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 Wild practice

Fontaine injury opens door for another forward; Wild's goalie conundrum

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 1, 2014 - 4:39 PM

The Wild, 2-1-1 in the preseason, plays its second-to-last exhibition game Thursday night in St. Louis.

There is NO bigger game going on involving ANY local team Thursday night, so make sure you keep your eyes ONLY on the @russostrib Twitter network and listen to 107.9-FM. The Wild game has been moved from KFAN to KOOL 108 for NO reason WHATSOEVER.

The big piece of news that came out of today’s practice is right wing Justin Fontaine will miss a couple weeks and definitely the Oct. 9 opener with a lower-body injury. It explains why the poor guy, who was walking a bit gingerly off the ice today, looked so glum. Coach Mike Yeo said “hopefully it’ll be less than that, but that’s what we’re preparing for right now.”

“Nothing serious that we wouldn’t expect him to be completely fine afterward. It’s just going to take a little time,” Yeo said.

Fontaine’s injury opens another roster spot out of camp up front. Barring injury, here’s the lines as of now:

Parise-Granlund-Pominville

Vanek-Koivu-Coyle

Cooke-Haula-Niederreiter

XXXXXX-Brodziak-XXXXXX

XXXXXX

As you can see by my three XXXXXX’s, there’s potentially three forward spots available and five guys now vying for them: Jason Zucker, Cody Almond, Brett Sutter, Michael Keranen and Stephane Veilleux.

I’m expecting all five to play in Thursday’s game. On the trip: Those five, Niederreiter, Haula, Coyle, Brodziak, Ballard, Dumba, Bickel, Folin and Scandella.

I’ll toss the full lineup on here after 4 p.m. The Wild is delaying the announcement because as previously reported, it plans to recall some players previously sent down for the Blues game. From that list, the Wild is three forwards and one defenseman short for the game.

The Wild recalled forwards Tyler Graovac, Zack Phillips and Joel Rechlicz and defensemen Jon Blum and Justin Falk. One defenseman of the seven coming will likely be scratched unless Yeo chooses to play Bickel at forward again. Then, another forward would be scratched.

By the way, Jordan Schroeder cleared waivers and was assigned to Iowa.

I think Zucker has had a good camp, or at least much better than last year. Keranen is interesting. He is very, very skilled, but do you want him playing on the fourth line if he’s not on the power play? And right now, I don’t see how there’s room for him on the power play.

We all know what Veilleux brings by now, and Yeo made it sound today like it’s Almond vs. Sutter (Darryl’s kid) for the other spot.

“Both guys [are] pretty similar to be honest with you,” Yeo said. “That’s been a good competition there, both guys showing that they’re willing to play the body, both guys have factored in on the penalty kill, both guys have made some plays with the puck in the offensive zone when they’ve gotten it. So I think for them, the better the understanding that they have of what we’re looking for – we’re looking for somebody to come in and not be a top guy on the power play. Our top two lines are pretty set, our power play is pretty set, but we need penalty killers, we need physical guys, we need momentum players and we need guys that are very responsible defensively. That, in the end, is probably what it’s going to come down to.”
 

I talked to Zucker, Almond and Sutter today, and you can read their quotes in Thursday’s paper.

Thursday’s game will be a final chance for those five listed above and maybe defensemen Matt Dumba, Christian Folin and Stu Bickel to make final impressions. As I have written before, technically, the Wild could keep all three and will only keep BOTH Dumba and Folin if BOTH are inside the top-6 (meaning Ballard as the seventh, barring injury).

That’s because Yeo, and earlier this week GM Chuck Fletcher, said that Saturday’s final exhibition game against St. Louis at home will feature “very close to if not” the lineup the Wild plans to play opening night.

“Not to say that game [Thursday in St. Louis] is going to be the deciding factor, but if you want to compare it to school, that’s going to be the final exam and probably the grades in that one are going to count a little bit more than the ones from the start of the year,” Yeo said. “We will evaluate everything as a whole, but what we’re looking for is the progress.”

I love that quote.

Niklas Backstrom, by the way, will play in St. Louis with Ilya Bryzgalov backing him up. Darcy Kuemper will play in Saturday’s preseason finale.

