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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Hanging with Ed Hochuli, and a lot of Wild-Sabres updates

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: October 14, 2013 - 12:27 PM

The Wild opens a four-game road trip tonight against Thomas Vanek and the Buffalo Sabres.

Good day from Buffalo, where the Sabres and Wild skated this morning in preparation for tonight's tilt.

Josh Harding vs. Jhonas Enroth, as the Sabres will save No. 1 Ryan Miller to start vs. the Islanders in a conference-conference game tomorrow. Darcy Kuemper as expected has been recalled and will back up tonight after playing for Iowa last night in a 4-2 loss to Oklahoma City.

The question is whether Kuemper starts tomorrow at Toronto. Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild's only focusing on tonight's game, but it would seem at least now doubtful the Wild would start Harding back-to-back (unless he faces like 10 shots tonight) behind potentially tired teammates against a formidible, rested opponent and in three of four with travel with two important games on the horizon in Tampa and Florida (run-on sentence).

There's all my reasons, but I don't coach. Niklas Backstrom appears to be getting closer as he took part in the full skate again today, but if he's not ready to back up tonight, hard to buy he's ready to start tomorrow. This is Harding's time. He's got a great opportunity to keep taking the nets even after Backstrom is healthy as long as he continues to play this well.

The Sabres are winless. No team wants to be the first team to lose to a winless team, so the Wild better come jacked and ready to continue playing good hockey tonight. Most impressively about all five games is how often the Wild has the puck and how often it's been in the offensive zone. These are all good signs.

Yeo said it would be "foolish" to come into this game "with our guards down at all."

Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser will be the lone scratches. Third in a row for Scandella, and Yeo says he just has to hang in there. It's clear Yeo is not looking to mess with D that's given up 34 shots the past two wins, and with a game tomorrow in Toronto, Yeo said there's a chance Scandella would play there.

Johan Larsson, the 2010 second-round pick by the Wild, will face pal Jonas Brodin and his old mates tonight for the first time. Larsson, who some say has all the makings of a future captain, sits right between co-captains Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott in the Sabres locker room. He says tonight will be special and I got some good color regarding the day he was traded from the Wild in the Jason Pominville swap in April. That will be in tomorrow's notebook.

Also talked to Justin Fontaine and Matt Dumba about their past few days since scoring their first NHL goals. Fontaine said his mom called him up and told him to watch his mouth after seeing the super slo-mo of his goal celebration. I'll have that in tomorrow's notebook.

I had a cool night last night. I ended up watching baseball with the Human NFL ref Flex, Ed Hochuli, and his cool crew, who officiated yesterday's Bills-Bengals game. Fun talking football and hockey with those guys. They work a game in Kansas City next Sunday, then go to London for 49ers-Jaguars, then come to....Minneapolis to work a Thursday night Redskins-Vikes game Nov. 7.

I tried to convince them to come in Tuesday for Wild-Flames.

All this came after my colleague from across the river and I created a Buffalo firestorm by tweeting that Matt Flynn was on our flight from Minny to Buffalo. Flynn actually sat across the aisle from me on the plane. Bills need a QB. Flynn's a QB recently dumped.

Put 2 and 2 together and it always equals ... 5. He'll be a Bill.

So, suddenly my Twitter follower list includes a bunch of soon-to-be disappointed Bills fans because they'll be peppered with Nino Niederreiter and Fontaine tweets.

The Wild has won two in a row but is 0-1 on the road. The Sabres are 0-5-1 this season, have scored six goals and given up 16.

The Western Conference is 27-6-3 against the East this season, so we'll soon find out if the Wild keeps that trend going as it swings through Buffalo tonight, Toronto tomorrow, Tampa on Thursday and Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday. Doc and Pierre on the NBC Sports Network call tonight.

As you read in today's paper here, I interviewed Vanek soon after the former Gophers star landed in Chicago on Friday. He's always a good dude and is trying his hardest to help young Buffalo escape the early-season doldrums.

He's well aware of all the Vanek to Minnesota assumptions, but he is not thinking about free agency now. As I've written and said many, many times in the Strib, on the Strib web site, on the radio, inside a watering hole when you've asked me, if I had to say right this moment, I think Vanek is playing his future team tonight.

HOWEVER, a lot can change in a year. I still think the Wild lacks a natural goal scorer. But maybe Charlie Coyle, Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, potentially-soon-to-be-suspended-in-the-A Jason Zucker look like they'll blossom into that natural scorer by season's end.

If that happens, maybe at the end of this season the Wild feels it needs a bruising defenseman and the money could be better served there. Maybe it's a goalie. Maybe Vanek has a tough year or gets hurt.

So a lot can change, so nothing is guaranteed. I always felt Zach Parise was guaranteed (although it wasn't as guaranteed as I had always thought) and a number of stars needed to align, like Ryan Suter leading the way here (we have all since learned that Suter was a lot more influential in getting the Parise-Suter tagteam done than we had always assumed at the time). But with Vanek, especially when the Wild has committed so many long-term dollars to Parise, Mikko Koivu, Suter and Pominville, the Wild's got to be smart with however it spends it long-term dollars next summer because you always want to make sure there's the money to eventually commit to Coyle, Brodin, Granlund, Niederreiter, etc., on their next contracts.

Like let's be honest. It wouldn't be surprising if Brodin's signed to the max eight-year deal in a year or so.

