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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Wild signs defenseman Jonas Brodin to a 6-year extension

Posted by: Michael Russo under Rookies, Wild news Updated: October 12, 2014 - 11:35 AM

The Wild is looking to get ahead of next year's large restricted free agent crop.

Today, the team signed mobile defenseman Jonas Brodin to a six-year, $25 million extension.

“We are very excited to get Jonas Brodin signed through the 2020-21 season,” said GM Chuck Fletcher. “He is one of the premier young defensemen in the NHL and has played a huge role on our team since entering the league as a 19-year-old. We’re confident that his game will continue to evolve in all areas and he will be a valuable part of our core for years to come.”

The 21-year-old 10th overall pick in 2011 broke into the NHL two years ago as a 19-year-old. He led all rookies in time on ice (23:12), 1:38 more than any other rookie, and was named to the NHL's all-rookie team. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.

He scored two goals and nine assists and was plus-3 in 2013. Last season, he scored eight goals and 11 assists.

He is off to an outstanding start this season. He has been a rock defensively, has an assist, five shots and is plus-5.

Fletcher has said since June that once the Wild got restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper re-signed entering this season, he wanted to begin working on next year's RFA's.

Brodin is the first to be signed. Standard deal. No no-trade or no-move. Last week, Fletcher said he had begun talks with all of them. The others are Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin.

Wild opens season with back-to-back shutouts over Avalanche

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 12, 2014 - 12:36 AM

If you read my Darcy Kuemper story in Saturday’s paper here, the young goalie expected a different game in Saturday’s rematch against Colorado and a much tougher challenge than his 16-save shutout Thursday in Minnesota.

Different game, same outcome though.

Tested much more than Thursday, Kuemper, 24, stood big in net during the Wild’s 3-0 win tonight. He became the first goalie since Roberto Luongo in 2005 to open a season with consecutive shutouts. The Wild and Sharks became the first NHL teams to open a season with back-to-back shutouts since Florida in 2005.

Kuemper made 30 saves and his career-best shutout streak stands at 119 minutes, 44 seconds (goalie’s personal shutout streaks are their time on ice, not the team, so he actually played 59:52 Thursday and Saturday because he was on the bench 8 seconds in each for delayed penalties).

That will stand for at least another five days because the Wild don’t have a game until Friday in Anaheim. The team will take Sunday off, practice in Minnesota on Monday and Tuesday and then head to So. Cal for a little team bonding Wednesday and a Thursday practice.

This game had a playoff feel right from the start. The Avs were intense, physical and totally engaged – everything they weren’t in Minnesota two nights earlier.

“They came hard. They came real hard,” coach Mike Yeo said. “That’s a proud team over there, so we expected that. Definitely pleased with what our guys were able to do tonight.”

This game was ugly at times. Erik Johnson, who nearly took Mikael Granlund’s head off in the first period, led with his elbow and got nailed for clobbering Erik Haula (HIS GOPHER COMRADE) in the second. Johnson was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct, and the league will take a look.

“I'd be very surprised. I’d be very surprised,” Patrick Roy said when asked if he thought Johnson would be suspended. “There was no elbow there. I watched it about 20 times. I have the video to look at it.”

Haula said he thought Johnson got him with his hand.

“I saw it coming,” Haula said. “I just chipped it out and I tried to get out of the way of the hit. He caught me with his hand, I think. That happens sometimes.”

Captain Gabriel Landeskog came off the bench to yell at the ref, but instead he skated at Haula and got into it with him.

“He told me to stay down since I was hurt so bad,” Haula said. “Emotions were running high. I took my time to get up. He hit me in the mouth.”

Landeskog took a couple minors, one where he slammed Nino Niederreiter’s head to the ground, then into the dasher between the glass and boards behind the net.

Charlie Coyle scored 1:51 in. Jason Zucker scored a gigantic second-period goal after the Wild had a questionable Coyle goal waved off. The ref saw Niederreiter on top of Semyon Varlamov, but replays showed Jan Hejda pushed Niederreiter on the goalie. The play apparently isn’t reviewable even though the league allows for a “broader discretion for the video war room in Toronto to assist referees in determining good hockey goals. The revised rule will allow the NHL to correct a broader array of situations where video review clearly establishes that a “goal” or “no goal” call on the ice has been made in error.”

Clear as always, NHL.

The Johnson incident came after a Denver Post column Friday that wondered how on home ice the Avs would respond in Matt Cooke’s first game there since his knee-on-knee hit last postseason injured defenseman Tyson Barrie.

“One day, it might be the opposite,” Roy told the newspaper. “One of our players will hurt one of their guys. And I'm sure everybody is going to be very happy to remind (Minnesota) what happened to Tyson Barrie.”

