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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Fun night of hockey as Army rallies; Ryan Suter's second thoughts about Craig Leipold comments

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: October 28, 2012 - 9:37 PM

Real fun night of hockey here at Mariucci Arena, where 30 locked-out NHLers put on a show for 3,000 hockey-starved fans.

“It’s like back to your old shinny days in the outdoors," Wild defenseman Justin Falk said. "Fun, … and competitive, because guys are getting the itch to play.”

Army, who got a tongue-lashing by KARE-11's Dave Schwartz (I may be exaggerating) after trailing 3-1 in the first intermission, rallied for a 9-7 win over the Air Force, coached by KARE-11's Rena Sarigianopoulos.

Former Wild great Wes Walz and his former linemate Stephane Veilleux each scored two goals, including once each in the shootout to lift the Army. Cal Clutterbuck scored twice, Matt Kassian, Erik Johnson and Ryan Suter once. Kassian's goal was silky smooth breakaway goal, and it came on his birthday.

For the Air Force, Blake Wheeler was awesome with a goal and three assists. His fellow former Gopher Kyle Okposo had a hat trick for "a nice little homecoming." Ryan Carter, Matt Hendricks and Jimmy O'Brien each scored.

In all, the locked-out NHLers raised in Defending the Blue Line Founder Shane Hudella's guesstimation probably $50,000 for the non-profit organization.

"I think the guys can sympathize how much this lockout is affecting an organization like ours," Hudella said.

Just a real cool cause. Jack Jablonski dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. Military kids met each player at their car and carried their bags to the locker room.

Wild goalie Niklas  Backstrom, who hopefully we see in a Wild sweater someday again, played two periods. He was on the winning end and decided not to attempt a penalty shot like he did in Friday’s “Champs for Charity” game in Chicago because “I want to keep it 1 for 1. I like the sound of that.”

In full pads, Backstrom beat Craig Anderson with a suave shot under the crossbar.
 
“I was concerned they were going to have a time limit,” Backstrom said, laughing. I didn’t even know what to do. Got lucky."
 
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr was supposed to be at the game, but his plans had to change because of the storm on the east coast. He is still going to try to come to town Monday to meet with the Minnesota-based players, but by the sounds of the storm, that could be a longshot.
 
On www.startribune.com/wild on Monday, my story from the paper will appear. There are some lockout quotes in there was Backstrom, Okposo and Zach Parise, who originally came up with the idea of this charity game. By the way, Parise said his last game on the Mariucci ice came with the Fighting Sioux, "and we probably won."

-----------------------

Two days ago at the "Champs for Charity" game in Chicago, Ryan Suter talked with Craig Custance from ESPN the Magazine and took some swipes at the owners, including Wild owner Craig Leipold.

The story can be found at this link.

In the story, Suter questioned whether Leipold negotiated the 13-year, $98 million contracts given to him and Zach Parise in good faith (in other words, knowing that the NHL would be asking for a rollback in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Suter said in Custance's story: "It's disappointing. If you can't afford to (sign contracts) then you shouldn't do it. (Leipold) signed us to contracts. At the time he said everything was fine. Yeah, it's disappointing. A couple months before, everything is fine, and now they want to take money out of our contracts that we already signed."

Tonight, prior to the Defending the Blue Line charity game here at Mariucci, I interviewed Suter. He said after thinking about the things he said, he wanted to make clear he doesn't think Leipold negotiated the contracts in bad faith and that he's just frustrated because he wants to be playing.

Here's a piece of the interview:

“I thought a lot about since what I said, I don’t question Craig Leipold and Minnesota with regards to negotiating our contracts in good faith. I don’t question that. That might have came off wrong. I don’t question that. It’s just frustrating. We just want to play. We support Don in what he’s doing. Obviously you sign a contract, and you want to hold true to that. I think, and I hope, everything works out.” 

Do you feel that in the back of Leipold’s mind, he figured you’d take a haircut: “No, I honestly don’t feel that. It’s easy to think that or it might come off like that, but honestly, I know they’re good people. And I know they wouldn’t negotiate thinking, ‘OK, let’s give them this because it’ll end up being this.’ Because that’s not the kind of the people they are. So that came off wrong [in Suter’s original comments to ESPN the Magazine].”
 
Because the counter to this is you and Zach received lockout-protected $10 million signing bonuses for a reason. You had to know there was a risk of a lockout? “Yeah. Yeah. There definitely was. Whenever the CBA’s up, after last time what happened, we wanted to protect ourselves, so yeah, there was risk. We both knew that. Just moving forward, I don’t want to get into a battle about that. I don’t want to be a posterboy. I’m just trying to be honest with you. I don’t question Craig. I don’t feel like it was negotiated unfaithfully or untruthfully.”
 
Do you look at this as business. Do you think at the end of the day, you – actually all players – when this lockout ends will just be able to go back into the locker rooms, let bygones be bygones and not let there be bad blood or mistrust with the owners? “Yeah. The main thing is we just love playing hockey, so we’re frustrated right now. I don’t see it being a problem once this is over. Don is doing a great job for the players and we stand behind him. They’re negotiating and we’re sitting back waiting for it to get done so we can play.”

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