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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

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Posts about Gophers

Wild's Pierre-Marc Bouchard "symptom-free;" Bill Daly: NHLPA dissolving won't "expedite things"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 17, 2012 - 6:46 PM

UPDATED WITH STEVE FEHR QUOTE

Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who sustained a season-ending concussion in Vancouver on Jan. 4, has been skating daily lately and says he has been "pretty much symptom free" the last few weeks.

I talked with Bouchard this morning. In the last year of a five-year deal, Bouchard plans to make a comeback with the Wild assuming the lockout ends in the near future.

Not technically locked out by the Wild because he wasn't cleared to play as of Oct. 11, Bouchard recently spent a week practicing with the Houston Aeros and skates all the time with assistant coaches Darryl Sydor and Darby Hendrickson and strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson down at Xcel Energy Center. Lately, he has experienced more and more pushing and bumping from them

Unlike his teammates, he has full use of the Wild facilities.

This morning, Bouchard skated down at the University of Minnesota with the locked-out Wild and Minnesota-based players.

He will see Wild doctors later this week.

Asked if he could immediately partake in training camp and return to the lineup if the lockout ends, Bouchard said, "That's a good question. I rather speak to the doctor first, talk to him and see what he says. The last few weeks I've been pretty good, so I’m optimistic about it."

Bouchard, 28, has played the second-most games in Wild history (522), has scored the fourth-most goals (98), has the second-most assists (229) and the third-most points (327). This is all despite missing every game but one in 2009-10 because of a concussion and the first two months of the 2010-11 season. He was limited to 25 games last year.

Bouchard was drafted eighth overall in 2002.

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I wrote a story for Tuesday's paper on the latest game of chicken between the NHL and the maybe soon-to-be dissolved NHL Players' Association.

Currently, the players are voting on whether or not to authorize its board to file a disclaimer of interest if it so chooses, which would essentially disband the union and allow the players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL. Players have been pretty much been told by the union not to speak publicly, especially since a lot of their words previously on the subject are being used against them by the league, which has filed a complaint with federal court in New York.

But I have talked to a handful of players and all believe it's going to go through and the union will indeed file this disclaimer of interest.

Then we're in a world of bigtime uncertainty, which you can read about Tuesday. I talked with Eric Macramalla, a must-follow on Twitter at @ericonsportslaw. He's the TSN legal analyst and partner in the Ottawa law firm, Gowlings, and he makes sense of the whole thing.

I did get an email from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who says, "Things remain status quo with the Union. There was no contact over the weekend, and there are no new meetings planned. We obviously would prefer that the Players return to the bargaining table at the earliest possible date to see if there is a deal to be done. Ultimately, a deal will have to be agreed to, regardless of the forum. I suppose it is ultimately up to them to choose what forum that will be, but the Union pretending its not a Union anymore certainly isn't going to expedite things."

From Steve Fehr, the NHLPA's Special Counsel: “There is no need for the players to “return” to the table because the players have never left. It was the owners who indicated last Thursday that they had nothing more to say right now. We are ready to bargain whenever they are.”

Neither side agrees who should make the next move. Scary times folks.

The hope obviously is like the NBA, the players will file a disclaimer of interest and the lockout will soon be settled.

I'm not too sure in this case. Like I said, please check out Tuesday's article and I will be "Hockey This Morning" Tuesday at 8:45 CT on Sirius/XM.

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The world junior championships go from Dec. 26-Jan. 5. All U.S. games can be seen on NHL Network and NHL.com, plus 12 other games. The schedule can be found on NHL.com or USAhockey.com.

By the way, the idle Gophers men's hockey team enters the holiday break ranked fourth in the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. The Gophers are tied for fifth in the WCHA -- three points behind St. Cloud State with two games in hand.

The Huskies are 16th in the uscho.com poll, which can be found here.

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By the way, a good follow on Twitter is Blaine's Matt Hendricks of the Washington Capitals. He's currently on the USO Tour in Afghanistan and  has been tweeting some awesome updates and pictures at @matthendy26.

Live chat today at 1 p.m. with Star Tribune hockey writer Michael Russo

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 14, 2012 - 7:02 AM

This afternoon at 1 o'clock CT, hockey writer Michael Russo will be hosting a live chat on startribune.com.

Here is a link.

Have a question for Michael regarding the NHL lockout, the Wild, the Houston Aeros, Gophers hockey or his coffee addiction?

Return before 1 p.m. and please join Michael for the hour.