In the same column, Johnson said the animosity the Avs have for the Wild is “like a volcano. It goes dormant. But it might wake back up again.”

It’ll be interesting how the NHL construes both of their words as it reviews Johnson’s elbow Saturday for a potential suspension.

After Zach Parise scored into an empty net on his career-high-tying 10th shot with 3 seconds left, Roy tried to put his fourth line on the ice for the closing faceoffs. Referee Tim Peel kicked them off, and he got accolades from the Wild players and Yeo afterward for his awareness there.

There were several other big performances. Defense partners Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon were terrific, with Spurgeon blocking nine shots and Scandella four. Ryan Suter was a horse in 28-plus minutes and had an assist. He said he felt like he only played 22 minutes and joked he planned to have a talk with the coaches.

Jonas Brodin was awesome again and was plus-2. Fourteen Wild players were plus-1 or better.

That’s it for me. With no practice Sunday, I’m holding a lot of leftovers back for a follow. So anything I’m not tossing on here, you’ll find in Monday’s paper. Talk to you Monday – if not Sunday. Check out my Sunday package as well.

Matt Cooke: I always have my head on a swivel; Stu Bickel may debut

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild pregame skate Updated: October 11, 2014 - 4:03 PM

It’s weird, but after tonight, the Wild and Avalanche won’t play again until Feb. 7 and not again in Denver until Feb. 28.

These two teams have grown so accustomed to seeing each other, and as defenseman Jared Spurgeon said this morning, Denver almost feels like the Wild’s second home.

“We know where to go, that’s for sure,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We even said that on the way over [to the arena on the bus], it’s going to be weird going and playing somewhere else on the road because we’ve been here so much.”

The Wild and Avs play each other tonight in Denver (8 p.m. CT, FSN, KFAN; the Wild is holding a free viewing party at Xcel Energy Center, where it will show tonight's game on the new scoreboard) for the first time since the Wild fought back from a goal down four times to win Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals in overtime April 30. It’s the second game of the season for each team after the Wild pounded Colorado, 5-0, in St. Paul on Thursday.

But, Yeo’s message again to his team, “Not a lot of thought’s going back toward last year. Not a lot of thought’s going back toward last game. Really just focused on this one.”

Avs coach Patrick Roy will scramble his lines tonight.

The top 3 will be Jamie McGinn-Matt Duchene-Jarome Iginla; Alex Tanguay-Nathan MacKinnon-Daniel Briere; Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O’Reilly-Dennis Everberg.

On the blue line, Nate Guenin won’t play and Ryan Wilson will be inserted.

Top 3 lines, top 6 D and Darcy Kuemper are the same for the Wild, but Stu Bickel may get in on the fourth line, meaning Jason Zucker, Ryan Carter or Kyle Brodziak would be scratched if Bickel plays. He will at least skate warmups. If Brodziak comes out, Carter would have to slide to center.

Yeo really liked his fourth line of Zucker-Brodziak-Carter on Thursday, so I’m a little surprised Yeo’s thinking of cracking it at least for one night. It didn’t become apparent to me that Bickel may be playing until after Yeo’s availability, so my assumption is Yeo is thinking of playing Bickel because of all the talk the last couple days of redemption for last playoff’s Matt Cooke on Tyson Barrie knee-on-knee hit and Roy telling Denver Post columnist Mike Kiszla, “One day, it might be the opposite. One of our players will hurt one of their guys. And I'm sure everybody is going to be very happy to remind (Minnesota) what happened to Tyson Barrie.”

Kiszla offered this last line in his column: “Free advice to Cooke: Keep your head on a swivel. The first shot of the game might be a fist directed at a lowdown, dirty Wild man certain to be greeted in Denver by a chorus of boos.”

Cooke, with a grin, said he didn’t read the column. Cooke reads everything, so he surely knows what was said by Roy and the Denver writer.

I caught up to Cooke as he walked to the bus after the skate.

He said if the fans want to boo, “That’s up to the fans. I don’t control that kind of stuff. I just have to go out and prepare like it’s another game.”

As for keeping his head up like Kiszla graciously suggested, Cooke said, “I always have my head on a swivel. That’s the way I play the game. I hit guys and I expect to be hit. That’s part of the game and what I expect. Obviously emotions are high and things are said at times, but it really doesn’t have any effect on how I prepare to play the game tonight.”

If you didn’t see my Cooke piece prior to Thursday’s game, here that is again.