Yeo said the Wild planned to meet after practice to discuss the three-goalie situation. However, I’m not sure that happened because GM Chuck Fletcher only recently got back from the Board of Governors meeting in New York.

Also, I’m not positive Fletcher wants to have that conversation yet because so much can happen in these final two games.

I mean, I don't mean to be the reminder of bad news, but the Wild seems to always get goalies hurt in St. Louis.

Heck, Backstrom, the all-time leader in Wild victories, became an NHL goalie because Josh Harding strained his groin in a preseason game at St. Louis. Heck, Backstrom because the Wild’s everyday goalie because Manny Fernandez injured his knee at St. Louis. Heck, the Wild signed Jose Theodore in 2010 because Harding tore his ACL and MCL in his preseason debut … at St. Louis. HECK, Ilya Bryzgalov got his opportunity to become the Wild’s No. 1 because David Backes ran Darcy Kuemper and gave him a concussion last year AT ST. LOUIS!!!!

Get what I’m saying? It’s kind of why I decided not to ask Bryzgalov today if he would ever consider a two-way contract with the Wild and maybe start off in Iowa. Heck, it’s why Fletcher has also not yet asked him that question.

This is the Wild, the organization that epitomizes goaltending instability. In four days, a lot can change. The most important thing is right now, Kuemper is playing great, Backstrom looks healthy and good. And, frankly, so does Bryzgalov.

But, as Yeo said today about whether the Wild could keep three goalies, “It’s not a perfect situation by any means. I don’t know that’s where we would be steering toward, but I’m not going to say that it won’t happen.”

I honestly think he’ll have to be released from his tryout If Kuemper and Backstrom are healthy after these exhibition games. I don’t think the Wild wants to use three of its 23 roster spots on goalies, and remember, three goalies could eventually become four because Harding is expected back after a minimum of two months.

Remember, the Wild could always release Bryzgalov from his tryout and sign him back eventually if something were to happen (if he isn’t signed elsewhere).

Bryzgalov’s attitude continues to be refreshing. He said again today that he’s just enjoying being around the team and helping them get through camp. And I have said many times: At least these teammates genuinely like the guy: “He puts a smile on everyone’s face. He’s a funny guy,” said Jason Pominville.

By the way, Bryzgalov on taking those selfies with the fans the other night during play while sitting on the bench: “You know, I’ve got to do that. Fans came to have some fun. I’ve got to respect it. There were lots of kids out there, and I must do it for the kids. When you see lots of kids, they excited, and they want to take the picture, it’s nice. They came here to support us and cheering for us, and we have to give them back something.”

On tossing his toque on the ice for Pominville’s hat trick, Bryzgalov said, “You know, I was excited for Pommer. It’s not everyday you score a hat trick, and I celebrated.”

Back to Thursday’s game, the Wild has designed this game as a final test of sorts because it’s at St. Louis, the big, bad Blues.

“That’s an important game for a lot of guys tomorrow,” Yeo said. “We want to see who can go in and who can play in a tough building and who can play against a very good hockey team and show that they’re able to perform in those conditions.

“Also we’ve got some guys who maybe wouldn’t get the same opportunity on the power play and who wouldn’t get the same amount of ice time as they would normally if all of our vets were in the lineup, and we’ll give them some opportunity to feel good about their game and to be leaders for our group.”

Yeo on Dumba: “I’ve been impressed with both guys and I’m referring to Folin and Dumba. Both guys have shown that they bring intangibles, they bring qualities that are unique and that’s what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for a big, solid, heavy defender, then we’ve got one and if we’re looking for more of a puck-moving, skating, offensive-minded guy then we have another option. For those guys, the more that you can do in addition to those things, the better chance they have.”

Yeo on Folin, who got a game last year and practiced with the Wild for a few weeks: “I think from a comfort level, being here, being around teammates and getting used to our teammates I think so. … I do think that he’s benefited from that. Both guys have had that opportunity. Dumba started at the beginning of the year with us last year. I don’t think these guys are coming in and feeling completely overwhelmed with the newness of the systems and the teammates and certainly that helps.”

Charlie Coyle has had a good camp, but the Wild wants more offensively. It’ll be interesting if he doesn’t show it down the stretch of camp here because Yeo is very happy with Niederreiter and maybe is thinking of moving him up to that second line.

