefully each and every day it’s going to get easier and easier.”
Koivu, who was supposed to captain the Finns in the Olympics, has been forced to watch from across the ocean. Teemu Selanne has captained Finland into a semifinal Friday against border rival Sweden. Mikael Granlund leads the Finns with three goals, five points and 19 shots.
“Obviously you’re very proud of them, the way they play,” Koivu said. “I have lots and lots of good friends on that team. For our country, it means a lot. No one expected us to get even this far again and we proved people wrong again. It’s a great feeling to see that, but at the same time, it really, really hurts not being out there and playing with them. I guess that’s sports. You can’t always be healthy. You ask why the timing and everything about that, but it is what it is. I’m just very happy for them. They’re playing great hockey right now and it’s great to watch.”
On why Finland is always able to play so well in international tournaments – world championships, world juniors, medaling in the last two Olympics (this is a team minus Koivu, Filppula and Barkov right now), Koivu said, “They have good players. That’s the first. Without good individuals, you’re not going to get that far in a tournament like that. We’re well-coached out there right now. They play for their system, good goaltending, great defense by the whole group. I think it’s just the whole team. That’s the word. It’s teamwork and team effort each and every night.”
On Granlund, Koivu said, “I knew he could be good. Especially against Russia today. He was great.”
On whether he’s looking for flights to Sochi, Koivu joked, “I don’t think they want me there anymore the way they’re playing.”
Yeo has been impressed with Granlund. He brought up how against Canada, to start overtime, he went head-to-head against Sidney Crosby.
“It can’t be anything but good for him, the fact that he’s performing at the level that he is, the fact that he’s doing it against the world’s best players, I think it’s been a tremendous experience for him. … As far as we’re concerned, he’s set the bar pretty high. We know what he’s capable of now, so we’re going to hold him to that.”
Yeo said the latter somewhat tongue in cheek.
The Wild will have a couple tough practices, take Saturday off, have a Sunday outdoor practice at 11 a.m. (open to the public) and Roseville’s John Rose MN OVAL and then really start to ramp it up next week.
I'll be on KFAN in a couple minutes.
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