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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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

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

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

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.

Mikko Koivu, All-Star: "It's about time"; Backstrom sick

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 12, 2012 - 1:26 PM



Seven seasons into his NHL career, Mikko Koivu is finally an All-Star.

"It's about time," said former linemate and present Chicago Blackhawk Andrew Brunette. "I’d put him against anybody head-to-head and you’re going to come up with the better end of the stick."

After arguably being snubbed last season, the Wild captain and one of the NHL’s most underrated players was named to the All-Star Game on Thursday morning.

Koivu called it a big honor, but if you know Koivu, he rarely likes talking individually. So I asked him if he’ll be able to enjoy this.

“When it’s time for that,” Koivu said. “I don’t think right now. We’re in the middle of a road trip and it’s a game day and a tough stretch coming up for us. When the time comes, you’re able to enjoy it and probably even more realize what’s happening. Right now, of course, you’re happy about it, but at the same time you want to focus on the game and road trip.”

All-Star Weekend will take place at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Jan. 28-29. The NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft will be held on Jan. 26 to divide the group into the two competing All-Star Teams, each comprised of 12 forwards, six defensemen and three goaltenders, to play in the Jan. 29 game.

Koivu, who has led the Wild in scoring in each of the past three seasons, leads the Wild again this season with 33 points in 39 games. A potential Selke Trophy candidate for best defensive forward, he leads the NHL’s second-worst offensive team with a plus-9 rating.

GM Chuck Fletcher talked about how he hopes this is the type of recognition that will make folks leaguewide realize how good Koivu is. He hopes this is the type of recognition that makes writers realize he warrants Selke votes.

“I’m stunned he doesn’t get more recognition,” Fletcher said. “He’s only concerned about winning games and individual stuff is not what drives him. I personally feel for our franchise it’s important that he gets more recognition and today’s a great first step in that direction.”

Fletcher mentioned how you realize his value when Koivu’s not in the lineup.

Koivu is the Wild’s second all-time leading scorer with 350 points in 472 games. He ranks first on the all-time list with 245 assists, third with 105 goals, second with 79 multi-point games, second with nine shorthanded goals and second with 1,169 shots.

His 26 shootout goals rank sixth in NHL history – three behind leader Jussi Jokinen.


Coach Mike Yeo on Koivu: “He truly deserves it. For all our ups and downs, we’re still in a pretty good spot, and we’ve had some success this year. And you have to look at him and what he contributes to this team – the leadership that he brings, the will to win that he plays with everyday, how good he is on both sides of the puck. …”


Despite yesterday's illness, Josh Harding has earned his second consecutive start. In Niklas Backstrom's past six starts, he is 1-5 with an .890 save percentage and 3.54 goals against average, but as it turns out, now Backstrom's sick.


Backstrom did share a net this morning with Matt Hackett, but Hackett will back up Harding.


Colton Gillies (lower body) won't play.


Yeo expects a big response game from Devin Setoguchi, who was scratched last game for missing a team meeting.

“I think he’s going to play hard tonight. I do. For one, I think our team set the bar pretty high last game. … I always like accountability, and I always like even more than that, if you mess up, you come back and respond.”


Speaking of Setoguchi, in the middle of my postgame blog last game where I reported that he missed a team meeting, I flippantly threw out there that it came after he went out with his former Sharks teammates the night before.

I should not have thrown something like that out there. It created an assumption by some that Setoguchi missed the team meeting Tuesday morning because of that. That was unfair to Setoguchi, who maintains he missed his alarm and overslept. I didn't mean to create the perception that Setoguchi missed the meeting because he was out with his friends. Again, he maintains it was an honest mistake, one that happens to us all.

Undermanned Wild faces big challenge against Red Wings

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 3, 2011 - 2:52 PM

When I noted that Pavel Datsyuk looks to be returning today against the Wild, coach Todd Richards said sarcastically, "Datsyuk's playing? Beautiful. Makes it even better."

The Wild's up against it tonight with veteran defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz hurt and veteran forwards John Madden and Martin Havlat back in Minnesota as well. The Red Wings look to be completely healthy, with Mike Modano apparently being taken out for Datsyuk.

Rookie center Carson McMillan will make his NHL debut on a line with Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz and Colton Gillies will play the left side of Matt Cullen and Chuck Kobasew. Mikko Koivu lines stays intact, as well as the Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck line.

Rookies Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon will be a tandem again and rookies Justin Falk and Maxim Noreau will be a tandem.

Richards will be looking for a much, much better game from veteran Brent Burns, who struggled yesterday against Tampa Bay, because today will be a much faster pace for the rookies to handle.

