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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Good early evening from high above the X ice, where Breck's about to face Mahtomedi (had to look up the spelling) in a Schwan Cup Final. I'll be attending the Minnetonka-Edina game at 8:30, although technically I'm attending this one, too.
But I'll actually leave my press box perch for the Tonka game. Right now, I'm working. I'm sitting next to Rachel Blount, who's busy writing a Jacques Lemaire column for Saturday's Star Tribune. I'm about to write a story on the U.S. Olympic team. Eight players with Minnesota ties made the team, including New Jersey Devils Zach Parise, Jamie LaNgenbrunner and injured Paul Martin. It'll be a changing of the guards, and I talked to three-time Olympian Brian Rolston about that for Saturday's article.
First things first, Lemaire held Devils practice in Mendota Heights this afternoon, and afterward came back to the X with the Devils to change back into his street clothes. Lemaire got misty-eyed a bit about his return, and when I pointed that out to him, he actually had to walk off with his eyes clearly welled. Lemaire's always a class act, and it was a pleasure covering him.
I've covered a ton of coaches in this league (I covered Florida), and no offense to the others, but I learned the most about the sport from Lemaire. Our working relationship took awhile to develop as he clearly tried to feel me out at the start and didn't always appreciate my interrogations and second-guessing, but there was a lot of mutual respect by the end. Lemaire's got all the time in the world for people who 1) know the game; and 2) have a passion for the game.
And as a quote, nobody was better. Just a funny, funny quote.
In fact, it was pure genius. If he didn't want to answer a question sometimes, he'd throw out a quip, get everybody howling and next thing you know, we usually forgot what we even asked him.
Obviously, things ran its course, and it was time for both sides to separate. Last year was a tough one for Lemaire. As I've reported, he had a very fractured relationship with ex-GM Doug Risebrough the last three months. Lemaire got wind that the Wild seriously considered firing him last December/January, something that never came into fruition for a few reasons. Risebrough did get very involved in Lemaire's decision to keep Brent Burns at forward, and ultimately "persuaded" the switch back to defense. Risebrough also needed to intervene in the relationship problem between Lemaire and young James Sheppard.
Here's some Lemaire from today, but check out Rachel's column in the morning:
It’s a little different. I never quite see that room in the past, but now I know. It’s a lot of chance. It was nice when we flew in there. At the start of the season, you start to think about your own team and you try not to forget, but you put aside the past. You have to go on with your life. But we land at 1 a.m., and I start to remember a lot of things. I lived not too far from the airport when I was here, and I started to get a lot of memories.
As for the U.S. Olympic roster:
Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings), Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins)
Erik Johnson (St Louis Blues), Jack Johnson (Los Angeles Kings), Mike Komisarek (Toronto Maple Leafs), Paul Martin (New Jersey Devils), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh Penguins), Brian Rafalski (Detroit Red Wings), Ryan Suter (Nashville Predators)
David Backes (St. Louis Blues), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings), Ryan Callahan (New York Rangers), Chris Drury (New York Rangers), Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks), Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs), Jamie Langenbrunner (New Jersey Devils), Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay Lightning), Zack Parise (New Jersey Devils), Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks), Bobby Ryan (Anaheim Ducks), Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche).
Langebrunner, who hails from Cloquet, had his name misspelled on the back of a kid's jersey at the announcement: "Too many letters."
Langenbrunner played in the 1998 game as a replacement, but he said this is a lot different because he was actually chosen.
"It’s a great honor anytime you get the chance to play for your country, especially now with our country at war," he said. "Going back to the orientation camp in August, we were fortunate to have four or five Army Ranger, Navy Seal guys there and got to hear their stories. It was a pretty amazing experience listening to those guys, what they’ve been through and what they’re still going through. Their dedication, they keep going back and getting shot and going back for more. It was pretty inspiring."
Parise was also excited, and Rolston and Lemaire were great talking about the former Shattuck star and son of former North Star J.P. Parise: "It’s something that I've really been working for and wanting to do for awhile."
Parise: "I don’t know what the average age is, but it’s a pretty young team. I guess you can kind of say it is the new generation."
Parise vs. Brodeur in Olympic shootout: "I got some moves that I know have worked on him before, so we’ll hopefully keep him guessing."
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