“I’ve seen all the things you would expect from him as far as the work ethic,” Yeo said of Coyle. “He’s playing the game hard, he’s playing the game as a big body. I do know that there’s a little more that he can get to as far as the offensive part of his game is not clicking quite at the level we know
it can get to. Part of it is working into a line with Tomas and Mikko there’s a bit of a feeling out process there. But overall I’m not disappointed by any means with his camp. He’s come in in phenomenal shape, and he’s working. But you can just tell with timing and execution that there’s another level he can get to.”
 

Conversely, Yeo on Niederreiter: “I’ve been very pleased with his camp. He looks very motivated, he
looks great on the ice. We still treat Nino like a young player so we keep pushing him every day. It’s got to be about the next day. But up to this point, I’ve been very pleased.”
 

Interestante. Talk to you Thursday. I am covering the morning skate here Thursday, then hustling to the airport for my flight to St. Louis. So, I’ll try to blog either before my flight or from the air prior to the game.

Wild-Penguins lineups for Monday's preseason game; oodles of Wild updates

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 28, 2014 - 1:58 PM

A couple light, fun practices at Xcel Energy Center today. The second practice, which comprised pretty much the NHL roster and a couple hopefuls, ended with a shootout competition.

After a goal, the player who scored threw his stick somewhere on the ice. The last player not to score would be tasked with picking up all the sticks, which were scattered on virtually every inch of the ice surface.

Matt Cooke -- the oldest skater on the team -- lost, making for a comedic scene when "Cookie" had to gather all the sticks. Just to make it a really challenging chore, a couple guys tossed all those extra sticks that rested on the bench onto the ice much to amusement of all the players and coaches, and management in the stands.

Oh, and maybe the media.

"It's my own fault," Cooke said, laughing, afterward. "I hit three posts. I beat the goalie every time, but I have nobody but myself to blame. I'm saving my goals for the season."

Monday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 1-1-1 Wild plays its fourth preseason game. Minnesota lost 3-2 in overtime Thursday in Pittsburgh.

The Pens are bringing a good lineup (see here), including Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, former Gopher Paul Martin and former Wild Pascal Dupuis.

The Wild's lineup is subject to change based on health (Parise had a maintenance day today and Vanek is still recovering from an upper-body injury), but:

Forwards

Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville

Thomas Vanek (preseason home debut)-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle

Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Jordan Schroeder

Michael Keranen-Stephane Veilleux-Cody Almond-Zack Phillips

(It sounds like Keranen would be the guy to be scratched and play Thursday in St. Louis)

Defensemen

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Christian Folin

Stu Bickel-Matt Dumba

(Wild looks like it wants to see if Bickel can play the left side)

Goalies

Darcy Kuemper is slated to play the full 60

Ilya Bryzgalov will back up

This is a big game for guys like Schroeder, Veilleux, Almond.

We talked to coach Mike Yeo today a lot about Keranen and how he keeps getting better in camp, and Yeo volunteered that in the meeting he just emerged from, the brass and coaches were commenting that they weren't having enough of these "debates," that not enough bubble players have put themselves on the map to make the team, that it was the veterans who were unusually leading the way and showing the most urgency in camp.

Yeo wasn't talking about guys like Folin and Dumba. He was talking about the bubble guys, some of whom we have only seen play one game (maybe Justin Falk, maybe Brett Bulmer).

The first practice today was a practice that consisted of guys who will likely be Iowa-bound in a few days. Interestingly, Jason Zucker was in that practice.

Zucker won't play Monday and is said to be healthy. Yeo said nothing should be made of that, that he just wanted to get the veterans in that need games and just wanted to get guys in "that we have to answer questions on." Yeo said he told Zucker that he shouldn't be "panicking" and that he's having a good camp.

Incidentally, Yeo had to stop that mostly minor-league practice because he was not happy the way they were practicing.

Yeo talked a lot about Folin and Dumba today. Dumba was really impressive. Until I watched the game again, I didn't realize how good a job he did on the breakout and entry prior to Jared Spurgeon's winner. He basically made the play because Winnipeg cleared the zone with about 30 seconds left in the power play.

We asked Yeo if there's room for both on the team. Personally, I don't see how there is if the Wild's healthy, but Yeo didn't want to get into that yet.

