Gopher joins Badger on Wild first line

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2011 - 12:55 AM

The Wild rushed Houston Aeros forward Jeff Taffe, the 1999 Minnesota Mr. Hockey from Hastings and former Gopher, to Los Angeles to make his Wild debut on the first line with Mikko Koivu and former Badger Dany Heatley.

LOS ANGELES - The Wild has overcome injuries to key cogs all season, but its depth is starting to really get tested now.

With Guillaume Latendresse missing his 14th game because of a concussion Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings, the Wild placed first-line winger Devin Setoguchi on injured reserve in order to call up a forward because Cal Clutterbuck unexpectedly missed his second game in four because of a leg injury.

Clutterbuck, who missed Wednesday's practice, tried to skate Thursday morning but quickly left the ice. The Wild rushed Houston Aeros forward Jeff Taffe, the 1999 Minnesota Mr. Hockey from Hastings and former Gopher, to Los Angeles to make his Wild debut on the first line with Mikko Koivu and former Badger Dany Heatley. Just 24 seconds into the game, Taffe assisted on the Wild's first goal by Koivu.

"This is the first time I've ever had a Gopher on my line," Heatley said, much to Taffe's amusement two hours before the game.

"He [Heatley] was quite a player back in the day, and obviously it transpired over his career," said Taffe, who did win one national title to Heatley's none. "When he was playing, Wisconsin always beat us."

Setoguchi will miss at least the next three games and probably longer with what the team is still calling a "lower body" injury. It's clear he has some kind of right knee injury, but coach Mike Yeo said, "I don't think it's something that's going to be real serious."

Setoguchi, who was injured on his second shift in San Jose on Tuesday, will remain with the Wild the rest of the road trip to get treatment from trainer Don Fuller twice daily.

"It's a little sore, but we'll take a couple days to ice and get treatments done and then see how it is," Setoguchi said. "You never have a set date when you're going to be back. A lot of times you come back before people say, so right now I just want to show up every day and let it get better and better.

"I don't want to get down, because then it becomes a mental problem. I just want to work hard to get back. But I don't know when I'll be ready to go."

Clutterbuck is day-to-day, and Setoguchi said he believes the Wild can continue to show the resiliency to overcome its laundry list of injuries.

"We have coaches whose philosophy it is that it does not matter who's in the lineup or who you're playing, you play the same way," Setoguchi said. "That's been the way we've been the whole year. We've battled adversity and overcome it."

Hackett starts

After stopping 34 of 34 shots in 58 minutes, 49 seconds of work in relief of injured Josh Harding on Tuesday, rookie Matt Hackett made his first NHL start against the Kings.

Niklas Backstrom, who missed the previous two games because of a groin injury, backed up Hackett.

"I think it'll be good for Back to have a couple days more of practice, and ... Hack played great last game, so let's throw him right back in there," Yeo said.

Harding (whiplash) felt better again Thursday and might be able to practice Friday in Arizona, Yeo said.

Seventh Wild Gopher

Taffe, 30, who ranks third on the Aeros with 17 points in 23 games, became the seventh former Gopher to skate with the Wild (Darby Hendrickson, Erik Westrum, Brian Bonin, Danny Irmen, Jeff Nielsen and Wyatt Smith).

Thursday was his 176th NHL game for his sixth team. Yeo coached Taffe over parts of two seasons in Pittsburgh, and assistant coach Darryl Sydor is a former teammate.

Yeo isn't sure why Taffe's never stuck in the NHL but said, "I know he's got major-league skills, the way he can skate, the way he can shoot the puck and with that, he's got a pretty good head on his shoulders as well."

Before the game, Taffe said he was nervous to play for his hometown team but looked forward to skating with Koivu and Heatley.

"Anybody would want to just give them the puck the whole time and sit back and watch, but if I do that, I won't be playing there for long," Taffe said.

Symptom free

Yeo said Latendresse and defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who has missed 11 games because of a concussion, continue to be "put to the grind" back in Minnesota from strength and conditioning coach Kirk Olson.

They are symptom free, but there's no timeframe as to when they'll return because they have to get in shape and get significant practice time. Both might practice with the Wild on Monday before the team heads to Winnipeg.

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