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 Rookies

NHL cancels games through Dec. 30

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 10, 2012 - 1:20 PM

UPDATED

This afternoon, the NHL canceled the Dec. 15-Dec. 30 portion of the 2012-13 season. But, ... we're at the point in the lockout where we find silver linings in game cancelations!

This means the Wild can potentially open with its traditional New Year's Eve game!

In all honesty, it wouldn't be far-fetched.

Talks broke off Thursday with the NHL allegedly taking everything proposed last week off the table and an infuriated Gary Bettman huffing, puffing and overheating during a 40-minute news conference. This came after Don Fehr, knowing full well that the meeting with the league just went and ended poorly, stood behind a lectern minutes later and portrayed to the hockey world that there were so many agreements, the lockout was bound to end soon.

But, one would think the league would cancel games beyond Dec. 30 since there's allegedly no hope and things ended so poorly.

Dig deeper and nott a whole lot more in fact, these sides are closer to a deal than not provided 1) the NHL's moderate owners that Fehr and the players so enraged last week didn't really move to the hardliner column; 2) the league puts that $89 million "Make Whole" money back on the table and other proposals.

To do that, the players apparently have to agree to a 10-year CBA with an eight-year mutual out-clause, five-year max deals (seven if you re-sign your own players, a proposal Bill Daly said is the hill the owners would die on) and 5% max variances in salaries in every contract.

I still think the transition rules (buyouts, etc.) and how the salary cap is calculated will be a bit tedious to negotiate, too.

But the two sides made contact this past weekend and it sounds like they're trying to get together. And that always goes well.

So, don't think the emotional roller coasters are over in this excruciating lockout. There's bound to be a few more.

In the meantime, the cancelations mean 526 games scrapped from the schedule, as well as the Winter Classic and All-Star Game. That's 42.8 percent of the 2012-13 campaign. This means at max, it can now be the 12/31/12-13 campaign.

Catchy, ain't it?

Wild coach Mike Yeo, who has been making the rounds with area coaches during the lockout, is down at the Timberwolves today meeting with Rick Adelman. The big objective? Since the NBA had to have a shortened training camp last year once their lockout ended, Yeo wanted to get some tips and thoughts from Adelman.

-------------------------------

The Gophers, who blew a three-goal lead to tie Colorado College on Saturday, then spent all day yesterday getting home because their plane was diverted to Omaha, is fourth in the USCHO.com poll.

Boston College is back to 1, followed by New Hampshire and Notre Dame. North Dakota is 8, Denver is 11, Nebraska-Omaha is 13, St. Cloud State is 17 and Minnesota State-Mankata is 20.

The Gophers are also ranked fourth in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. In fact, it's the same top-3 with North Dakota 8, Denver 10 and UNO 14. The Gophers are off until the Mariucci Classic Dec. 29 (Air Force) and Dec. 30 (Boston College).

-------------------------------

The Houston Aeros' six-game winning streak ended last night with a 3-2 loss to Peoria. Charlie Coyle and Chay Genoway scored for the Aeros. Jason Zucker still leads all AHL rookies with 12 goals, is tied for the league lead of all players with six power-play goals and leads with two overtime winners. The Aeros are fourth in the West, play San Antonio Tuesday, at Charlotte Friday and Saturday and home vs. Oklahoma City on Sunday.

 

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.
 
--------------------------------------
 
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.
 
---------------------------------------
 
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.
 
---------------------------------------
 
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.

What will Backstrom do for encore in Sunday's charity game?

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 27, 2012 - 1:03 PM

Happy Saturday everybody. If you want to get a bit of a hockey fix and listen to me talk NHL (lockout) and Gophers, I’ll be in studio with Dan Barriero on Sunday from 10-11 a.m. on KFAN (100.3 FM). 

Last night in Chicago, “Champs for Charity” raised more than $300,000 for the Ronald McDonald House when a bunch of locked-out NHLers, including the Wild’s Niklas Backstrom, Ryan Suter and Jake Dowell, entertained a soldout Allstate Arena. The game was reportedly the brainchild of hard-working checker Adam Burish and agent Bill Zito.

In the game, Backstrom, much to the glee of the crowd, actually beat Craig Anderson on a penalty shot with a suave, top-shelf wrister (see below).
  
 
Also, apparently Patrick Kane beat Backstrom in the shootout with a similar super-slow move he used to score against Backstrom in a real game last season (only with a back-handed finish in the charity game).
 
Remember, Sunday night at 7 at Mariucci, a bunch of locked-out NHLers, headlined by Zach Parise and Suter, here plan to put on a show during a game and auction to benefit Defending the Blue Line. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $20 at mygophersports.com. If you wait ‘til the door, it’s $30.
 
