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 Olympic hockey

Final Four: USA vs. Finland; Canada vs. Slovakia

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 25, 2010 - 9:52 PM

    

Coca-Cola, an American company, handed these out to all the gleeful Canadian hockey fans as they exited Canada Hockey Place tonight after Canada's women's hockey team won their eighth gold medal with a 2-0 win over the United States.

It's a gold Coke can that reads on the back, "Congratulations Canadian Olympic Ice Hockey Team on Winning Gold!"

Very presumptuous. No gender, meaning if the women didn't do it, Coke could hedge their bet with perhaps the men.

Locker-room material, I say.

I grabbed two gold Coke cans. Now I realize there's no way these two carbonated cans are going to survive my giant suitcase during my pressurized flights from Vancouver to Calgary, Calgary to Edmonton and Edmonton to Minneapolis coming up.

And since I don't drink soda (I get enough caffeine from another liquid), I'm sure I'll make a couple Canadian hockey fans very happy with a little keepsake on the trainride back to my hotel.

And yes, they'll be a gifts. I won't be selling them.

Rachel Blount will have you covered with all the women's hockey covering in Friday's Star Tribune. I wrote an advance on the Finland-U.S. game. Basically, I ran into a group of hockey fans on the train this morning that were all talking about how for the first time in this Olympic men's tourney, the Canadian fans will probably be rooting for the Americans against Finland because Canada wants a gold-medal rematch with the U.S.

As for the Hockey 101 portion of the advance, I wrote about how of all the European countries, the Finns are most willing to engage in a physical showdown. As Brooks Orpik said, unlike the Russians who were intimidated by the Canadians' physical game, the Finns won't run for the hills when the Americans come out hitting.

It should be an NHL-type, North American-style, north-south hockey game. The Finns are very defensively responsible, and if the Americans start getting too cute, the Finns could easily make the United States pay.

As for Slovakia-Canada, I wrote a story about Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra being reunited again -- and maybe for the last time. The Slovaks have 18 players on their team, I believe, born 1980 or before. This is an old team, and with all due respect, according to hockey insiders, nothing's coming out of Slovakia. In a few years, scouts say they might be in the competition level of Belarus and Norway.

Slovak players know this and had a huge meeting yesterday in which they discussed that this could be their last chance for a medal for awhile, and as Pavol Demitra said, "Go for it."

I didn't write about all this, but I did write about Gaborik and Demitra loving this chance to play with each other for the first time since playing for the Wild.

This has been outstanding tournament. Very unpredictable. I mean, who'd ever guess that none of Russia, Sweden or the Czechs would make the semifinals?

Especially Sweden -- the defending gold-medal winners. Henrik Zetterberg was their THIRD-line center. That's a deep team. And sadly, we probably saw the last of Nicklas Lidstrom and Peter Forsberg and Co. in this type of setting.

It's kind of the same way for Finland with guys like Koivu (the older one), Selanne, Peltonen, Lehtinen. This is it for these guys, so I'd expect some bigtime motivation vs. the Americans.

As for Russia, just brutal. As I mentioned last night, the coaching was terrible, the decision to bring over so many inferior KHLers was brutal, the way the Russians just quit was brutal.

Martin Havlat and Marek Zidlicky are on their way back to Minnesota to rejoin the Wild after losing to the Finns.

As for the Wild, I like the Clutterbuck signing for both parties. $1.4 million is a cap-friendly price. As for Guillaume Latendresse, I've been told they're not close yet, and there's no rush, so I wouldn't panic. Plus, he's a restricted free agent -- not unrestricted.

OK, I'm excited for Friday. Should be two awesome games. Heckuva tournament. Heckuva thrill to be here covering it.

Wild extends Cal Clutterbuck's contract, re-signed three years

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 25, 2010 - 12:02 PM

The Wild avoided restricted free agency this summer with heavy hitter Cal Clutterbuck by extending the winger's contract this morning. Clutterbuck signed a three-year, $4.2 million contract ($1.4 million cap hit).

“Cal is an intense competitor who has quickly become a fan favorite with the Wild,” GM Chuck Fletcher said. “We look forward to watching his development for years to come.”

Clutterbuck, 22 (11/18/87), set the NHL’s single-season hits mark in 2008-09 with 356, and again leads the NHL this season with 252 hits. Clutterbuck has recorded a career-high 12 goals in 54 games this season, while also tying his career-high with 18 points. The 5-foot-11, 213-pound native of Welland, Ont., has posted 36 points (23-13=36) and 110 penalty minutes in 134 games over two-plus seasons with the Wild. Clutterbuck was the Wild’s third-round pick (No. 72 overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Chip Scoggins is at practice and will have more later.

The three restricted free agents remaining on the big club is Guillaume Latendresse, Josh Harding and James Sheppard. You can bet they're talking to Latendresse, too.