"I don’t think it’s fair to them," Yeo said. "I know they're reading and analyzing everyday, not just their own play, but the play of everybody else. I just want them to concentrate on their game, show us what they can do and relax and have fun doing it. Both guys have earned the opportunity to be in the lineup [Monday]. We'll keep giving them the chance to show what they can do."

On the 3 for 4 power play Saturday with 10 shots, Yeo tried to downplay the hysteria: "We’re only in the preseason right now. So I just want to be careful. We were successful last night because we were running the right routes on our breakout, we were winning faceoffs, because we were shooting the puck. You see it with many, many teams that we you start to have success, you get a little cuter and forget about a lot of the things that you need to be doing. I want to make sure our guys understand it's easier right now than the regular season. Things tighten up. I'm very happy with what we've shown so far, but we're not even close to where we need to be at."

Talk to you Monday. Again, if you happened to miss my feature on J.P. and Zach Parise, here it is. It's a sad but hopefully inspiring story.

Here we go again: Another do or die for the Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 12, 2014 - 6:02 PM

It’s déjà vu.

Two Mondays ago, the Wild faced the old sports’ do-or-die, must-win situation when it hosted the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 down 3-2 in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals series.

Zach Parise scored two goals and two assists in the Wild’s win to force Game 7, and you know the rest.

Tuesday night, at an overstuffed Xcel Energy Center, the Wild will face the same scenario against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Win, force a Game 7 at 7 p.m. Thursday at the United Center. Lose, seeya in September.

The Wild had an optional practice in St. Paul today and of the players we saw, guys like Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter and of course Mike Yeo, spirits were good and the demeanor was confident, especially since Game 6 will come at home, where the Wild is 5-0 and has outscored Colorado and Chicago 16-5.

Of course, the Blackhawks don’t want to take their chances in a Game 7. The Blackhawks are 11-2 in clinching games in the Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane era, an era that has had a modicum of success.

Not much going on news-wise:

Chicago’s Andrew Shaw will miss his fifth game this series.

Matt Moulson and Keith Ballard skated today for the Wild.

Asked if either could play Tuesday, coach Mike Yeo said, “I wouldn’t be surprised, no, so like I said, we’ll see how the skate goes out here today and obviously, we’ll use that as a determination as to whether these guys are available for tomorrow.”

I’d be surprised if Moulson played simply because -- who comes out? Won’t be any of the top-6 forwards. I wouldn’t think it would be for Justin Fontaine. I can’t imagine it’d be for Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick, to me, has been very good.

And Ballard, I haven’t spoken to him, but his head hit the glass fairly hard in Game 4.

Here’s some quotes from today.

Mike Yeo on home ice: “There’s no question that we fed off our fans. We’ve asked our players to step their games up as the playoffs have gone on and it seems like our fans have bought right into that too, because every game seems to somehow get a little bit louder, a little bit more emotion in the building. So, I’m expecting a lot of the same tomorrow. I’m expecting our group to feed off it again, but at the same time, I think that we’ve been able to understand that we can’t just expect things to go the same way when we’re coming home. We went out and we’ve made it that way. We’ve pushed the issue. We’ve forced the issue. We’ve played aggressive and we’ve played, and that’s what we need to make sure we’re ready to do tomorrow.”

Ryan Suter was peppered with questions today. He was real good, which you can read in Tuesday’s paper.

But here’s some good color:

On the Wild always making life difficult on itself: “I think we like the challenge. We always seem to make things harder than it needs to be. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to do, but it seems throughout the year that’s kind of been the way we’ve gone about it making things harder. We’d be up three of four goals, then let the other team back in it. That’s how it’s been, that’s how it is now and tomorrow is do or die.
 

On how banged up players are: “I think it’s mental. Every single guy in that locker room every single guy in their locker room has issues right now. But it’s a mental thing and you have to overcome that if you want to win, that’s why it’s the hardest trophy to win in the world.”

I asked if how bad his “issue” (from his collision with Marian Hossa in Game 3): “They’re alright.”

Unspoken rule to play through injuries in the playoffs: “You hear stories about the guys that have won before and the things that they go through. I think that’s why it is so hard. That’s why it’s so fun to be a part of because you know the reward at the end.”
 

