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 training camp

Sources: Wild goaltender Josh Harding sidelined by ankle injury

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 16, 2014 - 5:40 PM

Training camp hasn’t started and the Wild already has serious goaltending issues.

Josh Harding, looking to resurrect himself after missing last season’s second half because of complications from multiple sclerosis, has been sidelined by an ankle injury, multiple sources said Tuesday.

The team, experts when it comes to bad luck with its goaltending health, was totally caught off guard Monday when Harding limped into the trainer’s room. For a month, Harding had been feeling great off the ice and looking great on the ice. He even sat down last week with the Star Tribune to talk about how much he was looking forward to this season.

But suddenly, Harding didn’t take part in the team’s captain’s practices the past two days at Xcel Energy Center, is walking with the use of crutches and will miss at least the start of training camp when players take the ice Friday. The injury did not occur on the ice, sources say.

General Manager Chuck Fletcher was scheduled to return to the Twin Cities from Traverse City, Michigan, where the Wild participated in a prospect tournament, on Tuesday night. The Wild does not yet know the extent of the injury or how long Harding will be out, although it’s expected to be awhile.

Fletcher is expected to meet with coach Mike Yeo, Harding and athletic therapist Don Fuller on Wednesday, as well as speak with team orthopedic surgeon Joel Boyd.

Harding didn’t reply to text messages Tuesday.

With veteran Niklas Backstrom healthy and Harding set to be ready, the Wild had been playing hardball with unsigned restricted free agent Darcy Kuemper. Harding’s injury could have implications on the negotiations with the young goaltender.

Kuemper was seeking a one-year, one-way contract, while the Wild was offering a two-year deal with the first year being a two-way and the second year being a one-way as of last week.

Kuemper’s agent floated that his client, who at least then had little leverage, was contemplating offers from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

If Harding is out long-term, the Wild also has unsigned unrestricted free agent Ilya Bryzgalov as an option.

Last season in 12 regular-season games with the Wild, Bryzgalov went 7-1-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. In the playoffs, he went 3-6-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.

Bryzgalov, 34, made clear publicly through his agent last month that he wanted to return to the Wild. It’s believed Fletcher has already reached out to Bryzgalov to see if he would be willing to come to training camp on a tryout.

Backstrom, whose 189 wins rank first all-time on the Wild, has so far looked good in his skates. Two seasons ago, he tied for the league lead with 24 wins but sustained a sports hernia minutes before Game 1 of the playoffs. Last season, Backstrom sustained myriad injuries and never felt completely healthy coming into the year. He went 5-11-2 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.

He ultimately underwent season-ending abdominal and hip surgeries. He is now 36 with two years left on his contract.

“This is an opportunity for him,” Yeo said Monday before knowing that Harding was injured. “Backy’s kind of been the forgotten soldier right now. Nobody even talks about him. He’s won a lot of hockey games for us, there’s been many games where I know he stole games for us. He’s a guy who can come in and do that again this year. I think he’ll be motivated.”

Last week, Harding sat down with the Star Tribune for an interview. That article was supposed to appear in Tuesday’s editions. In the story, Harding discussed how great he felt on and off the ice and how he was looking forward to this season.

“It’s one of those summers where everything clicked and I feel even better than I did last summer and feel like I’m in better shape,” said Harding, 30. “With the year of knowledge of what I’m dealing with, with a different mind-set and different mentality about what I did this offseason, I think it’s definitely going to help out tremendously.

 “I just feel … great. Physically, mentally, knowing everything that’s been working for me, I believe I’m going to show I’m capable of playing a full season. I just feel … great.”

Last year, Harding was in the midst of a sensational season, reeling off 18 victories by Dec. 17 before missing a road trip for what even doctors felt would be a minor adjustment to his treatment.

That season, one in which Harding led the NHL with a 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, would be stopped in its tracks. He returned to start two games, including one where he clearly wasn’t right and the Wild blew a three-goal lead to the Islanders. He didn’t play again after Jan. 1 – the second season in a row he missed significant time due to the debilitating illness.

It’s clear Harding had a relapse.

“Without going into big details, one plus one equals two. The changing of the medication, the changing of the treatment over the Christmas break, things happened and things happened quick,” Harding said.

But Harding had been feeling great since the springtime and came close to returning in the playoffs. Conditioning was the only reason why he couldn’t. Last week, even Harding said the only thing that has kept him from being an everyday No. 1 is health. Even before being diagnosed with MS, Harding was often derailed by injuries, whether it being to his knee or hip.

Asked last week what his biggest objective was this season, Harding didn’t hesitate: “To stay healthy the entire season and be available for every game and give the team whatever they need from me and try my best and have fun while I do it.”