As for here, Slovakia upset 2006 gold-medal champion Sweden 4-3 last night to advance to play Canada in the semifinals. Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra had big goals for the Slovaks in what likely was the last Olympics for guys like Nicklas Lidstrom and Peter Forsberg.

The US plays Finland at 2 p.m. CT Friday.

Russo Radio will be on KSTP tonight at 8 p.m.

Russians get spanked by Canada; USA advances to semis, faces Mikko Koivu and Finland

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 24, 2010 - 11:31 PM

Ilya Bryzgalov said it all after this one: The Canadians "came out like gorillas out of a cage."

He added that this would be treated like a "disaster" in Russia, "End of the world. We had to push back, but we didn't. I expected much more from these Olympic Games."

There's no way around this. In sportswriting, we often exaggerate things or throw out words, like, "embarrass," too liberally.

This was a humiliation like few I've covered. Russia was supposed to challenge for gold. But nothing was stopping the Canadians in this game, especially in front of this electric crowd. They trashed Russia 7-3 and now have 29 goals in five games.

The US was able to take Canada's crowd out of the game 41 seconds in the other day, and they never let Canada have the lead. That would not be the case tonight for Russia. Canada scored early and kept coming, and the crowd kept getting louder and louder. Russia never matched the intensity, was lazy, almost disinterested defensively, which maybe shouldn't be a shock. The Russians are incredible offensively, but the players brought here are usually not interested on the defensive side of the puck.

They couldn't clear big Candians forward out from in front of the goalies, they were outmuscled all over the ice.

Not that it would have made all the difference, but Russia wanted to prove a point by snubbing some talented NHLers and bringing about eight or nine KHLers. They were slow and a non-factor all tourney, minus-13 tonight.

Their coach was outcoached all tournament, going with groups of five stubbornly. Until tonight, I didn't even know Andrei Markov was in the tournament. Tonight, I definitely knew because he was brutal. And even though the chances were Grade A tonight, not pulling Nabokov after 1 period when the Russians were down 4-1 was just ridiculous.

"Everything failed," Slava Bykov said afterward.

The Russians were a bunch of babies after the game. Guys like Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Malkin stormed by us in a huff. Pavel Datsyuk, always classy, talked twice. Markov and both goalies stopped and talked. Ovechkin came back to do TV, then talked in Russian briefly with the Russian reporters. Ovechkin, trying to sell everybody on 2014 in Sochi, acted like this all tournament -- just blowing off the English media other than one AP sitdown at the Russia House.

And this is a guy who is lauded and lauded by the hockey media all the time.

One would hope he was just upset with his effort tonight because he floated all over the ice. The second Perry goal, look at the replay and that shameful effort by Ovechkin.

Canada was just the much better team tonight, and as Nabokov said afterward, "They are not going to be easy to stop, I'll tell you that."

Fans began taunting Ovechkin with "Ovi, Ovi" all third period. When he was struck by a Jonathan Toews shot, he hurt his hand. When they showed a pained Ovechkin on the jumbotron, the taunts got louder. Players fed off that. Ryan Getzlaf, after Evgeni Malkin missed on a breakaway, stood up on the bench while Malkin stood at the blue line and stuck his face in Malkin's ear and began talking smack. Malkin understandably elbowed Getzlaf in the face.

Later, after talking a late hit from Alex Semin, Dan Boyle disgustingly slew-footed Semin in retaliation, one that should be reviewed by the IOC. Unbelievably dangerous. Semin fell backward on his back.

As for the USA's 2-0 win over Switzerland, dominant performance by the US, but Jonas Hiller almost stole one. If not for Prior Lake's Zach Parise, he just might have. Parise scored two, the last on an empty netter, as the Americans outshot the Swiss 44-19.

Parise was tremendous, but so were several of the defensemen, from Ryan Suter to Erik and Jack Johnson, who were stalwarts and bravely dropped down in front of slapshots.

It was a very entertaining game, if not frustrating because no matter how many pucks the Americans fired at Hiller, he was there to turn them away. Parise finally broke through with a redirected goal off a Brian Rafalski shot early in the third.

You can read the gamer in the paper because I wrote much more on that game than the Canada game. But the US moves on to play Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Niklas Backstrom and the Finns in the semifinals Friday at 2 p.m. Finland sent Marek Zidlicky and Martin Havlat and the Czechs home minutes ago with a 2-0 win.

I am going to run now and watch this Sweden-Slovakia game. Like I said, for much more on the US game, check out the newspaper.

Wild Finn/Czech mates going at it; Khudobin up; Walz done in Tampa; Other Wild news

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 24, 2010 - 1:13 PM

Good day from the building formerly known as GM PLace, where in an hour, the United States will be taking on Switzerland in a game I feel will be closer and tighter than many people think. This is no sure-thing.

The Czechs nearly blew a 2-0 lead last night and had to beat Latvia in overtime on a David Krejci goal. The Slovaks barely beat Norway after blowing a 3-1 lead.