"It’ll be a good test for a lot of guys," Richards said. "You get a feel of, ‘Can guys play at this level in a game like this.’ It’s no disrespect to Tampa. They’ve figured out a way to win and a way to play that allows them to be successful. But we’re going to go against a Detroit team that is free-wheeling and very skilled. They play fast. The reason why they’re able to play fast is because they can handle the puck.
"It’s a challenge. There’s motivation already coming in to play against Detroit in Detroit. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. This team is capable of embarrassing you if you’re not ready. And they were just embarrassed at home by St. Louis (10-3). I’m sure we’re going to get close to their best effort tonight."
Jose Theodore, who won here in November, gets the start.
Richards said Havlat's injury is upper body and he didn't have an update on whether he'll be back. He thinks John Madden (lower) will be back.
Anyway, this should be interesting. You know like usual in Detroit, the Wild will be outshot like 45 or 50-20. It's just a matter if they steal one because Theodore's awesome, lose 2-1, 3-1 or something because Theodore's awesome or get blown off the face of the Earth. We will see soon.

McMillan, Gillies latest "kids" to be called up for injury-plagued Wild; Madden, Havlat hurt

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 2, 2011 - 10:32 PM

Update: Colton Gillies joins Carson McMillan as a callup for Sunday's game at Detroit.



I'm at the Swarm game!

Remember all that stuff I wrote about how the Wild shouldn't bring up the kids because the Houston Aeros could be on the verge of something special?

Forget all that.

The Wild's got no choice now that its own players are dropping like flies.

For the first time, the Wild had to use four rookie defensemen tonight with Cam Barker still out with a back injury, Nick Schultz done for the season with post-concussion syndrome (see below blog) and Marek Zidlicky out with a groin/hamstring injury.

Maxim Noreau, long wanting to prove he can play in the NHL, will get his shot now. He looked good in a 3-1 loss to Tampa. Justin Falk was also recalled, and the other rookies were Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner.

We'll see how they handle a faster pace in Detroit Sunday against guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Holmstrom, Franzen, Cleary, Bertuzzi, etc.

Then, in the first period, center John Madden sustained a lower-body injury, and now 2007 seventh-round pick Carson McMillan will get to make his NHL debut at the Red Wings. Talk about an NHL initiation.

Here's the only story I've written about Carson McMillan from a few years back.

Then, Martin Havlat didn't make the trip either to Detroit, so they'll have to call up ANOTHER forward. Whichever forward gets the honor of joining the Mighty Minny Wild will be playing in fourth game in four days.

If the Wild's not careful, it'll destroy the Aeros, too.

Not sure what's wrong with Havlat right now, but he was rocked by Mattias Ohlund coming across the blue line in today's game. He did stay in the game and didn't leave for the 15-minute window if the team suspects a head injury.

As for the game, the Wild competed, outshot the more talented Lightning 30-23 but basically got caught on three goals against. Plus, Dwayne Roloson was awesome with 29 saves.

The first goal Brent Burns collided with Roloson after Roli made a great save on Burns' pinch. But the Wild got caught with four deep, Burns couldn't get back and Pierre-Marc Bouchard's coverage on the backcheck was not good.

The second goal, Burns didn't make the play in front of the net, but it came after a weak Chuck Kobasew battle behind the net with Steve Downie.

Then, a 2-1 game, Wild's right there, and Burns loses his marbles for a sec and tries to dive to save the offensive blue line. Not only doesn't he stop the puck, but Mikko Koivu falls over him. 2-on-1, and goal. 3-1. Game over.

As coach Todd Richards said after the game, Burns' negatives tonight outweighed his positives, and frankly, it's been that way most the second half. I just think his future is in his head right now.

As much as a Marco Scandella-Brent Burns tandem for the next several years excites some, it's plays like this that make me think Burns will get shopped and maybe traded this summer.

The Wild's got to figure out a way to make some significant changes this summer, and it's not going to come via free agency and it's not only going to come with a coaching change and it's not going to come by just praying Mikael Granlund and Johan Larsson are ready for the NHL.

They're 19 years old, and considering how much time Granlund's missed this year and how little experience Larsson even has on the big team in Sweden, who knows if they're even here, let alone good enough to make an impact.

The Wild just don't have a ton of assets to move to make something significant happen. Except for one.

So GM Chuck Fletcher is going to have to get creative this summer, and one way may be dealing Burns. I just can't imagine right now the Wild's going to be willing to throw a long-term deal worth $5 million plus at Burns right now.

That's a pretty big risk for a team that's margin for mistakes right now is at zero.

That's it for me. I've got to go to Detroit because I've lost my marbles, too.



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