NHL/NHLPA back to the table Wednesday; Thompson transfering from the U

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 11, 2012 - 2:27 PM

Six days after talks broke off in a huff and a puff, the NHL and NHL Players' Association will return to the bargaining table on Wednesday.

At the union's request and league's agreement, the meeting will occur with a mediator in the room, something the league declined last week and Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league wasn't interested in Thursday.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says he has no expectations as to what may come out of returning to the table, but games have been canceled through Dec. 30. Today is Bettman's 20th anniversary as commissioner, by the way. The NHL has played almost a full season in every year he's been commish, too.

By the way, I am filling in for Paul Allen from 9-noon Thursday morning. Lining up guests, but Wild coach Mike Yeo will be on at 9:35 a.m. CT.

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Gophers defenseman Blake Thompson, 21 from Eden Prairie, is leaving the University of Minnesota after not playing in the first half.

“While I’m disappointed in Blake’s decision to transfer, I respect his choice and appreciate his contributions to the program over the last two years,” coach Don Lucia said. “Our team and our staff wish him the best as he moves forward.”

It's unknown as of now where Thompson is headed. He only played in five games as a freshman.

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The Houston Aeros crushed San Antonio 5-1 in front of a bunch of school kids this afternoon. That's the seventh win in eight games for the Wild's primary affiliate and points in 10 of the last 13 at home.

The Aeros are first in the AHL West's South Division.

 

Don Lucia gets nostalgic; Lucia on son, Wild prospect Mario Lucia; Jason Zucker clutch again

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 8, 2012 - 3:37 PM

Tonight in Colorado Springs (8 CT), Don Lucia will coach his final game there for some time because of the Gophers heading into the Big Ten next year.

Before I get started, I just wanted to let you know that we have a Faces of the Lockout package running in Sunday's newspaper. There will also be a video package online. We all know about the owners and players in this dispute, but the lockout affects so many more innocent parties. We talked to a few.

Also, Chip Scoggins has a great column in Saturday's paper on the dismay of many fans, something that should alarm the Wild and NHL and NHLPA. Also, Kevin Duchschere looks here at the businesses affected near the arena. 

 

Back to Lucia: He coached the Tigers for six years and 166 wins. He guided them to two Frozen Fours.
 
Last night, the Gophers won 4-2 behind two goals from Sam Warning (he returned last week after missing nine games with an injury), one from hometown boy Tom Serratore and an empty-netter from Zach Budish. Erik Haula had two points and now has points in 11 straight. Adam Wilcox made 24 saves and is now 10-2-2 for the 11-3-2 Gophers. Serratore had the team over to his family’s home for dinner Thursday night.
 
Lucia took the CC job when his wife, Joyce, was pregnant with their youngest child, Mario, who is now a freshman at Notre Dame and a Wild draft pick.
 
But Joyce, a native of Fairbanks, refused to leave Alaska until Mario was born.
 
“I still kid her about that,” Don Lucia said, laughing. “She didn’t think there was anybody who could deliver a baby in Colorado, so there was no way she was leaving without Mario getting a 574 Social Security number from Alaska.”
 
The Lucias had sold their house, so they lived for awhile in a motorhome. Mario was born on Aug. 25, a Thursday, Don Lucia remembers. The family left town the following Tuesday for a 3,000-mile trek south in the motorhome to Colorado Springs.
 
“So Mario lived in Alaska for five days. I don’t think he remembers much of it,” Lucia said. “I used a joke back then that my wife had a premonition we were going to win the league because she was giving me the finger all the way to Colorado, along with all of my in-laws.
 
“It was a trail of tears when we left Alaska with her mom and dad and everybody there. ... I’d be driving late at night and they’d be sleeping in the back. I’d be up by six heading out on the Alaska Highway and they’d be bouncing on the beds when we hit those bumps.
 
“We literally pulled into Colorado Springs the Sunday before Labor Day.” As their house was being built, the whole family lived in a two-bedroom apartment with no dishwasher or washer and dryer.
 
“But I have nothing but great memories of my time there. It was one of the best periods of my life,” Lucia said.
 
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Speaking of Mario Lucia, he is red-hot. The CCHA Rookie of the Week last week after a three-goal weekend, the 2011 Wild second-rounder had a goal and assist last night in a 3-2 Irish win over Michigan State.
 
Lucia now has five goals in seven games since returning from a broken tibia and ankle injury.
 
He was also invited to the U.S. world junior training camp, something a few weeks ago Don Lucia told his son may be tough because he had just come back from the injury.
 