On home ice, Suter had a funny line: “The atmosphere. The building has been electric. The fans have been unbelievable. I’m sure they’re having a good time with the late starts (smiles). Everything, it’s been a lot of fun for us. We’re driving to the rink and you see the excitement outside the rink, and we just build off that.”

You tired? “It’s mental. I’m sure when it’s all done, time for some rest. It’s mental. I’m excited. I want to win. Everyone in that locker room, we keep pushing each other. There’s no time to be tired right now.”

Of course, we circled back around to what’s wrong with him.

Colleague Chip Scoggins asked him if his shoulder is screwed up. “My shoulder’s not,” Suter said.

So of course, I chimed in, “Elbow?”

“I’m feeling great (laughing),” Suter said, before looking at PR guy Aaron Sickman for the all-clear that he could leave the front of the backdrop.

Was a funny back and forth.

Similarly, I basically asked Mikko Koivu is his ankle is still an issue: “No, it took obviously a lot longer than I thought when we talked about it, but now it’s been good.”

OK, that’s it for me. I came right to the arena from the airport and would love to get home. Talk to ya after the morning skates Tuesday. I’ll probably be on KFAN in the morning at some point.

Wild youngsters soaring this postseason; El Nino on kissing Bryz; Bollig suspended

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 10, 2014 - 6:10 PM

Afternoon from the friendly sky, where I’m taking a quick hop over to Chicago for Game 5 between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (8 p.m., CNBC, KFAN).

The Wild and Blackhawks mostly had the day off. The Wild had an optional but a good amount of players were around. The Blackhawks made coach Joel Quenneville, Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus available, so slim pickings.

Coach Q said Andrew Shaw (lower body) is unlikely to play Game 5.

Similarly, coach Mike Yeo said Keith Ballard (upper body) and Matt Moulson (lower body) didn’t made the trip to Chicago. Ballard, two games after returning from two months off with a groin injury, was hit from behind by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig, who got away with a head shot in my opinion on Zach Parise in the final regular-season meeting.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety got him this time, suspending him for two games. Not sure if that helps the Wild or not. 

Yeo said that Nate Prosser will likely slide back into the lineup. The other option is Jon Blum, who played well down the stretch for the Wild when Clayton Stoner and Ballard were both out at the same time.

The Wild improved to 5-0 at home with last night’s 4-2 victory to even up the series. It has outscored opponents 16-5 at home, holding Colorado and Chicago to an average of 19.6 shots per game. The Blackhawks are 5-0 at home, having outscored opponents 20-7.

The Wild is 1-5 on the road, having been outscored 26-17. As we learned last round against the Avs, even though the Wild held a third-period lead and nearly won Game 5, it took its foot off the gas and lost. That put the pressure back on Minnesota, and the Wild had to win Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road in order to advance to its first second round in 11 years.

By winning two games at home, the Wild has turned the momentum in the series. The players and coach Mike Yeo know that can easily change with a road loss on Sunday night. On the other hand, if the Wild can sneak out a big ‘W’ at the United Center against a Blackhawks team that is clearly frustrated right now, the Wild will put itself in position to win the series at home Tuesday in front of its raucous crowd in an arena where it has been dominant all postseason.

“Thinking back to Games 1 and 2, I said at that time, it’s not like we were that far off,” Yeo said. “We knew we could play a little bit better and I think we’ve picked our game up since then. Certainly when you look back to those two games, there were parts of it that were going well and then it was a big mistake that came back at us. I think we’ve cut down on our mistakes the last couple games and we have to make sure that we bring that in there. But with that, there’s been sort of a little bit more of an aggressive mindset in how we executed the last couple games and that’s allowed us to get on the attack a little bit more. It’s a fine line. We have to make sure that we’re playing smart, but we can’t be playing safe. We’ve got to take that attitude into their building.”

Big game, to say the least, which is why Yeo spent the afternoon reminding his team not to let its guard down. It’ll be a challenge, but the Wild has to somehow figure out a way to carry the same type of game it has played all playoffs long at home and carry it into the Windy City.

“It’s a huge game,” Dany Heatley said of Sunday. “But I don’t feel the vibe in here that we’re too confident or over-cocky right now. We know they’re a very good team, they play well in their rink. We’ll be prepared for that.”