Minnesota Wild preliminary training camp roster

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 15, 2014 - 5:39 PM

Minnesota Wild players report for training camp Thursday (on ice for the first time Friday), and this afternoon the team sent out its training-camp roster. Thirty-five players are on it, with several other additions coming soon from the current Traverse City prospect tournament.

The team will hold an open practice at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. Fans can enter through Gate 1 beginning at 8:30 a.m. There will be concessions available. Single-game tickets go on sale at the box office at 10 a.m.

The first exhibition game is one week from today in Winnipeg.

I'll be on KFAN in-studio Tuesday at 10:15-10:55 a.m.

LEFT WING                   HT     WT    SHOOTS     BORN     BIRTHPLACE                  2013-14 TEAM     LGE      GP   G     A     PTS      PIM                                        ACQ
24 Matt Cooke                 5-11   205    Left              9/7/78      Belleville, Ontario              Minnesota              NHL      82    10    18   28         54                                        FA/13
40 Curt Gogol                  6-1     190    Left              9/21/91    Calgary, Alberta                 Worcester/Iowa      AHL      56    4      2     6           204                                        TRD/13
36 Michael Keranen         6-1     176    Left              1/4/90      Stockholm, Sweden           Ilves Tampere        Finland  52    17    35   52         47                                        FA/14
11 Zach Parise                 5-11   195    Left              7/28/84    Minneapolis, Minnesota    Minnesota              NHL      67    29    27   56         30                                        FA/12
26 Thomas Vanek           6-2     217    Right            1/19/84    Vienna, Austria                  BUF/NYI/MTL      NHL      78    27    41   68         46                                        FA/14
19 Stephane Veilleux       6-1     200    Left              11/16/81  Beauceville, Quebec           Minnesota              NHL      21    0      2     2           21                                        TRD/12
16 Jason Zucker              5-11   186    Left              1/16/92    Newport Beach, California Minnesota              NHL      21    4      1     5           2                                        EN/10
CENTER                         HT     WT    SHOOTS     BORN     BIRTHPLACE                  2013-14 TEAM     LGE      GP   G     A     PTS      PIM                                        ACQ
12 Cody Almond             6-2     217    Left              7/24/89    Calgary, Alberta                 Geneve-Servette     Swiss     44    18    16   34         75                                        FA/14
21 Kyle Brodziak             6-2     210    Right            5/25/84    St. Paul, Alberta                 Minnesota              NHL      81    8      16   24         61                                        TRD/09
64 Mikael Granlund         5-10   186    Left              2/26/92    Oulu, Finland                     Minnesota              NHL      63    8      33   41         22                                        EN/10
56 Erik Haula                  5-11   192    Left              3/23/91    Pori, Finland                      Minnesota              NHL      46    6      9     15         29                                        EN/09
9 Mikko Koivu                6-3     217    Left              3/12/83    Turku, Finland                   Minnesota              NHL      65    11    43   54         24                                        EN/01
10 Jordan Schroeder        5-9     180    Right            9/29/90    Prior Lake, Minnesota       Vancouver             NHL      25    3      3     6           2                                        FA/14
27 Brett Sutter                  6-0     200    Left              6/2/87      Viking, Alberta                  Carolina                 NHL      17    1      1     2           9                                        FA/14
RIGHT WING                HT     WT    SHOOTS     BORN     BIRTHPLACE                  2013-14 TEAM     LGE      GP   G     A     PTS      PIM                                        ACQ
54 Brett Bulmer               6-4     212    Right            4/26/92    Prince George, B.C.            Iowa                      AHL      43    11    8     19         79                                        EN/10         
3 Charlie Coyle                6-3     221    Right            3/2/92      East Weymouth, Mass.      Minnesota              NHL      70    12    18   30         33                                        TRD/11
14 Justin Fontaine            5-10   175    Right            11/6/87    Bonnyville, Alberta            Minnesota              NHL      66    13    8     21         26                                        FA/11
22 Nino Niederreiter        6-2     208    Left              9/8/92      Chur, Switzerland              Minnesota              NHL      81    14    22   36         44                                        TRD/13
61 Zack Phillips               6-0     194    Right            10/28/92  Fredericton, New Brunswick                            Iowa      AHL 76    12   21         33        16                                        EN/11
29 Jason Pominville         6-0     185    Right            11/30/82  Repentigny, Quebec           Minnesota              NHL      82    30    30   60         16                                        TRD/13
28 Joel Rechlicz               6-4     220    Right            6/14/87    Brookfield, Wisconsin       Hershey                 AHL      25    1      1     2           87                                        FA/14
DEFENSEMEN               HT     WT    SHOOTS     BORN     BIRTHPLACE                  2013-14 TEAM     LGE      GP   G     A     PTS      PIM                                        ACQ
58 Corbin Baldwin           6-5     215    Left              2/5/91      Winnipeg, Manitoba           Iowa                      AHL      64    0      1     1           129                                        INVITEE
2 Keith Ballard                 5-11   208    Left              11/26/82  Baudette, Minnesota          Minnesota              NHL      45    2      7     9           37                                        FA/13
4 Stu Bickel                     6-4     207    Right            10/26/86  Chanhassen, Minnesota     Hartford                 AHL      24    1      7     8           85                                        FA/14
7 Jonathon Blum              6-1     190    Right            1/30/89    Long Beach, California      Minnesota              NHL      15    0      1     1           0                                        FA/13
25 Jonas Brodin               6-1     180    Left              7/12/93    Karlstad, Sweden               Minnesota              NHL      79    8      11   19         22                                        EN/11
44 Justin Falk                  6-5     215    Left              10/11/88  Snowflake, Manitoba         New York Rangers NHL      21    0      2     2           20                                        FA/14
74 Colton Jobke               6-0     190    Left              4/20/92    Delta, British Columbia      Iowa                      AHL      11    0      0     0           4                                        INVITEE
6 Marco Scandella           6-3     210    Left              2/23/90    Montreal, Quebec              Minnesota              NHL      76    3      14   17         20                                        EN/08
