Wild rookie goalie Kuemper is learning on the fly

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2013 - 12:25 AM

Kuemper, a former Canadian Hockey League Goalie of the Year, has spent 20 games with the Wild this season. In five appearances, he is 1-2 with a 1.98 goals-against average

 

Just imagine it’s trade-deadline day and you’re told to pack your bag and hustle to the Houston airport, but, “We’re not sure if you’re flying anywhere yet, so hang out there and don’t check in. We’ll call you back.”

That’s what happened to Darcy Kuemper last Wednesday. Aeros teammates thought he was being traded. Kuemper wasn’t sure.

“It was in the back of my mind,” the Wild goalie said. “I wasn’t sure what was happening. They said [Wild players] weren’t feeling well, but on the trade deadline, your mind’s always kind of racing, so I didn’t know what was going on.”

Finally, Kuemper got a call to get on a flight to San Francisco for that night’s game against San Jose. Just before he boarded, Kuemper saw on Twitter that roommate and pal Matt Hackett was traded to Buffalo as part of the Jason Pominville deal.

Hackett is 23. Kuemper is turning 23. The goalie prospects both were selected in the 2009 draft. At some point, it was obvious the Wild would have to trade one, especially with Johan Gustafsson expected to start his North American pro career next season.

“Every time I’m around here or down in Houston, I try to prove to them that I can be that [goalie of the future],” Kuemper said. “The fact they were willing to move Hack gives me confidence and shows they believe in me, but it makes me want to work that much harder.”

Kuemper, a former Canadian Hockey League Goalie of the Year, has spent 20 games with the Wild this season. In five appearances, he is 1-2 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He soaks in everything veteran Niklas Backstrom has to offer.

“He’s been around for a long time and been consistently one of the best in the league,” Kuemper said. “His approach to every single game and practice is the same regardless of how many he’s playing in a row or how many wins in a row. He’s a true professional. It’s awesome just watching his preparation.”

When they talk, it’s after games or on practice days.

“I leave him alone on game days. I do my best to stay out of his way,” Kuemper said, laughing, referring to how Backstrom is known to prepare by himself in regimented, silent fashion.

Asked if he had yet seen Backstrom’s turtle walk, where he trots around the bowels of arenas in almost slow motion before every start, Kuemper said, smiling, “I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t seen it.”

Staying in shape

Speaking of preparation, rookie Charlie Coyle isn’t only a rink rat, he’s a gym rat. His pregame prep and postgame cooldowns are impressive when one considers he is 21.

Before games, he stretches by himself. After practices and games, Coyle spends time on the carpet doing “static stretching,” something he started as a kid.

“This is what I want to do for my career, so why wouldn’t you try to be in the best shape possible and try to prevent injuries?” Coyle said.

Often Coyle is joined by rookies Kuemper, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin and, when in Minnesota, Jason Zucker.

“They’re pretty mature, these kids. They’re pretty grounded and focused,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Cullen ‘getting there’

Veteran center Matt Cullen missed his fourth consecutive game because of a lower body injury but Yeo said, “He’s getting there.”

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