What will Backstrom do for an encore after Friday's snipe? We know he'll tend goal, but will he also play forward, do handstands in the crease, drop the gloves, drive the Zamboni?
 
In the game will be Wild players Parise, Backstrom, Suter, Dowell, Clayton Stoner, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Kassian, Justin Falk, Darroll Powe, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler, Colorado’s Erik Johnson, Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, Vancouver’s Keith Ballard, the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo, Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin, New Jersey’s Ryan Carter, the Kings’ Davis Drewiske, Washington’s Jack Hillen and Matt Hendricks, the Rangers’ Stu Bickel, San Jose’s Justin Braun, Ottawa’s Mike Lundin and Jimmy O’Brien, St. Louis’ Chris Porter, Anaheim’s Dan Sexton, Calgary’s Tim Jackson and former Wild fan favorite Wes Walz.
 
Doors open at 6. There’s a pregame ceremony at 6:45. The National Anthem will be fittingly performed by the locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. Fans are entered in a raffle for prized and game-worn jerseys will be autographed and auctioned off after the game.
 
Should be a blast, and it’s for a good cause.
 
 
Couple other notes:
 
-- Locked-out Wild captain Mikko Koivu is back with TPS in the Finnish Elite League and is already piling up points. In a 5-3 loss to Ilves in his debut two days ago (see below), Koivu scored twice, had five shots and logged 25:07. In today’s 4-3 overtime, Koivu scored the overtime winner on his seventh shot to lift TPS to a win over Blues (or is it the Blues?). TPS is second to last in the 14-team SM-liiga.
 
Check out Koivu's grand entrance through smoke in his return Thursday (his 2 goals start at 3 minutes):
 
 
If you saw last night’s blog, I have info on there about Tyler Graovac’s huge night (leads OHL with 14 goals) and the Aeros’ win at Oklahoma City.
 
Houston is at home tonight against Milwaukee. Mikael Granlund is now tied for second in the AHL in rookie scoring with eight points. Granlund and Charlie Coyle are tied for second among AHL rookies with three goals each.

Houston Aeros hit the ice at Xcel; open scrimmages this weekend

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 28, 2012 - 9:45 AM

The Houston Aeros, coached by longtime minor-league and NHL coach John Torchetti and a staff of former Panthers blue-line great Mike Van Ryn and Sebastien LaPlante, take the ice this morning at Xcel Energy Center for the first three days of training camp here in Minnesota.

The Aeros, filled to the brim with the Wild's most elite prospects, will scrimmage Saturday at 11 a.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the X. Both scrimmages are free and open to the public, with Gate 1 opening 30 minutes before the scrimmages.

Then after Sunday's scrimmage, the Aeros will caravan down to Houston over a day-and-a-half before continuing camp there.

So if you want your hockey fix, this weekend is good. The Aeros will also play a game at the X against Rockford at 5 p.m. on Nov. 18. Those tickets are free for season-ticket holders and $20 for others.

Also, as I mentioned on yesterday's blog, save Oct. 28 in your calendar (barring the end of the NHL lockout). It's looking very good that many of the locked-out NHLers based here and some others even from outside the area will put on a charity game at Mariucci Arena to benefit Defending the Blue Line. More information should come out today and probably Monday.

Speaking of the lockout, for the first time since Sept. 12, the NHL and NHLPA are meeting in New York about non-core issues. It's the first of three days of scheduled meetings, and hopefully some real ground is made so they continue talking about the real stuff that could end this lockout next week. Today, they'll meet from 10-12 and then again after 4 p.m. ET.

I wrote about the Aeros in today's paper. Here is that link. It'll be an interesting year in Houston, where the Aeros get a huge infusion of skill with the additions of Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Johan Larsson, Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, Zack Phillips, and for a full year, Brett Bulmer.

The reality is this means a number of Houston's top players last year fall down a few slots on this much deeper team. That could include anybody from David McIntyre and Justin Fontaine to Chad Rau, Jarod Palmer and Carson McMillan.

It'll certainly be a fun year to watch the Aeros and some of these top prospects to begin the maturation process. As Torchetti says in the article, it won't all be smooth sailing. Many of the rookies aren't used to three games in three nights or 76-game season, so this will be a good adjustment year for all of them to hopefully soon make a smooth transition to the Wild's lineup.

Below is the Houston roster. You'll notice Nick Palmieri isn't on it yet. The unsigned Wild player is talking to the team about signing an AHL deal, but that contract wasn't signed by the start of camp. But it still looks like he'll be on an AHL deal and will join the Aeros when camp begins in Houston.

And, finally:

Houston Aeros General Manager Jim Mill announced on Friday the Training Camp roster for the 2012-13 season.

The training camp roster is composed of four goalies, 13 defensemen and 20 forwards. In all, 14 Minnesota Wild draft picks are on the roster, including four first-round picks and five second-round picks.

