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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Matt Cullen returns for Wild's critical game in Calgary; Ben Hanowski to make NHL debut

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 15, 2013 - 1:32 PM

The Wild has seven games left, is seventh in the West, is tied in points (47) with 8th-place Detroit and two points up on Dallas and Columbus, which both play tonight at Chicago and Colorado, respectively.

Strength of schedule the rest of the way favors the Wild over the teams it is battling with, but that means nothing if the Wild, 2-6-1 in its past nine, doesn't start winning some games.

The Wild is 1-5-1 in April, has scored eight goals in those seven games and allowed 16 goals.

This is the first of two games in a row at Calgary and Edmonton. Winnable games, but the Wild better not take them for granted.

The Flames, without Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, are a young, hungry team embracing the role of spoiler. Every night they have been going out playing hard with players trying to make a good impression on GM Jay Feaster and coach Bob Hartley.

The Oilers just got booed off home ice and fired their GM, Steve Tambellini, this morning, so the Wild better anticipate an inspired group of young Oilers on Tuesday.

It's time for some players on the Wild to step up, whether it's a Niklas Backstrom stealing a game or a Mikko Koivu (no points in seven games with the team slipping down the standings) captaining the team to a win or a slumping player like Zach Parise (0 goals, 3 assists, -4 in April) or Devin Setoguchi (one goal in the past 12 games) or Cal Clutterbuck (no goals in 14 games, one in 24) or Kyle Brodziak (no goals, one assist, minus-5 in 10 games) scoring a big goal.

One thing that should help is the return of veteran Matt Cullen, who feels "young and fresh." That return will happen tonight in the front end of the back-to-back in Calgary.

Cullen should add some speed and energy, help a guy like Setoguchi and make it more difficult to solely check and worry about that Koivu line, coach Mike Yeo said. The Wild was 1-4-1 without the former St. Cloud State stud.

Cullen will hop right back between Jason Zucker and Setoguchi.

"The way that they were playing, we would obviously like to see them get back to that level very quickly," Yeo said. "I also think just mentally, the confidence that adds to the group. It's a welcome addition and important part of our team."

Mikael Granlund will be scratched. Same blue line, meaning Justin Falk and Nate Prosser are scratched. Yeo wouldn't say if he's considering starting Darcy Kuemper in Edmonton.

Cullen has been given medical clearance and said he's very happy how his injury felt this morning. It is clear though that if the Wild wasn't in such a desperate situation, he would remain sidelined. He is rushing back because of the circumstance of the team.

"It's been awfully tough watching and it will be nice to get back in the fight with the guys," Cullen said. "It responded as well as I had hoped, so good enough to go here. ... If there's a side benefit to it, it's a pretty good stretch of rest to be rejuvenated here. ... We've gone through a tough stretch of games. We have seven left here and we have to win a bunch."

Said Parise: "He was playing so well before he got hurt. Really, that line with him and Setoguchi was playing unreal before he got hurt. That was a big part of us winning games and scoring a lot of goals, so for us to be getting him back, it'll be big for those guys that he's playing with and it'll be big for our team."

Parise and Koivu will play with Charlie Coyle. Yeo quipped, "We hope to have him for more than about 15 seconds tonight," referring to the major and game misconduct that he received vs. Columbus 17 seconds in Saturday.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard again skates with Brodziak and Jason Pominville, while Mike Rupp skates with Torrey Mitchell and Clutterbuck.

Speaking of now-former Huskies, one of the Flames looking to make a good impression tonight is Little Falls' Ben Hanowski, fresh off his Frozen Four appearance with St. Cloud State.

Hanowski, who will wear No. 58 and is still full of long hair for the Huskies' Locks of Love charitable endeavor, will make his NHL debut against his favorite team growing up, the Wild. He arrived yesterday.

Hanowski, acquired in last month's trade for Calgary Flames icon Jarome Iginla, said that debuting against Minnesota adds a "cherry on top."

He said the last few days has been exciting and hectic, but "I'm excited to be here and excited for this opportunity. I'm getting thrown right in there, and it'll be fun. Growing up, you always dream of playing a game in the NHL. ... I enjoyed my four years at St. Cloud, but I'm excited to start my new journey."

Hanowski, by the way, will have to skip his financial institutions and insurance exams today and tomorrow at St. Cloud. He's a bit busy right now. But he says his professors have been great and are going to let him make up for all the missed classes this summer.

I'll have a lot more from Hanowski in tomorrow's newspaper. He didn't know which teammates he'd line up with tonight and still hadn't met with the coaches to discuss systems and roles. So this has been a whirlwind to say the least for the kid.

In other Wild news, the Wild has assigned defenseman Matt Dumba from Red Deer to the Houston Aeros. This is not technically an amateur tryout (ATO) because he is under contract.

Also, as previously reported too, Josh Harding's conditioning stint in Houston can be six days and three games. He leaves today for Houston and begin work on the ice tomorrow. He will likely play two games this weekend. The Aeros' final three regular season games are Friday at Texas, Saturday at San Antonio and Sunday at Oklahoma City. GM Chuck Fletcher indicated the plan is Friday and Saturday.

Tonight's game is on FSN-PLUS, so please put that in your memory banks because I'll be ignoring the incessant Twitter question, "Is the game on TV?" tonight.

I will be on during Wild Live at 7:30 p.m. CT and the first intermission tonight.


San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 8 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: E. Volquez 0
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington 1 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Carolina 3 FINAL
Columbus 6
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL
Detroit 0
Montreal 3 FINAL
Chicago 1
Arizona 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 10/10/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa 10/11/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
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