If you forgot, go to wild.com, but the last time Cooke was in this building, he was ecstatic in the locker room and greeted every teammate enthusiastically as they entered the locker room following the Game 7 win. Cooke says that had nothing to do with knowing that he would be able to return in Game 4 of the second round against Chicago. It’s because he was so proud of what the team accomplished, especially young guys like Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula.

Roy just wants his team to play better tonight than it did while being humiliated by the Wild two nights ago. He didn’t practice the Avs yesterday. Instead, they met.

“They were not happy with their performance,” Roy said. “I think it’s important to regroup. We talked about it. We know we’re going to have to compete better than what we did. That was the big difference in that game. They were sharp, they were moving the puck quick, they were first on pucks, they were winning those battles.

“If we compete in front of the net, I think it'll be a lot different tonight -- both nets.

“Tonight, in front of our fans, the start of the game will be key for us. If we can score a goal early, it’s going to help us even more.”

Yeo said, “I’m not going to spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about what to expect from them. I’m just a lot more focused on what we’re going to bring tonight. Our first road game of the year. I want to become a good road team and this will be a good challenge against a team that we know wants to come with a good effort, are going to want to bounce back and wants to have a good show in front of their home crowd.

“Last game is behind us. Last game was last game. This is a different circumstance. We’re playing a different team tonight. We’re playing in a different building. This will be a new challenge.”

Yeo again said he is not worried about playing rookie defensemen Matt Dumba and Christian Folin as a pair tonight. This will be Folin’s first NHL road game.

“Listen, if you’re going to be on our team, then you have to play in tough buildings and you have to play against good teams. We don’t want to have guys on our team that we feel we have to hide. There’s no other way to get that experience except to go out there and deal with it. Obviously we’ll pay attention to matchups like we always do. But there’s no easing into it.”

Niederreiter sat in the same stall he always does in the visitors’ room at Pepsi Center. The man who scored the Game 7 OT winner said, “It’s always a special feeling coming back here. The whole series was such a fun series. I felt like we played some great hockey in this building. We were always very close. And obviously I will never forget Game 7.”

He admitted that while he was on the ice for the morning skate, “a few things came to mind. I like to come here. It’s a great city. It’s a great atmosphere and great building to play in.”

Talk to you tonight on Twitter (@russostrib) and after the game.

Wild coming back with Darcy Kuemper in Denver

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: October 10, 2014 - 3:43 PM


It's not a rule. It's a guideline, Mike Yeo has joked during his tenure. But the fourth-year Wild coach won't break his rule or guideline as to which goalie starts after the team shuts out an opponent.

Darcy Kuemper, concussed in Game 7 at the Pepsi Center last year when his head collided with Ryan Suter's leg, will be in the Wild cage again Saturday night when the Wild visits the Avs in its first road game of the season.

Kuemper had a relatively easy 16-save shutout in the Wild's season-opening win over the Avs on Thursday.

The Wild expects a very different Avalanche team Saturday. Just like the Wild got a jolt from its home crowd in its home opener, the Avs should get the same as they celebrate last year's Central Division title.

“If the roles were reversed and we got pounded 5-0, I guarantee we’d come out playing the same team with a little more bite,” Zach Parise said Friday. “We have to expect that from them.”

Just like the Avs Thursday, the Wild will be in the visiting room hearing all the hoopla outside.

Asked what it's like to be in that room and hear all that from past experience, Yeo said, "We just have to brace ourselves for a good challenge. It’s the anticipation of knowing that the other team is going to come out hard. They're going to come out with good energy. Sometimes that anticipation can lead to some butterflies, so we have to made sure we’re ready to start from the drop of the puck, that’s for sure."

That'll be Yeo's message during that time.

Not much else going on. Yeo also said he will likely come back with the same lineup. I wondered if he might be considering giving one of the rookie defensemen the night off for Nate Prosser, but Yeo sounded like he didn't want to change the lineup, saying it would be hard to pick anybody after Thursday's performance. This would be Christian Folin's first-ever road game.

Folin and Matt Dumba did have a couple hairy rookie moments Thursday, but Yeo said veterans made mistakes, too, but, "We’re very quick to judge and we’re waiting for them to make a mistake almost." He said everybody needs to understand there will be hiccups with the young kids and it's up to the coaches to help eliminate them, but he wants them learning in tough road environments and he doesn't want Folin or Dumba feeling that one mistake will get them taken from the lineup.

So, it sounds like Prosser and Keith Ballard won't play. Stu Bickel is also expected to be scratched, as well as Justin Fontaine, who is still on injured reserve.

At some point the Wild will need to get Fontaine in and make a roster move. It'll be interested to see whom Yeo chooses to come out because he loved what Ryan Carter brought to Thursday's game and he liked what the fourth line provided with Carter, Jason Zucker and Kyle Brodziak. Brodziak played a real good game, especially on the PK.