The roster consists of the following players:

Forwards: Joel Broda, Brett Bulmer, Josh Caron, Charlie Coyle, Kris Foucault, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Ginand, Mikael Granlund, Ryley Grantham, Eric Lampe, Johan Larsson, David McIntyre, Carson McMillan, Rob Mignardi, Jarod Palmer, Nick Petersen, Zack Phillips, Chad Rau, Brennan Vargas, Jason Zucker.

Defense: Drew Bagnall, Corbin Baldwin, Jonas Brodin, Brian Connelly, Tyler Cuma, Kris Fredheim, Chay Genoway, Colton Jobke, Steven Kampfer, Sean Lorenz, Kyle Medvec, Mike Montgomery, Marco Scandella.

Goalies: Mike Brodeur, John Curry, Matt Hackett, Darcy Kuemper

Talk later.

First-round highlights

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 27, 2012 - 1:37 PM

From the NHL:

NEW YORK (April 27, 2012) -- From opening night, when the
Philadelphia Flyers engineered a stunning three-goal comeback victory at
Pittsburgh, to the trio of overtime games on Night 2, to the thrilling
triplet of Game 7s over the past 48 hours, the first round of the 2012
Stanley Cup Playoffs featured a record 16 overtimes in 16 days, razor-thin
margins of victory, frantic comebacks, standout individual performances and
unpredictable results.

Record Overtimes

Sixteen of the 48 opening-round games (33.3%) required overtime, breaking
the mark of 15 set in 2001. In addition, three games featured go-ahead
goals in the final five minutes of regulation. Seven of the eight series
had at least one overtime game.

Three games went to overtime on the second night of competition (Thursday,
April 12), the highest single-day total since 2001. Road teams went 12-4
(.750) in the extra sessions, adding to their dominance of the first round.
It didn't take long to settle most of the 16 overtimes. The average
overtime length was just 8:17, well below the corresponding figure for the
14 OTs during the first round of the 2011 post-season (11:46).

One-Goal Games

Thirty-two of the 48 first-round games (66.7%) had one-goal margins. Teams
were either tied or separated by one goal for 82.8% of total playing time.

Momentum Swings

There were 12 games in which both clubs held the lead, more than double the
total from the corresponding period in 2011 (five).

Historic Road Dominance

Road teams finished the opening round with a 30-18 (.625) record, the
highest winning percentage since the NHL switched to the 16-team playoff
format in 1979-80.

Series Highlights

Capitals-Bruins: As Close As It Gets

For the first time in NHL history, each game in a seven-game series was
decided by one goal. The Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins played seven
one-goal games in their first-round series; including four overtime games.
No postseason series had ever had as many as six one-goal games. The
game-winning goals in six of the seven games were scored with fewer than
two minutes remaining in regulation or in overtime.

Flyers-Penguins: Goals, Goals, Goals

The Philadelphia Flyers (23) and Pittsburgh Penguins (22) combined for 45
goals through the first four games of their series, the most in League
history through the opening four contests of a best-of-seven series. The
previous record was 44, set by Edmonton (26) and Chicago (18) in the 1985
Campbell Conference Final. Of the 17 players who recorded six points or
more in the first round, 13 were Flyers or Penguins players. The Flyers
were an eye-popping 52.2% on the power-play, converting on 12 of 23
chances.

The Flyers became the first team since the 1993 Los Angeles Kings to score
eight or more goals in consecutive postseason games (Games 2 and 3), while
the Penguins scored eight unanswered goals to stave off elimination in Game
4, becoming the first team in more than 22 years to score 10 goals in a
playoff game (Los Angeles – April 10, 1990).

Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier each recorded hat tricks in
Game 2, becoming the ninth set of teammates, and first since 2006, to post
hat tricks in the same playoff game.

Giroux added three assists in Game 2 for six total points; the last time a
player had six or more points in a playoff game was May 6, 2010, when
Detroit’s Johan Franzen recorded 4-2--6 against San Jose. Giroux led all
scorers in the first round with 14 points (six goals, eight assists),
becoming the second NHL player since 1993 to score at least 14 points in a
playoff series of fewer than seven games. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby
registered 14 points in the Penguins' six-game first-round series win
against Ottawa in 2010.

Coyotes-Blackhawks: Frantic Finishes, Milestone Victory

The Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks became the first teams in more
than 60 years to open their playoff series with five consecutive overtime
games. The 1951 Stanley Cup Final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and
Montreal Canadiens featured overtime in each of series' five games,
captured by Toronto 4-1.

Phoenix forward Mikkel Boedker scored the overtime winner in Games 3 and 4,
becoming the first player to do so in back-to-back playoff contests since
Colorado's Joe Sakic in 2004.