46 Jared Spurgeon           5-9     185    Right            11/29/89  Edmonton, Alberta            Minnesota              NHL      67    5      21   26         16                                        FA/10
20 Ryan Suter                  6-1     198    Left              1/21/85    Madison, Wisconsin          Minnesota              NHL      82    8      35   43         34                                        FA/12
GOALTENDERS            HT     WT    CATCHESBORN        BIRTHPLACE                  2013-14 TEAM     LGE      GP   W-L-OT  SO   GAA    SV%                                        ACQ
32 Niklas Backstrom       6-2     194    Left            2/13/78      Helsinki, Finland               Minnesota              NHL      21    5-11-2                                                0        3.02           .899           FA/06
33 John Curry                  5-11   185    Left            2/27/84      Maplewood, Minnesota     Iowa                      AHL      19    7-9-2                                                1        2.62           .920           FA/14
37 Josh Harding               6-2     202    Right          6/18/84      Regina, Saskatchewan        Minnesota              NHL      29    18-7-3                                                3        1.65           .933           EN/02
35 Darcy Kuemper          6-5     205    Left            5/4/90        Saskatoon, Saskatchewan  Minnesota              NHL      26    12-8-4                                                2        2.43           .915           EN/09
FORWARDS                  HT     WT    SHOOTS   BORN     BIRTHPLACE                    2013-14 TEAM     LGE        GP   G     A     PTS   PIM                                        ACQ
82 Olivier Archambault   6-0     190    Left            2/16/93    Le Gardeur, Quebec             Quebec                  QMJHL    38    19    27    46      37                                        INVITEE
80 Jessey Astles              6-2     205    Left            6/4/93      Coquitlam, British Columbia                              Tri-City    WHL        50    11      9          20                                        67      INVITEE
62 Brady Brassart            6-2     196    Right          6/15/93    Vernon, British Columbia    Calgary                  WHL        70    35    50    85      94                                        FA/14
49 Raphael Bussieres       6-1     198    Left            11/5/93    Longueuil, Quebec               Iowa                      AHL        61    5      14    19      51                                        EN/12
75 Reid Duke                   6-0     189    Right          1/28/96    Calgary, Alberta                   Lethbridge             WHL        62    15    25    40      91                                        EN/14
53 Tyler Graovac             6-4     205    Left            4/27/93    Brampton, Ontario               Iowa                      AHL        64    13    12    25      29                                        EN/11
63 Kurtis Gabriel             6-4     214    Right          4/20/93    New Market, Ontario           Owen Sound          OHL        60    16    35    51      99                                        EN/13
47 Reid Gardiner             5-11   185    Right          1/19/96    Humboldt, Saskatchewan     Prince Albert          WHL        70    22    22    44      39                                        INVITEE
57 Ryan Graham              6-2     205    Left            5/6/96      Calgary, Alberta                   Saskatoon              WHL        70    15    8      23      37                                        INVITEE
81 Pavel Jenys                 6-2     198    Left            4/2/96      Brno, Czech Republic          Brno                      Czech       29    2      0      2        4                                        EN/14         
76 Chase Lang                 6-1     182    Right          9/13/96    Nanaimo, British Columbia  Calgary                  WHL        68    10    15    25      52                                        EN/14
59 Zack Mitchell              6-0     184    Right          1/7/93      Caledon, Ontario                  Guelph                   OHL        67    31    52    83      40                                        FA/14
67 Andrew Ryan              6-3     202    Left            1/15/94    St. John’s, Newfoundland    Halifax                   QMJHL    56    27    28    55      52                                        INVITEE
71 Ryan Walters              6-0     190    Left            7/30/91    Rosemount, Minnesota        Nebraska-Omaha   NCHC      34    6      24    30      16                                        INVITEE
DEFENSEMEN               HT     WT    SHOOTS   BORN     BIRTHPLACE                    2013-14 TEAM     LGE        GP   G     A     PTS   PIM                                        ACQ
55 Matt Dumba                6-0     183    Right          7/25/94    Regina, Saskatchewan          Minnesota              NHL        13    1      1      2        2                                        EN/12
                                                                                                                                          Portland                 WHL        26    8      16    24      37
73 Tanner Faith               6-3     211    Right          10/5/95    Terrace, British Columbia    Kootenay               WHL        10    0      1      1        9                                        EN/14
5 Christian Folin              6-3     210    Right          2/9/91      Gothenburg, Sweden            UMass-Lowell       HE           41    6      14    20      31                                        FA/14
34 Guillaume Gelinas      5-10   185    Left            6/14/93    Quebec City, Quebec           Val d’Or                QMJHL    67    23    69    92      81                                        FA/14
68 Alex Gudbranson       6-2     204    Right          9/3/94      Orleans, Ontario                  Sault Ste. Marie      OHL        66    7      8      15      76                                        INVITEE
78 Dylan Labbe               6-2     194    Left            1/19/95    St. George, Quebec              Shawinigan            QMJHL    63    9      18    27      20                                        EN/13
23 Gustav Olofsson         6-4     191    Left            12/1/94    Boras, Sweden                     Colorado College   NCHC      30    4      4      8        20                                        EN/13
79 Hunter Warner            6-2     202    Right          9/21/95    Eden Prairie, Minnesota       Waterloo/Fargo      USHL      50    2      10    12      127                                        INVITEE
GOALTENDERS            HT     WT    CATCHESBORN      BIRTHPLACE                    2013-14 TEAM     LGE        GP   W-L-OT  SO GAA    SV%                                        ACQ
50 Alexandre Belanger     6-1     184    Left            8/19/95    Sherbrooke, Quebec            Rouyn-Noranda     QMJHL    52    28-18-3                                      1        3.23   .881           EN/13
31 Johan Gustafsson       6-2     202    Left            2/28/92    Koping, Sweden                   Iowa                      AHL        40    12-20-4                                      1        2.98   .903           EN/10
70 Brandon Whitney        6-5     208    Right          5/11/94    Kentville, Nova Scotia         Victoriaville           QMJHL    41    13-18-7                                      4        3.25   .906           INVITEE

