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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Monday morning, Darcy Kuemper, the Wild's second-half savior in goal, returned to the place it all started for him way back on Jan. 7 -- the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
And, ... he promptly got hurt.
Not too many playoff contenders can absorb their No. 1 and No. 2 goaltenders being sidelined, so the Hockey Gods figured let's try knocking out the No. 3.
Kuemper sustained an upper-body injury at this morning's skate. GM Chuck Fletcher said Kuemper will "hopefully [miss] just a few days, but it's hard to know for sure."
If it's more, the Wild will likely recall John Curry for Thursday's game in Chicago.
Ilya Bryzgalov, the scheduled starter tonight at L.A., will be backed up tonight by Rob Laurie, a 43-year-old who in the last calendar year has served as an emergency goalie for the Anaheim Ducks and most recently the Vancouver Canucks against Anaheim in January. He has been signed to a pro tryout.
Laurie, who attended Western Michigan University, lives in Corona, Calif. He was a longtime minor-league goalie who stopped playing in 2001-02. Here's his career stats. Here's a Yahoo recent piece on him.
Cool tidbit (provided he doesn't see the light of day): Laurie gets paid $500 and is "permitted to retain" his game-worn jersey.
As you can see on the previous blog, Andrew Brunette took over for Kuemper at this morning's skate.
Yes, Andrew Brunette.
Good thing the Wild acquired another goalie at the deadline in case Kuemper faltered or got hurt.
From the Wild:
Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher announced that goaltender Niklas Backstrom underwent successful core muscle surgery yesterday by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia, Pa. Backstrom is expected to miss the remainder of this season and be fully recovered for the start of the 2014-15 season.
The team also announced that forward Jason Zucker underwent successful surgery yesterday to repair a tendon in his left quadriceps by Dr. Michael Stuart at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Zucker will miss the remainder of this season and is expected to be fully recovered for the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
Following five games in seven days and with four games in six nights with travel beginning Wednesday at home against the Vancouver Canucks, the Wild had an optional practice today.
Actually, as Mike Yeo called one a week ago, it's more of a directive day off for a few. The only top-6 forward who practiced today was Charlie Coyle, and the top-2 D, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, didn't practice either. Also, Matt Cooke didn't skate
So, eight big-minute guys didn't practice. Also, injured Clayton Stoner, who's week-to-week, and Keith Ballard, who's day-to-day, didn't practice.
I'll be on KFAN at 9:55 a.m. Wednesday.
Need your help: Friday, the day I typically write my Sunday Insiders, I have a crazy travel day and a little advance to write on a very important game at Phoenix the next day.
Soooooo, I'm going to try to get my Sunday Insider written Wednesday.
Soooooo, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to do another Blog Q and A. That's where you ask questions in the comment field of this blog, I pick some good ones and answer them in print Sunday.
Here's the rule though: Please keep the questions short and snappy (remember, space is at a minimum in the paper, so I need brief questions I can quickly answer so the more, the merrier get in the paper). Please also look at some of the other questions so we try to keep duplicates at a minimum. Also, as much as I love to read your opinions, please don't use this particular blog to comment on the Wild or other questions. This way, it's easier for me to pick out questions.
Lastly, because of space issues, I reserve the right to edit your questions to potentially shorten them up. So, get to work and thanks for the help.
On a personal note, longtime Chicago Blackhawks beat writer Tim Sassone has passed away. He was Chicago. He looked like Chicago, he talked like Chicago. He has been a colleague of mine from the moment I began covering the NHL in 1995 and was always a good friend. Just a great man, and my thoughts are with his friends and family, his Blackhawks beat-writing crew members, the team that so loved him and all of us in the Professional Hockey Writers' Association who feel an emptiness in our hearts today.
The Wild has signed one of its top prospects to an entry-level contract.
A few weeks after signing 2013 third-round pick Kurtis Gabriel, the Wild has signed 2013 second-round pick Gustav Olofsson. Both contracts begin next year. Olofsson will sign an amateur tryout and begin with the Iowa Wild next week.
Technically, Olofsson's junior rights are owned by Portland, so the Wild could conceivably assign him there next year. But the plan now is for him to start his pro career next season in Iowa. At 19, he'll be one of the youngest players in the AHL.
Olofsson, who just completed his freshman year at Colorado College, is the Wild's No. 2-rated prospect in the most recent Hockey News Future Watch. Fellow defenseman Matt Dumba, its 2012 first-round pick, is No. 1. Here is a feature I wrote on Olofsson in December.
