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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Hitting up Gophers practice; NHL lockout smatterings

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: October 1, 2012 - 5:15 PM

Since I’m a locked-out NHL writer so to speak, I headed down to Mariucci Arena this afternoon to watch the Gophers practice.

I was just getting the lay of the land because Gophers hockey beat writer Roman Augustovitz is occupied as the Lynx scribe. 
 
It was the first college practice I’ve ever seen, and Gophers coach Don Lucia put the team through a brisk, up-tempo session before a captain’s practice. Here's the puck that nearly hit me!
 
 
These guys work hard.
 
On one end of the rink, Mike Guentzel worked with the defensemen, while on the other, Lucia and assistant Grant Potulny put the forwards through an incredibly physical, high-tempo battle practice.
 
The nets are put behind the goal line along the wall, each about 15 feet from the corners. The forwards then rotate through a physical 2-on-2 game that promotes battling and in-tight stick-handling and play making vs. the 2 goalies, who Justin Johnson works with.
 
It’s as fun a game of shinny and more intense than most I’ve ever watched.
 
Like I said, I’ll be around the Gophers while Roman’s got the Lynx and probably will help him at times throughout the NHL lockout, which could be endless.
 
The NHL and NHLPA met for three days this past weekend, but they didn’t discuss any of the issues that could possibly end the lockout. The sides plan to meet again Tuesday to discuss the definition of hockey-related revenue.
 
Again though, while that’s a critical point, that won’t end the lockout. What will is deciding the share of revenue and whether players need to take immediate paycuts.
 
So by mid-week at the latest (my guess), the NHL will announce the delay to the start of the regular season. I’m not sure how the wording will go, but I don’t think it will say the start of the season is “canceled.” I’m told the NHL’s objective would still be to have a revamped 82-game schedule for each team if a collective bargaining agreement can somehow be finalized by mid-to-late October.
 
That could be accomplished by condensing the schedule with an extra game a week and pushing the end of the regular season into late April.
 
As for the highly-touted Gophers, they were tied with defending NCAA champ Boston College for first in last week’s USA Today poll and were ranked second behind Boston College in today’s USCHO.com poll.
 
Below is their new scoreboard, by the way, and today the video board that goes around the circumference of Mariucci was installed.
 
 
They return seven of their top-9 scorers last year, including leading scorer Erik Haula, the Wild’s prospect, Panthers prospects Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, and captain Zach Budish, the Predators’ prospect.
 
On the back end, six defensemen return, including PP quarterback Nate Schmidt, and the incoming freshman class includes Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei. Michael Shibrowski starts off as the No. 1 goalie with freshman goalie Adam Wilcox pushing from behind.
 
I sat down today with Bjugstad for a real good interview, and chatted with Rau and the coaches, too.
 
Media Day is Wednesday, so the Gophers’ men’s hockey team will be creeping into the newspaper in a few days.
 
In other news, locked-out players continue to skate in St. Louis Park. It has been reported in Finland that Mikko Koivu’s deal with Turku, the team he owns a piece of, is finalized, and now it’s just up to him if or when he will return to Finland.
 
The players were scheduled to have an afternoon conference call with the NHLPA to get a bargaining update. But soon, players will really start to depart if negotiations continue to go nowhere. As I reported last week, Zach Parise has an offer in Switzerland, and that’s his likely eventual destination.
 

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