GLENDALE, ARIZ. - Tyler Cuma's long-awaited NHL debut ... will have to wait.
The 2008 first-round pick went from nervous excitement to sheer disappointment Thursday when his chance to make his NHL debut at Phoenix was thwarted by missing a plane.
After playing with the Houston Aeros in Abbotsford, British Columbia, on Wednesday night, Cuma flew from Vancouver to Houston on Thursday morning. But in Arizona, defenseman Jared Spurgeon woke up in the wee hours of the morning with the flu.
So when Cuma landed in Houston shortly before 2 p.m., he got the call to get his gear from the United baggage claim and rush to US Airways for a 3 p.m. flight to Phoenix.
"I never made it to check-in," Cuma said. "It just wasn't enough time to get from A to B. Tough luck, really."
Cuma, 22, was drafted 23rd overall in 2008. He has watched 2008 second-round pick Marco Scandella skyrocket by him up the depth chart because of an exorbitant number of injuries. Three of them were to his left knee -- the last coming during the Aeros' game against Peoria at Xcel Energy Center a year ago when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
"I know the last couple of years I've been pretty much written off with all the injuries that I've had, but I've been really pleased this year," Cuma said. "I've gotten a lot of opportunity to play and my knee hasn't hurt whatsoever. I've been happy the way I've been playing lately.
"To finally get called up, unfortunately I wasn't able to make it, but it gives me confidence that my game is where it needs to be. Hopefully I'll get a game or two up there soon."
One defenseman short of a ...
With Cuma unable to make it and Spurgeon sick, the Wild played one defenseman short against the Coyotes after Clayton Stoner wasn't ready to return from a hip injury. Stoner tried to skate in warmups but didn't look comfortable. Coach Mike Yeo said earlier in the day he preferred to play short than risk Stoner's health.
Stoner tore the muscle right off the bone during a fight with Colorado's Cody McLeod.
"Painful," Stoner said.
Since playing at Phoenix on Dec. 10, the Wild is 9-22-7. Only six players who dressed for that game played Thursday -- Scandella, Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson.
Injured or sick from that game were Spurgeon, Stoner, Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mike Lundin. Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon and Casey Wellman have been traded. Colton Gillies and Brad Staubitz were claimed off waivers and Jeff Taffe and Cody Almond are in the minors.
Yeo said this season's downfall has been the "biggest challenge" of his coaching career.
"The one thing I know about coaching is some of the toughest years ... are the years that you grow the most and you learn the most. When we were on that [17 wins in 21 games] run, I pretty much got out of the way and let them go, and now every day is a new challenge.
"You learn things good and bad about yourself and your group as well."
• Cal Clutterbuck, who isn't feeling well, missed his second consecutive game.
• Assistant coach Darryl Sydor missed Thursday's game for personal reasons. He returned to Minnesota before the team, and assistant Darby Hendrickson replaced him on the bench.
• Cuma would have been the Wild's league-high 45th player to dress this season. The NHL record is 55 set by the 1991-92 Boston Bruins.