Anyways, I mentioned Zucker. He got a match penalty for a check to the head of OKC's Linus Omark last night, so we'll see if further discipline comes from that. A 2-2 tie became a 4-2 loss for Iowa during the Barons' 5-minute PP from the hit. Omark did return to the game soon after the check.

Zucker, by the way, was coached by Sabres coach Ron Rolston with USA Hockey and Rolston is a big fan. I'll toss some stuff from the friendly Rolston in tomorrow's notebook. Rolston says bro Brian Rolston, the 3-time Wild 30-goal scoring sniper, is enjoying retired life in Traverse City, Mich., and loves playing hockey dad.

Who's better than Brian Rolston? Nineteen years covering the NHL, and I'd toss him in my top-10 of favorite players that I've been fortunate enough to cover. Just a great guy.

If you missed the Pominville returns story, that was in Sunday's paper. The former Sabres captain talked to a large media contingent today at the First Niagara Center. Just a classy press conference, and he joked that he hopes the fan response to him tonight is "better than Suter got in Nashville."

Yeo indicated already that Pominville will start tonight.

"It's an important game to him and that makes it an important game for us," Yeo said.


Kansas City - LP: B. Finnegan 4 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: Y. Petit 11
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Buffalo 2 FINAL
San Jose 1
Boston 4 FINAL
Toronto 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL
Montreal 3
New Jersey 3 FINAL(OT)
Ottawa 2
Dallas 5 FINAL
NY Islanders 7
Detroit 2 FINAL
Philadelphia 4
Chicago 2 FINAL
St. Louis 3
Pittsburgh 3 FINAL
Nashville 0
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Minnesota 7
Florida 1 FINAL(OT)
Arizona 2
Washington 3 FINAL
Calgary 1
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 21 FINAL
Rice 41
Arkansas 45
Rutgers 24 FINAL
(16) Nebraska 42
Maryland 7 FINAL
Wisconsin 52
Texas 0 FINAL
(11) Kansas State 23
Minnesota 24 FINAL
Illinois 28
Memphis 48 FINAL
SMU 10
North Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia 27
San Jose St 31 FINAL
Navy 41
Northern Ill 28 FINAL
Eastern Mich 17
(25) UCLA 40 FINAL
Colorado 37
Akron 21 FINAL
Ball State 35
Massachusetts 35 FINAL
Toledo 42
Ohio U 21 FINAL
Western Mich 42
Ga Southern 69 FINAL
Georgia State 31
Kent State 3 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 10
Oregon State 14 FINAL
Stanford 38
Fla Atlantic 16 FINAL
(23) Marshall 35
Louisiana Tech 31 FINAL
Southern Miss 20
(1) Miss State 45 FINAL
Kentucky 31
Georgia Tech 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 28
(22) West Virginia 34 FINAL
Oklahoma State 10
Texas Tech 27 FINAL
(10) TCU 82
Michigan 11 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 35
Boston College 23 FINAL
Wake Forest 17
Central Mich 20 FINAL
Buffalo 14
Vanderbilt 14 FINAL
Missouri 24
Old Dominion 51 FINAL
Western Ky 66
Utah State 34
Temple 14 FINAL
UCF 34
(15) Arizona 59 FINAL
Washington St 37
Texas-El Paso 34 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 0
Wyoming 31 FINAL
Colorado State 45
Syracuse 6 FINAL
(21) Clemson 16
Texas State 22 FINAL
ULM 18
(3) Ole Miss 7 FINAL
(24) LSU 10
(4) Alabama 34 FINAL
Tennessee 20
So Carolina 35 FINAL
(5) Auburn 42
(13) Ohio State 31 FINAL
Penn State 24
(20) USC 14 4th Qtr 15:00
(19) Utah 17
(14) Arizona State 10 3rd Qtr 12:58
Washington 0
Nevada 0 2nd Qtr 15:00
Hawaii 7
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Air Force 11/1/14 10:30 AM
ULM 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Texas A&M
Duke 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Rice 11/1/14 11:00 AM
(18) East Carolina 11/1/14 11:00 AM
UCF 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Boston College 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
North Carolina 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Washington 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Central Mich 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Western Mich 11/1/14 1:30 PM
Western Ky 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
NC State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Texas State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico St
Virginia 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech
BYU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee
Indiana 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Florida 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(9) Georgia
Georgia State 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Appalachian St
Kentucky 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Kansas 11/1/14 3:00 PM
(12) Baylor
Houston 11/1/14 3:00 PM
So Florida
(20) USC 11/1/14 3:30 PM
Washington St
Arkansas State 11/1/14 4:00 PM
South Alabama 11/1/14 4:00 PM
New Mexico 11/1/14 4:30 PM
UAB 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
(5) Auburn 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss
Arkansas 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(1) Miss State
Old Dominion 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State 11/1/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St
Stanford 11/1/14 6:30 PM
(6) Oregon
Tennessee 11/1/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina
Southern Miss 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
(7) Notre Dame 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Illinois 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(13) Ohio State
(15) Arizona 11/1/14 9:30 PM
(25) UCLA
California 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
San Diego St 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Wyoming 11/1/14 9:45 PM
Fresno State
(19) Utah 11/1/14 10:00 PM
(14) Arizona State
Utah State 11/1/14 10:00 PM
Los Angeles 0 FINAL
Seattle 2
Montreal 1
Toronto FC 0 FINAL
New England 1
Portland 2 FINAL
FC Dallas 0
Colorado 0 FINAL
Vancouver FC 1
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 24 FINAL
Toronto 26
Brt Columbia 28 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
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