LOS ANGELES - Like they were back in a frat house eight years ago, Jed Ortmeyer and Eric Nystrom were hurling barbs across the visitors' dressing room at the Staples Center at record pace Thursday morning.
"He's one of the top-three best guys in the league," Ortmeyer said of his old teammate at the University of Michigan. "Just ask him."
Ortmeyer, signed in January by the Wild and especially needed now that Mikko Koivu is injured and Kyle Brodziak is sick, was a linemate of Nystrom's for two years under Red Berenson with the Wolverines. Mike Cammalleri centered that line on a team that wound up losing two years in a row in the Frozen Four to the eventual NCAA champion Gophers.
Reunited all these years later, Nystrom centered Ortmeyer and Brad Staubitz, Ortmeyer's former San Jose linemate, on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings.
Considering Ortmeyer also played with Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky in Nashville and Matt Cullen in Manhattan, the 32-year-old veteran of 307 games felt comfortable walking into the Wild room after being recalled by Houston.
"It's been a long year. It's just nice to be back in the NHL and get right into a race that's important each game," Ortmeyer said.
Nystrom was especially proud of his good friend.
"He's battled through lot of adversity and it just says a lot about his character," Nystrom said. "It's unbelievable. To be back here, it's incredible."
Ortmeyer, who has torn an ACL twice, also suffers from a blood-clotting disorder. The problem was discovered after he suffered a pulmonary embolism in 2006. He missed four months while the blood clots in his lungs dissolved. To combat the disorder, Ortmeyer gives himself at least one injection and sometimes two of blood thinner each day.
"When I'm moving and active, the blood is pumping, the muscles are pumping, so my blood is thin," he said. "But during down time, when I'm not practicing, that's when I get problems."
Because of this, any injury is a risk because of inactivity, and cuts and bruises are dangerous. Ortmeyer is an up-and-down energy player who can bang bodies and play the penalty kill.
"He's a guy [Houston Aeros coach] Mike Yeo really trusts," Wild coach Todd Richards said.
After playing last season in San Jose, Ortmeyer wasn't signed, then was released from the Islanders on a tryout. He eventually signed tryouts with San Antonio and Houston before the Wild signed him.
"It wears on you and makes it tough on the family situation because my wife's back in Omaha," Ortmeyer said. "So when you're separated, you wonder why you're doing it. But this makes it all worth it. You want to go out on your terms, and I feel I can still play."
Looking for help
With Koivu out, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher continues to look for center help. He's had a lot of communication, but Fletcher has also shown interest in some top-six wingers.
According to sources, Fletcher has talked to Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini about power forward Dustin Penner, a four-time 20-goal scorer. He's got a year left at $4.25 million, and for the Wild, which is $950,000 from the salary-cap ceiling, to make any trade for a player of that price, it would have to give up salary in a deal.
So far, Fletcher seems hesitant to trade any significant players from his lineup because of the risk of fouling up chemistry.
• Richards said he was looking for Chuck Kobasew to "stick it right up my you know what" for scratching him Tuesday against Edmonton. Kobasew entered Thursday's game with no points in 10 games this month.
"He's a guy that we put in certain situations to make plays," Richards said. "Without question, he's going to have something to prove."
Kobasew said, "I've been around long enough to not use a scratch to motivate me, but I know what I'm capable of."
• With Brodziak sick, John Madden centered Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Martin Havlat against the Kings while Cody Almond centered Cal Clutterbuck and Kobasew.
• The Wild went with six defensemen for the first time in four games, and Nate Prosser was the lone scratch.