The Wild continues to get tremendous play from its youngsters. From the Wild game notes, the five youngest forwards -- Wild rookies Erik Haula (23) and Justin Fontaine (26), playoff rookies Nino Niederreiter (21) and Mikael Granlund (22), and sophomore Charlie Coyle (22) – have combined for 13 goals (Granlund, 4), 27 points (Coyle/Granlund, 7), 81 hits (Niederreiter, 31) and 27 blocked shots (Granlund/Haula, 10).

“They’ve been great,” Heatley said. “Obviously a huge reason why we’re here. They've been great for us all year. Whatever role they’ve played, they’ve done a great job. Awesome to see the success there having in the playoffs. They’re all real good kids, they work really hard, and it’s been a lot of fun to be around them.

“I think everyone needs to step it up to win games in the playoffs. I thought towards the end of the year those guys got better as did our whole team. We went into the playoffs playing pretty well and those guys have taken it to another level.”

We always talk about the youngsters, but we rarely include Jared Spurgeon because he has been around for four years. But he is 24 and he has been dynamite since the first couple games of the playoffs. Look at the skill plays he made last night, having his head up to make the stretch pass to Coyle for the Niederreiter winner, the settling of Mikko Koivu’s pass and the patience to score the power-play goal.

“I think as we’ve asked our team to get better, he’s taken his game to another level,” Yeo said. “This is a guy that we have so much respect for as a coaching staff. Not just the way that he executes, the poise that he has, his ability to create offense with his execution, but he’s a very good defender. He’s got a great stick, he’s very smart, he’s a great skater and he’s sneaky strong. He’s a huge part of our team but again to see where his game is at right now obviously offensively this time of year especially playing against a team like this, you need some offense from your defensemen, you need to create some offense from secondary guys whether that’s from your defense or whether that’s from third or fourth line guys. If you’re going to have any success, guys like that are usually stepping up.”

And then there’s Niederreiter, who is coming of age this postseason.

It seemed to start in Game 6 last round.

“I remember that game that even his first period was sort of OK, but then something just flipped,” Yeo said. “He flipped a switch there, and it was just an opportunity for us to say OK, there it is, that's the blueprint for what we need night after night. It's been a work in progress, but certainly that game, for me, was one where obviously, he played a great game, had all of the heroics of the Game 7, but for me, a lot of that started in Game 6.”

In Game 7, on Spurgeon’s tying goal that he set up, Niederreiter gave Spurgeon a kiss on the helmet. Last night, after Ilya Bryzgalov made back-to-back huge saves in the third to rob Jeremy Morin and keep the lead at 4-2, Niederreiter similarly pecked Bryzgalov on the helmet.

Photo courtesy of Star Tribune photographer Carlos Gonzalez

“Yeah, that was such a big save. I was just so happy,” Niederreiter said, smiling. “It happened so quickly. Just being thankful I guess. I did that to Spurg when he scored the tying goal in Game 7. It’s silly but you appreciate stuff like that.”

The Wild leads the NHL with 16 goal scorers this postseason. Quite amazing for a team that lacked scoring depth during the regular season.

"Are you saying that we didn't see it during the year?" Yeo said, laughing, when I asked in probably a bewildered tone. "I feel like we're all improving. Everything's kind of cyclical, there's no question, but everybody's going out, everybody's contributing in the same way, but they're all doing it in their own way, too. The roles have been identified, guys have really bought into them, but just the team game, I think we've been very strong in that regard. Like we've asked of our guys, we've gotten better as a team, and that's what we want to keep doing here."

Talk to you after the morning skates Sunday. Enjoy your weekend.

Matt Moulson injured, and why do Wild teammates call Mikael Granlund, "Bruuuuuuce"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 8, 2014 - 2:04 PM

Well, my speculation was correct that Matt Moulson will be the guy out when Matt Cooke returns Friday night in Game 4 from a seven-game suspension.

But the reason, Wild coach Mike Yeo says, is because Moulson has been battling through a lower-body injury for some time. Moulson didn’t practice Thursday and will be kept off the ice for a few days “at least,” said Yeo, and the hope is the team can get him back later in this series.