The Coyotes franchise won its first playoff series in 25 years and first
since relocating to Phoenix in 1996. Phoenix captain Shane Doan advanced to
the second round of the postseason for the first time in his 16-year NHL
career, all of which has been with the Coyotes franchise. Doan had played
1,242 career games (regular season and playoffs) before experiencing the
winning side of the traditional handshake line.

The Blackhawks became the first team in NHL history to score tying goals
with less than 15 seconds remaining in regulation in consecutive postseason
games of one series. They evened the score in Game 1 with 14.2 seconds left
in the third period and tied Game 2 with 5.5 seconds on the clock. The
Blackhawks then staged yet another late-game rescue, pulling their
goaltender and tying Game 4 of the series with 1:26 remaining -- the third
time in the series they forced overtime by scoring with the goaltender off
the ice for a sixth attacker.

Kings-Canucks: Top Seed Eliminated

The Los Angeles Kings' first-round series win over Vancouver marked the
10th time in NHL history that a No. 8 seed defeated a No. 1 seed and was
the club's first postseason series win since 2001. It also marked the first
time a No. 8 has defeated a No. 1 in five games. Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown
tied a Stanley Cup Playoff record by scoring two shorthanded goals in Game
2.

Devils-Panthers: Playoff Legend Brodeur Meets Resilient Foe

New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who turns 40 on May 6, became
the second goaltender in NHL history to post 100 career playoff wins in
Game 1 vs. Florida, joining Hall of Famer Patrick Roy. He bounced back from
his shortest playoff start in Game 3 by posting his 24th career postseason
shutout in Game 4, moving him past Roy into sole possession of first place
all-time. He also assisted on Steve Bernier’s third-period score, marking
the third time in Brodeur’s postseason career that he notched a shutout and
assist in the same game. Brodeur concluded the series by making 43 saves to
record his sixth career Game 7 victory, tying Roy for the most all-time.

The Panthers proved a valiant and resilient foe in defeat. They trailed
Game 3 3-0 after 6:16 at a raucous Prudential Center, but stunned the
Devils by scoring four unanswered goals for their first playoff road
victory since June 1, 1996. New Jersey hadn’t yielded a three-goal lead in
the postseason since April 10, 1988. In Game 7, the Panthers erased a
two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime, but fell just shy
of becoming the second team in NHL history – and first since Montreal in
1979 – to win a Game 7 when trailing by two goals in the third period.

Blues-Sharks: St. Louis Goaltenders Shut The Door

The St. Louis goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, who
recorded 15 shutouts in the regular season to tie a modern NHL record for
one team, combined to shut out the Sharks in Game 2, marking just the third
shared shutout in playoff history. The duo teamed to capture the William
Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders on the club allowing the fewest goals
during the regular season and stayed stingy in the opening round of the
playoffs, recording the NHL's lowest cumulative goals-against average
(1.48).

Rookie Heroics

* New Jersey Devils forward Adam Henrique became the second rookie in NHL
history – and first since Montreal’s Claude Lemieux in 1986 – to score an
overtime winner in a Game 7.

* The Washington Capitals' Braden Holtby became the third rookie netminder
to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions in a playoff series. The
other two: Montreal's Ken Dryden (1971, also against Boston) and Calgary's
Mike Vernon (1986, against Edmonton). Holtby also is the seventh rookie
goaltender to post an overtime win in Game 7 of a playoff series and the
first since the Buffalo's Steve Shields defeated Ottawa in 1997.

* Rangers forward Chris Kreider skated in his first NHL game in Game 3 of
the first-round series vs. Ottawa and tallied the game-winning goal in Game
6 as New Yorks staved off elimination. Kreider, who signed with the Rangers
April 10 after winning his second NCAA title with Boston College April 7,
is the first player to win the NCAAs and make his NHL debut in that year’s
playoffs since Tony Hrkac in 1987 (University of North Dakota, St. Louis).

* Four Philadelphia Flyers rookies scored goals and combined for 15 points
in their first-round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins: Brayden Schenn
(2-4--6), Sean Couturier (3-1--4), Matt Read (2-2--4) and Erik Gustafsson
(1-0--1). Philadelphia rookies were prominent in staking the Flyers to a
3-0 series lead: Schenn had a goal and two assists in Game 1, Couturier
recorded a hat trick and added an assist in Game 2 and Read potted two
goals, including the winner, in Game 3. The only player younger than
Couturier (19 years, 128 days) to record a postseason hat trick was
Toronto's Hall of Fame center Ted 'Teeder' Kennedy (19 years, 123 days).

* Nashville forward Gabriel Bourque notched the game-winning goal in the
Predators' playoff opener and was the club's leading goal-scorer (three) in
the first-round series win over Detroit. Bourque also tied for the club
lead and for third in the League overall with a +5 rating.

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