"We're excited to get Gus under contract," assistant GM Brent Flahr said via text message. "His performance this year at the World Junior Championships and at Colorado College exceeded our expectations and we're confident that he's ready for the next challenge in his young career. His skill set really excites us going forward. We're looking forward to see him continue his development at the pro level."
Olofsson, 19, hails from Sweden but spent a lot of his childhood in the United States, both in California and Colorado, and has no hint of a Swedish accent. He recorded eight points and 20 penalty minutes with CC this year and really impressed at the world junior championships, where he won silver with Sweden and had five points and was plus-5 in seven games. He was tied for second among defensemen in scoring in the tourney.
Very, very smooth player and smooth skater. At 6-foot-4, he's got size, too (his dad is 6-foot-8). Huge fan of Jonas Brodin.
What's intriguing is he's really only been playing competitive hockey for a year-and-a-half. From the press release, Olofsson collected 23 points (2-21=23), 59 PIM and a plus-11 rating in 63 games with the Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League (USHL) in 2012-13. He was named to the USHL All-Rookie Team and played in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
The Wild’s depth on defense is thinning.
Defenseman Clayton Stoner is week-to-week with what General Manager Chuck Fletcher said is a sprained knee. Defenseman Keith Ballard missed his fourth consecutive game with a groin injury, so former Nashville Predators defenseman Jon Blum was recalled to play tonight against the Detroit Red Wings.
It will be his fifth game with the Wild and he should be here for the foreseeable future.
“We’re lucky we’ve got a guy like Blummer that can come up,” said coach Mike Yeo. “I thought he played very well for us [previously]. Hopefully Bally’s back soon, but in the short-term at the very least, we know we can count on Blummer.”
Yeo said Ballard hadn’t made progress in the past few days. If the Wild sustains another injury on defense, it’ll have to look again toward Iowa. Steve Kampfer was injured Saturday when he blocked a shot, but it’s not thought to be serious. Other defensemen in Iowa include Kyle Medvec and Tyler Cuma.
It’s believed Stoner was initially hurt in New Jersey last week when checked by Adam Henrique.
“He was battling hard for us there, so it’s a shame,” Yeo said. “Could be three [weeks], could be a little longer. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.”
Fletcher said he has also asked Wild director of hockey administration Shep Harder to contact the NHL and inquire about potential emergency conditions in case the Wild need to recall Matt Dumba from Western Hockey League Portland. Dumba scored eight goals and 24 points and was plus-31 in 26 games for Portland. The Winterhawks are currently matched up with Vancouver in the WHL playoffs.
As far as I know, there are tight restrictions. You typically can't call a junior player up if it's an inconvenience to his junior team, and a playoff round I'd assume could be deemed that. Even if the Wild was allowed to call up Dumba, if the Winterhawks are still alive, the NHL recall could only be for a certain number of days.
Cody McCormick won't play tonight against the Red Wings. Yeo said he'll keep his other forward scratch a secret until we watch warmups.
Will it be a guy like Stephane Veilleux, Justin Fontaine or Erik Haula or is there a possibility Yeo scratches a veteran like Dany Heatley or Kyle Brodziak. I don't see it being Brodziak. If one assumes Yeo will come back with the Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line, he'll need Brodziak and Haula to play center.
Heatley has three shots in the past eight games and Yeo had an interesting, subtle thing to say when talking about Heatley.
On his limited shots, Yeo said, "Some of it, you lose a little bit of ice time. His role’s changed a little bit. There was awhile there where he was playing a fourth-line role. Last couple of games we've tried to surround him with some guys offensively that hopefully can get him the puck and get him in some areas. He a guy that, if in the lineup, we need him creating offense. That’s a role, that’s an identity that he has. But at the same time, when things aren’t going as well offensively as you would like, can you up the other parts of your game? Can you be better defensively, can you be more effective on the forecheck, can you bring more momentum?"
Yeo has been hesitant to scratch Heatley all season. I haven't looked it up, but if it ever gets to the point Heatley is scratched, it's got to be his first healthy scratch maybe ever in the NHL.
On Brodziak being on the ice for three goals yesterday and losing 8 of 11 faceoffs, Yeo said, "Last game to me was not what I saw the two previous games. Wasn’t crazy about last game. As far as the two previous games, I thought it was two of his best games since before the Olympic break. And that’s what we have to try to get him back to. Before the Olympic break, he was playing a real important role for our team. Last game wasn’t as good. Maybe it was fatigue, whatever, but we have to get him back."
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