No other lineup changes are expected from the Wild. Same lines as Tuesday, except for Cooke sliding into his old third-line spot next to Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine. Keith Ballard looks like he’ll play a second game in a row and Nate Prosser will be scratched.

The Wild trails 1-2 in its series against Chicago. Last year against the Hawks, the Wild won Game 3, lost Game 4 at home and was promptly lost the series in five. The Wild knows the importance of Friday night's 8:30 game. The time for Game 5 will be determined after Friday's Rangers-Penguins game. If the Pens win, the Wild and Hawks are expected to play in the early evening Sunday. If the Rangers win, the Wild and Hawks may get another 8:30 p.m. start.

Wild defenseman Ryan Suter is fine. He said Marian Hossa landed on his arm weird and it just started burning. He was very worried (said it was scary), but he obviously returned to play almost 10 minutes in the third, sprung the 3-on-2 that led to the Zach Parise to Jason Pominville to Mikael Granlund tic-tac-boom goal and assisted on Parise’s power-play goal when Parise lifted his stick to signal to Suter that he had net-front position.

“Everyone played better in the third,” said Suter.

On the importance of tomorrow’s game, coach Mike Yeo said, “We’ve given ourselves a chance to even the series up and to go back to Chicago and hopefully put a little bit of pressure on those guys. We know that they recognize the importance of the game as do we. With that, our mindset I think more than anything else is, we know that there is another level to our game that we can get to. We’re still focused on that. Obviously happy that we won the last game, but we’re determined to get better in the series and in this next game. We’re going to come out with a real purpose in how we play. We have to stay strong defensively, but I know that there is another level that we can get to with the puck and how we execute, in particular from coming out of our D zone and through the neutral zone. And I really think that we can still do a better job of putting some more pressure on their goalie, not only shots and getting them through, but the amount of times we have guys around the net and traffic around the net.”

As for Chicago, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Andrew Shaw (lower body) won’t make the trip. Coach Q – the ultimate line shuffler – came up with four brand new ones today.

Bickell-Toews-Smith

Saad-Kruger-Kane

Sharp-Handzus-Hossa

Bollig-Nordstrom-Morin

"We're looking for balance and maybe all lines, a little more threat to score on all the lines,” Quenneville said.

Hometown kid Nick Leddy, scratched in Game 3, will be back for Game 4.

On scratching players, Q said, “Sometimes it gets their attention. It’s never personal. It’s hey, let’s go. We’re trying to find ways to get the most of each and every individual. That’s kind of where we’re at in that situation.”

Said Leddy, the Wild 2009 first-round pick who had played 296 straight games for Chicago before being scratched, “I think any competitor would get ticked at that. Like I said, I don’t think I was playing the way that coaches wanted and it was a coaching decision. I’ve got to be better.”

I’m doing a story for Friday on what to expect in Game 4. Despite the fact the hockey world always blames the Wild for games when the neutral zone is cobweb-like, it was very clear Game 3’s tone was set by Chicago. The Blackhawks, after seeing Games 3 and 4 against Colorado, came up with a gameplan to sit back early and try to weather a furious storm and take the crowd out of it. Then it suddenly became a chess match until the first goal was scored thankfully early in the third.

“Of course we’re going to be blamed for that. I mean, it’s the high-flying Hawks. Of course, it’s going to be us,” Parise said, sarcastically. “Show me a team in the NHL that doesn’t play a trap and I’ll call you a liar because every single team does it. Whoever does it the best, then they get called a defensive team. I don’t agree with that. Every single team plays a trap.

“Last game, the ice was bouncy. There wasn’t a lot of flat plays through the neutral zone and I think both sides were somewhat getting frustrated because you couldn’t get it through clean. So then all of sudden you just try to stretch pass and chip it in and skate. They did the same thing to us that we did to them. It wasn’t like we were playing an 0-5 [defensive system] all game.”

Also, Dusty Peterson, the Wild’s videographer, produced another cool postgame Game 3 celebration video for wild.com the other day. Here's the link.

At the end of the video, when Granlund walked into the room, teammates started calling him, “Bruuuuuuce.”

I got a hundred tweets yesterday asking why. Slowly but surely, I figured it out. Basically, pretty much every player has a “stupid, random” nickname, one player told me. This player suggested I may want to talk to Parise for the “Bruce” genesis with a little friendly head-up as to what I should probably ask.