“He wasn’t happy to hear that,” Don Lucia said. “I told him, ‘You have a couple weeks to prove yourself. We talked every day at night on the good ole FaceTime on the iPad. So he was excited to make it, as should be. But now there’s another step for him. He’s one of 15 or 16 forwards to make the team.
 
“But I know how hard he’s worked in his rehab to get back to playing at a high level.”
 
Lucia, by the way, said 16 because the U.S. is considering inviting one more forward to camp after this weekend. The Gophers’ Travis Boyd is a contender for that extra spot.
 
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The Houston Aeros continue to be red-hit. They won their sixth in a row last night with a 2-1 overtime win at Texas.
 
Who scored the goal? None other than the clutch Jason Zucker, the Wild’s third 2010 second-rounder. It was Zucker’s AHL-leading second OT winner this season.
 
Defenseman Kris Fredheim also scored a goal and Matt Hackett made 35 saves. The Aeros are now fourth in the West heading into Sunday’s home game vs. Peoria.
 
Zucker’s goal, coming off a back-hander, was his 12th of the season, which is tied for fourth in the AHL and first among all rookies. Hackett is now tied for third in the AHL with nine wins.
 
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No NHL/NHLPA news as of yet. My guess is both sides will try to get this bad boy back on track again the early part of the week.

Mike Reilly, Brady Skjei, Mario Lucia named to U.S.A. world junior preliminary roster

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 4, 2012 - 9:31 AM

Gophers freshmen defensemen Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei were two of 27 players selected this morning to the U.S.A. preliminary roster for the upcoming world junior championships.

Also selected was Alaska-born but Wayzata-raised Mario Lucia, the 2011 Wild second-round pick, Notre Dame freshman and youngest child of Gophers coach Don Lucia.

The full roster can be found here.

Lucia has four goals and an assist in six games for the 11-4 Irish. Lucia is coming off a 2-goal performance in a pounding of Lake Superior State and was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week. He was second on the champion 54-5-2 BCHL Penticton Vees last year with 42 goals and 52 assists for 94 points in 56 games. He had 14 power-play goals and was winner of the Bruce Allen Trophy as the Interior Division's Rookie of the Year.

From the Gophers' press release:

A 2011 fourth round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets (98th overall), Reilly leads all Minnesota freshmen with eight points this season and tallied his first career goal on Nov. 11 in a 5-1 win over Vermont. Prior to joining the Gophers, Reilly helped the Penticton Vees set a North American junior hockey record with a 42-game win streak en route to RBC Cup and Doyle Cup championships last season. The Chanhassen, Minn., native led all BCHL defensemen in goals (24), assists (59), and points (83) and won the BCHL Interior Conference Best Defenseman Award. Reilly previously skated for Shattuck-St. Mary’s and the Academy of Holy Angels.

In 14 games this season, Skjei has recorded two points for the Gophers including his first career goal on Oct. 13 against Michigan State. A 2012 first round draft selection by the New York Rangers, Skjei spent two years with the U.S. National Development Team Program in Ann Arbor after two seasons at Lakeville North. The freshman defenseman already has plenty of international playing experience, having helped the U.S. win gold at the 2012 Under-18 Men’s World Championship and bronze at the 2012 Under-18 Five Nations Cup. The Lakeville, Minn., native also competed in several international tournaments with the U.S. Under-17 team.

The U.S. coaching staff is mostly Minnesotan. Phil Housley is the head coach. Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki and Gophers assistant Grant Potulny will serve as Housley's assistants, as well as University of Denver assistant David Lassonde.

The tournament is Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia. Training camp is Dec. 16-18 in Tarrytown, N.Y. and continues in Helsinki Dec. 19-23. The final roster will be announced Dec. 23.

Also, I wrote a Wild notebook for Tuesday's paper. That can be read here.

There's some good quotes from Zach Parise and Matt Cullen on the lockout and their optimism or hope of a deal getting done.

I've gotten a lot of questions as to which players are still skating here. Off the top of my head from Monday at least: Parise, Cullen, Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Mikko Koivu, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Matt Kassian, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Stephane Veilleux, Andrew Alberts, Jack Hillen, Matt Hendricks, Ryan Carter, Ryan Jones, Erik Johnson, Keith Ballard, Kyle Okposo, Chris Porter, Jim O'Brien, Matt Carle, Tim Jackman and Stu Bickel.

There were others, but that's all I can remember. I know guys like Dustin Byfuglien and Paul Martin have been skating as well, but I at least didn't see them Monday.

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