Harding's Hope makes donation to National MS Society programs

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 13, 2014 - 9:08 AM

Harding's Hope, the nonprofit founded by Wild goalie Josh Harding, donated $83,000 today to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Upper Midwest Chapter, to help fund direct financial assistance for families affected by MS.

"Thanks to the generosity of donors and partners, Harding’s Hope is proud to announce our first year gift of $83,000 to the MS Society programs," said Harding's Hope advisor Lana Quinn of QuinnMcCauley. "We hope that through this season’s ‘Make the Save’ campaign we can increase that amount for next year.

"Camp opens next week and Josh’s focus returns to the ice, but off ice we will continue to work to raise funds for people living with MS and hope hockey fans everywhere will join us."

“This generous donation will make a tremendous impact in the lives of families struggling to cope with

the financial burden of this lifelong disease,“ said National MS Society, Upper Midwest Chapter President
Holly Anderson. “We extend our deepest gratitude to Harding’s Hope for their dedication to helping
people with MS live their best lives.”

Harding’s Hope raises awareness and funds to support people living with MS. Today, the charity also transitioned to a new web site, www.hardingshope.org.

“On behalf of Harding’s Hope and all those affected by MS, we are thankful to the hundreds of individuals and organizations that contributed this past year to make this donation possible,” Harding said.

The four Society programs chosen for funding include chore services, care partner relief, exercise and wellness, and aids for daily living ― all designed to help people with MS stay strong and independent, and remain in their homes and communities.

I sat down with Harding last week and will be doing an article on him in the next few days. Harding, who led the NHL last season in goals-against average and save percentage, has looked great on the ice the past month and is determined "to show I’m capable of playing a full season."