Winner of US-Swiss will get winner of Czechs-Finns in the semifinals.

That means tonight, unfortunately at a different venue a long way from where I'm at for US-Swiss and Canada-Russia, Marty Havlat, Marek Zidlicky and the Czechs will be facing Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Nik Backstrom and the Finns. Teammates vs. teammates, which is always fun to watch.

The other day, Pittsburgh teammates Brooks Orpik and Sidney Crosby had a brief physical clash and trash-talking display. Orpik said yesterday soon after the Canada loss to the US, Crosby texted him with an apology. Foes on the ice, friends off -- the way it should be.

With Backstrom here in Vancouver, Anton Khudobin is up in Minnesota and will practice with the team until Backstrom's return. The Wild hits the ice for practice today at 2 p.m. CT. Chip Scoggins (@chipscoggins on twitter) will be there.

As for Zidlicky, the Wild and Zhid-lits-ki continue to have contract negotiations and are getting closer, I am told.

It looks like Wes Walz is out as assistant coach in Tampa. That's what I was told by three sources this morning. They offered him to Norfolk job and I was told he didn't plan to accept it. There's going to be a lot of changes in Tampa on the horizon with the ownership change, I am told.

That's it. Russo Radio on KSTP (am1500) will be at 6 p.m. CT right before Canada-Russia.

I'll also be on Hockey Night in Canada radio on Sirius Ch. 97 or 127 with Kelly Hrudey and Jeff Marek during the second intermission of the US-Swiss game.

Talk to you later.

USA vs. Swiss; Canada awakes vs. Germany

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 23, 2010 - 11:09 PM

From the Canada Hockey Place, where the Switzerland beat Belarus in a shootout and Canada crushed Germany. Slovakia-Norway fans are flooding the arena now. Czechs and Latvians are playing at a different venue.

The USA will play the Swiss at 2 p.m. CT Wednesday live on NBC. The Swiss needed a shootout to beat a scrappy Belarus team this afternoon, and the Swiss plays the US tough in the tournament's first game and took Canada to a shootout. So they won't be a cakewalk, especially with Jonas Hiller in net and former Wild players Hnat Domenichelli (three points) and Julien Sprunger (two goals) playing well. Roman Wick leads the Swiss with five points. Hiller's played four games and has a .897 save percentage and 2.80 goals against average, but that's bogus because shootouts count in there.

The Americans were loose today and heard Brian Burke's honest words Tuesday loud and clear. Coach Ron Wilson informed them Burke wasn't pleased at Tuesday's practice, then informed them that no No. 1 seed's won gold since 1988.

You can read the article in the paper, but lots of good stuff from today's availability. Lots of real good quotes on the US side, from David Backes to Brooks Orpik to Patrick Kane to Erik Johnson to Bobby Ryan and on and on and on.

Now Chuck Fletcher's just got to trade for two of them and I'll be a happy beat writer. It's all about the quote for moi.

The Germans might have awoken a sleeping giant tonight with Canada. The red and white just trounced 'em. Even when it was 1-0, it felt like 10. When it was 3-0, it felt like 30.

Roberto Luongo was barely tested, no matter was the "Louuuuuuuuuuuuuuu" birds would have you think.

Canada outshot Germany 39-23, with Jarome Iginla scoring two more goals (hat trick early in the tourney), Eric Staal having three assists, Duncan Keith playing great (two assists) and Sid the Kid scoring one. The Iginla-Staal-Crosby line (newly assembled) looked great.

Shea Weber, who's got the hardest shot maybe in the NHL, took a howitzer tonight that went through the netting and out so fast, nobody seemed to realize until they went to video review. Well, NBC's Eddie Olczyk noticed. He saw it with the naked eye because as he told me during the second intermission, "I ate a pound of carrots last night."

Now Canada faces powerhouse Russia with one going home. You can read the article on that, focusing on Sid the Kid vs. Alex the Ovechkin.

Couple good quotes:

Babcock on starting Luongo over Brodeur: "I think his bank account shows he’s a pretty good goalie. I know every time we play him, he puts up this wall.”

On picking Sidney Crosby to take a penalty shot over Rick Nash, who was hauled down (Olympics you can pick anyone to take penalty shot): "It's just math. The stats show Crosby has a better chance to score than Nash."

Luongo on replacing Brodeur: "Twenty years from now, if we win, nobody will remember who played goal, but they will remember that we won."

Iginla on Russia: "We can play rough and tough style, too. I'm not worried about that. We imagine it'll be physical and intense. I can't wait."

Wild owner Craig Leipold is in the house, and he doesn't look stressed. No rolled up game notes at least. The NHL's brought in all the Board of Governors for an all-expenses trip here (except food and nightcaps, I think).

Wild resume practice Wednesday. What's the Wild? Vikings scribe Chip Scoggins will be there to cover for me.

OK, that's it for me. Talk to you Wednesday.

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