Speaking of the PK, much more assertive than we have grown accustomed to seeing Thursday. Colorado was shotless on four power plays.

Matt Cooke should expect to hear a chorus of boos. In case the fans forgot how Cooke knocked Tyson Barrie out of the playoffs, the Denver Post's always-inciting columnist reminded them in today's piece.

That's it for now. Please check out my two stories in Saturday's paper. Talk to you after Saturday's skates.

Postgame: Wild expects a very different Avalanche team in Saturday's rematch

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 10, 2014 - 12:07 AM

Zach Parise sounded the alarms this morning that the Wild needed to get out of bad habits.

I reminded him after tonight’s 5-0 pounding of the Colorado Avalanche that could have been a heck of a lot worse than the final score.

“We responded well,” Parise said, laughing, admitting he was nervous.

Turns out Parise also had his game face on during an all-business post-morning skate scrum with reporters.

Parise was outstanding tonight, as was the rest of the Wild, which registered a franchise-record 48 shots, out-attempted Colorado 78-29! in shots and had the puck virtually all game.

Somehow in a game where the Wild spent virtually the entire night in the offensive zone, the Wild out a 4-2 power play deficit. Pretty remarkable, eh? But the Avs were no better there either, managing no shots on those four power plays against last year’s 27th-ranked PK.

But, as all-business coach Mike Yeo pointed out in the postgame, the pivotal kills came in the first period in a scoreless game. Wild was much more assertive against Colorado’s talented cast.

Parise had a goal, two assists and had nine shots, and he was a career-best plus-4. 29th 3-point game and 117th multi-point game for Parise. He’s turning into a pretty decent Avs killer since his arrival in Minnesota.

Mikael Granlund was just awesome. He had two assists, won battles, shot pucks and defended well. He was also a career-best plus-4.

Jason Pominville, the third cast member on the line who led Minnesota in goals last season and was second in the NHL in scoring in the preseason, had a goal and assist for his 126th multi-point game and honestly asked how many goals the Wild would have scored if he didn’t miss the net on five of his nine stabs at the Colorado goal.

Nino Niederreiter, relentless all game, had seven shots and a goal. Jared Spurgeon scored a pretty awesome goal on a pretty awesome setup from Parise after a tremendous shift by Granlund, Ryan Suter scored a goal and assist and was plus-3 and Darcy Kuemper got to be a spectator with 16 saves for his third career shutout.

I got Kuemper to the side after the game and I’ll probably write about this in Saturday’s paper, but he talked a lot after the game about how much he has learned the last year about how to play and function in a game he doesn’t see a lot of shots in. Frankly, in the Wild’s stingy defensive system, you better have a goalie who can stay in the game not seeing a lot of shots.

Remember, in his season debut last year in Toronto, the Wild played a very similar game to tonight where it dominated at least on the shot clock. And Kuemper, I believe, gave up three goals on seven shots in like 32 minutes to get chased.

Read the gamer for some good quotes. Patrick Roy wasn’t happy with his team, saying they didn’t compete and weren’t engaged and were easy to play against.

"Our top two lines need to be our best players and tonight they got outplayed and outworked,” he said. “If we want to have some success, they're going to have to be our best players.”

Added captain Gabriel Landeskog, “That's what happens. A team that wins battles looks that good against a team that doesn't.”

Yeo was all business postgame. There was no celebration by any means.

As Suter said, the Avs were “stale.”

As Granlund said, “It’s cliché. But it’s all about the next game.”

And Yeo’s message to his team that his players repeated was, “Let’s not kid ourselves, Colorado was not at their best tonight.”

Saturday’s rematch will be quite different as they grasp the energy their crowd provides in their home opener.

“To sit here and expect us to go and play 82 games like that, it’s not going to happen,” Yeo said.

But Yeo felt good going into this game and said there was never a moment of stress, never a moment where he felt the game was slipping away.

He said he could go down the list and name every player that played well. He tried hard to not single out anybody even when reporters asked about Parise or the top line.

He did acknowledge that he loved the grit and energy that Ryan Carter provided. Carter joked that it probably wasn’t the best start to his Wild career when he took a minor – one of three for him on the night – on his shift.

Overall, very good start to the season for the Wild. But it’s one game. And, Saturday will be a much great challenge.

That’s it for me. I have got to rise early to write my Sunday package (the first of the season!) before practice. Please read the gamer, notebook and Jim Souhan’s column in Friday’s paper.

I have an afternoon flight to Denver after practice that I’ll need to hustle for, so the post-practice blog may have to wait until I get up in the air.


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