As it turns out, well worth it.

Players call Parise, “Brinks,” as in “Brinks” $$$ trucks. Mike Rupp brought it to the Wild from New Jersey, where Parise and Rupp were teammates.

“One day we’re sitting at breakfast and I was walking away and Granny called me, ‘Springs,’” Parise said, laughing. “I’m like, ‘What did you call me?’ He goes, ‘Springs.’ I go, ‘What is that?’ He goes, ‘Isn’t that what everyone calls you?’ I go, ‘No, no, they call me Brinks.’ He goes, ‘Oh, I thought it was Springs, like Bruce Springsteen’ [because I played in New Jersey],” Parise said, hysterically laughing.

“That’s how nicknames get started. We started calling him Bruce. He does not look like a Bruce at all, so that’s what makes it better.”


MINNESOTA WILD, MINNESOTA HOCKEY, CCM, TOTAL HOCKEY AND CHARLIE COYLE LAUNCH LITTLE WILD LEARN TO PLAY PROGRAM
 
    SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Hockey, CCM, Total Hockey along with Wild forward Charlie Coyle today announced the Little Wild Learn to Play program, a new initiative designed to introduce the game of ice hockey by overcoming affordability barriers that typically limit involvement at the beginner level in an effort to increase participation in youth hockey and grow the game.
 
    The inaugural program will kick off in September, when nearly 500 youth will have the opportunity to participate at one of eight arenas across the State of Hockey, with plans to grow and expand it each year. Each participant will be outfitted with gear from head-to-toe and receive four hours of professional on-ice instruction for $100. The program will also promote the importance of regular exercise, team work, and developing leadership skills all while having fun experiencing the game of hockey.
 
    “It’s our mission to continue creating a greater State of Hockey, so today we are thrilled to be launching the Little Wild Learn to Play program,” said Minnesota Wild Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka. “We are truly thankful to our partners Minnesota Hockey, CCM and Total Hockey who have not only made this program possible, but will help us take it to the next level.”
 
    Registration for Little Wild Learn to Play will begin on May 27 on Wild.com on a first-come, first-served basis for children age five to eight. The program is open to those who have not already participated in Mite Level hockey programs. Children with any previous hockey league or program experience are not eligible to participate in the program.
 
    The program will include professional instruction by licensed USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey instructors. Wild forward Charlie Coyle will participate as a guest instructor at select sessions. Each participant will receive co-branded Little Wild and CCM equipment including skates, hockey bags, jerseys, helmets, gloves, pants, pads, socks and sticks. The cost of the program includes all equipment and four hours of on-ice instruction. If not enrolled in the program, the Little Wild equipment will still be available through CCM at Total Hockey locations for $200.
 
    “I’m excited to be a part of the Little Wild program,” Coyle said. “I have great childhood memories from playing the game and it’s obviously had a really positive influence on my life. I want to do whatever I can to share this great sport with others, especially kids, and continue growing the game.”
 
    “Minnesota Hockey is very much looking forward to the first-ever Little Wild Learn to Play program,” said Glen Andresen, Executive Director of Minnesota Hockey. “This program will help extend our efforts to introduce more families to the great game of hockey around the state, who want to give the sport a try at an extremely low cost. This will have a huge impact on growing the game and supporting our local community-based associations. We are so thankful for the support of the Minnesota Wild, CCM, Total Hockey and Charlie Coyle.”
 
    “We're excited to partner with the Wild, Minnesota Hockey and Total Hockey on this outstanding program,” said Reebok-CCM Hockey trade marketing executive Bob Fallen. "We're involved in ‘Little NHL’ programs in other U.S. cities which have enjoyed great success in welcoming families to the sport of ice hockey. Seeing these young players take to the ice for the first time in our gear is a real thrill.”
 
    “No sport can match the benefits that hockey provides our youth in terms of fitness, character, discipline and teamwork. We appreciate the opportunity to give back to our local Minnesota communities by providing wider access to this great game,” said Michael Benoit, President and CEO of Total Hockey.
 
 
Little Wild Learn to Play Locations and Times available at
http://www.wild.com/littlewild
 

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