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.


Golden State 99 FINAL
Cleveland 110
Oklahoma City 113 FINAL
Phoenix 117
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Arizona 3 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Montreal 5 FINAL
Columbus 2
Philadelphia 2 FINAL
Toronto 3
Chicago 3 FINAL
Florida 0
St. Louis 2 FINAL(SO)
Winnipeg 1
Minnesota 4 FINAL
Nashville 2
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 0
Detroit 3 FINAL
San Jose 2
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Kennesaw St 53
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Winthrop 50 FINAL
Campbell 65
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Elon 72
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Fair-Dickinson 85
Western Carolina 49 FINAL
Furman 53
Char Southern 81 FINAL
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Nebraska Omaha 73 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 67
Radford 69 FINAL
Liberty 80
St Francis-NY 74 FINAL
Long Island 69
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Mercer 72
Minnesota 96 FINAL
Michigan State 90
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UNC-Asheville 71
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UNC Greensboro 81
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St Francis-PA 63
Houston 54 FINAL
Temple 66
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Charlotte 65 FINAL
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UT Martin 69 FINAL
Tennessee St 52
Fla Atlantic 68 FINAL
Western Ky 71
Northern Ariz 85 FINAL
North Dakota 75
Grand Canyon 70 FINAL
Chicago State 74
Utah Valley U 50 FINAL
South Alabama 57
Texas-Arlington 80 FINAL
Arkansas State 81
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Ark-Little Rock 92
Troy 61 FINAL
Texas State 67
Arizona 82 FINAL
Colorado 54
Memphis 57
Tenn Tech 73 FINAL
Morehead State 86
Rutgers 85 FINAL
Purdue 92
Southern Utah 67 FINAL
Northern Colorado 77
Montana State 68 FINAL
Eastern Wash 92
UC Davis 60 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 74
UC Irvine 63 FINAL
Cal Poly 56
Cal State Fullerton 72 FINAL
CS-Northridge 82
Montana 87 FINAL
Idaho 92
Portland 69
Pacific 64 FINAL
Santa Clara 57
Arizona State 41 FINAL
Utah 83
San Diego 39 FINAL
Gonzaga 59
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San Francisco 53
Oregon State 48 FINAL
Stanford 75
Long Beach State 59 FINAL
Hawaii 78
Rice 68 FINAL
Old Dominion 83
Manhattan 67 FINAL
Monmouth 84
Georgia Southern 39 FINAL
Appalachian St 66
Marshall 74 FINAL
FIU 50
TX-Arlington 62 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
South Alabama 38
Troy 75 FINAL
Texas State 59
Georgia State 39 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 56
William & Mary 84 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 55
Delaware 68 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Maine 61
UMass Lowell 72 FINAL
Vermont 64
Albany 65 FINAL
Hartford 50
Stony Brook 68 FINAL
Binghamton 59
Boston College 60 FINAL
(8) Louisville 77
(23) Syracuse 60 FINAL
Clemson 55
(16) Duke 62 FINAL
Georgia Tech 71
Florida 53 FINAL
Alabama 49
NC State 52 FINAL
(9) Florida State 72
Miami-Florida 59 FINAL
Wake Forest 60
Ole Miss 58
(11) Miss State 50 FINAL
(2) South Carolina 69
Fairfield 74 FINAL
Iona 62
Marist 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 66
Quinnipiac 91 FINAL
Rider 53
Virginia 70 FINAL
(15) North Carolina 72
Pittsburgh 59 FINAL
(4) Notre Dame 87
Ohio State 88 FINAL
Penn State 70
Massachusetts 60 FINAL
Dayton 69
(22) George Washington 81 FINAL
Richmond 69
Saint Louis 53 FINAL
Rhode Island 68
Wright State 74 FINAL
Detroit 59
Green Bay 70 FINAL
Oakland 55
Western Ky 85 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 74
Indiana 72 FINAL
(5) Maryland 83
North Texas 46 FINAL
Charlotte 71
Central Arkansas 64 FINAL
Sam Houston St 56
SE Louisiana 60 FINAL
Northwestern St 71
Nicholls 63 FINAL
New Orleans 68
Incarnate Word 44 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 58
Denver 68 FINAL
No Dakota State 87
IUPU-Ft Wayne 61 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 70
South Dakota 69
Lamar 77 FINAL
McNeese State 98
Western Ill 49 FINAL
South Dakota St 69
Missouri 70 FINAL
(12) Texas A&M 69
(13) Kentucky 56 FINAL
Arkansas 51
(20) Rutgers 60 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 80
Southern Miss 61 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 59
Wisconsin 74 FINAL
(17) Iowa 78
North Dakota 68 FINAL
Northern Ariz 72
Northern Colorado 88 FINAL
Southern Utah 66
Louisiana Tech 0 Postponed
Texas-El Paso 0
Eastern Washington 53 FINAL
Montana State 63
Idaho 68 FINAL
Montana 81
Auburn 70 FINAL
Vanderbilt 58
(6) Tennessee 70 FINAL
Georgia 59
Gonzaga 62 FINAL
San Diego 75
Washington 60
Portland 63 FINAL
BYU 65
(24) California 74 FINAL
Oregon 59
(19) Stanford 69 FINAL
(7) Oregon State 58
Chicago State 49 FINAL
Grand Canyon 73
Utah Valley U 61
San Francisco 65 FINAL
St Marys-CA 62
Washington St 69
Santa Clara 75 FINAL
Pacific 87
CS-Northridge 65 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 53
UC Santa Barbara 47 FINAL
Cal-Irvine 57
Hawaii 47 FINAL
Long Beach St 46
Cal Poly 68 FINAL
UC Davis 50
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