“I’m excited for this season and I don’t know if I’ve felt this good in my life," he said.

Nino Niederreiter re-signs, agreeing to a 3-year, $8 million contract

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 11, 2014 - 4:38 PM

Game 7’s overtime hero has re-signed and is ready to pick up where he left off.

One week before players are set to report for training camp, Nino Niederreiter, the young power winger who scored the Western Conference quarterfinals clinching goal last season for the Wild, agreed to terms on a three-year, $8 million contract Thursday.

“I’m glad it’s over and I’m part of the Wild family again,” Niederreiter said by phone from Portland, Ore., where he’s skating with the Western Hockey League Winterhawks and working with his power-skating instructor. “I think it’s all about now. The season’s coming up and I think I found a way to score goals in the league and felt I got better and better as last season went on, so now I’m very happy to focus and not worry about the contract situation.

“Now I just want to go out there and play and really, really work on things.”

The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Niederreiter, 22, scored a career-high 14 goals and 36 points in 81 games last season. He was plus-12, which ranked fourth on the team, and ranked second with 175 hits. In 13 playoffs games, he scored three goals and six points and led the team with 40 hits. In Game 7 of the first round against Colorado, Niederreiter scored two goals, including the winner in overtime, and assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s late third-period, overtime-forcing goal.

“I’m very happy the way the playoffs went,” said Niederreiter, who was also one of Switzerland’s best players in the Olympics. “It’s still tough the way we lost Game 6 [against Chicago], but at the end of the day, we have to look forward. I’m happy I had a chance to perform in the playoffs and now I just have to keep it up going forward here.”

Niederreiter said he will be in Portland until Sunday and plans to be on the ice with his teammates during informal practices Monday. Players report for camp next Thursday and skate for the first time next Friday.

Niederreiter’s agent said earlier this week that Niederreiter turned down a lucrative contract offer to play in Russia. Goalie Darcy Kuemper, the only unsigned Wild player left, is mulling over some potential opportunities in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Earlier this week, Kuemper’s agent said he is asking the Wild for a one-year, one-way contract. The Wild has offered Kuemper a two-year deal, the first year being a two-way, the second being a one-way.

Wild captain Mikko Koivu discusses brother Saku Koivu's retirement

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 10, 2014 - 2:39 PM

For nine seasons, we have witnessed Koivu vs. Koivu matchups, whether it be Minnesota vs. Montreal or Minnesota vs. Anaheim.

Well, after 18 seasons, Saku Koivu retired from the NHL this morning. He scored 255 goals, 577 assists and 832 points in 1,124 games for the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks. He captained the Canadiens 10 years and won four medals with Finland in the Winter Olympics.

Younger brother Mikko Koivu, the Wild’s all-time leading scorer and captain, skated with the team at its informal skate this morning.

“You’re going to look back and see all the things he did with the Canadiens and the Ducks and the Finnish national team as well, I think he has the respect of each and every team and in each and every town that he played for, from his country, from his teammates and from the staffs,” Koivu said. “He has always been a class act, and I think you’re going to hear that a lot from around the league and around the hockey world.”

If you know Mikko, he never exactly loved playing against his big brother starting with that first game way back in 2005.

“It was always tough,” Mikko Koivu said. “I didn’t really like that going against him and my biggest fear was to face him in the playoffs. I don’t know. It didn’t feel right to go against him. He obviously was a center, too, so I would face him a lot of times and it was a tough situation for both of us, but now looking back, maybe I could have taken it a different way. It was a great experience. For our family, not a lot of people get to do that.”

Saku Koivu had a chance to sign with the Wild a few years back but felt it was Mikko’s team.

“We experienced it with Team Finland and obviously that’s a short period of time,” Mikko Koivu said. “More than anything, he wanted to protect me and give me my time to do my thing here. I think it felt right for him and I respected that. Looking back, I think it was the right call for us.”

By the way, Koivu, 31, who scored 11 goals and 43 assists last season, said his ankle doesn’t affect him anymore. He missed 17 games and the Olympics last year after ankle surgery. He said he trained differently this offseason, although he didn’t want to get into specifics. “I feel good and I feel healthy and I’m excited to get going.”

-- In other Wild news overshadowed yesterday, the Wild announced it will have an ECHL affiliation with the Alaska Aces. The St. Louis Blues will share that affiliation. All its main prospects and minor-leaguers will be with the AHL Iowa Wild still.

Also, the Wild will hold an open practice for fans to watch on Sept. 20 at Xcel Energy Center from 9:30 a.m.-noon. Remember, single-game tickets go on sale that morning at 10 at the arena’s box office.


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