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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Zucker's back, four brand new lines for Wild; U.S. Olympic team announced

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: January 1, 2014 - 4:13 PM

UPDATED

The United States unveiled its 25-man roster for the Olympics. I got 23 of the 25 on my FSNorth list yesterday. The two that didn't make it were Kyle Okposo and Bobby Ryan. The two I didn't have were Paul Stastny and Blake Wheeler.

The Wild's Jason Pominville were among the snubs, as well as Minnesotans Dustin Byfuglien and Erik Johnson. Eight Minnesotans made it: Zach Parise, David Backes, Paul Martin, Wheeler, Justin Faulk, TJ Oshie, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan.

The list: David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Miller, Brooks Orpik, T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Jonathan Quick, Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan, Ryan Suter, Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Jimmy Howard.

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With the Wild trying to snap its six-game losing streak, the Wild has once again recalled Jason Zucker from AHL Iowa. Zucker will be in the lineup Thursday night when the Wild hosts Buffalo.

Prior to today's practice, coach Mike Yeo addressed the team and brought up the turmoil he's under.

“It’s business as usual for me. This has been a question before the season even started, right?” Yeo said, referring to the fact he’s in the final year of his contract. “I’m actually quite happy with the way I’m dealing with it."

What did he say to the players?

“I said, ‘I know it’s there, I know what they’re writing, I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. What I want is for you guys to know I still believe in this group and you’re going to see that I’m still going to come in here and I’m going to coach not to try to save my job, I’m going to coach to try to give us a chance to get things going, get back on track and get back in the playoff race and keep building toward our ultimate goal.’”

The Sabres have one regulation road win this year, are 0-8-2 on the road since Nov. 5 and 0-6-2 on the road under new coach Ted Nolan, so this is a big game to say the least for the Wild on Thursday. But the Sabres seem to be playing better, are more patient and Yeo said the Wild must be committed to being careful with the puck and chipping it behind their defense when there's no room to come with speed.

Yeo unveiled four brand new lines this morning, saying, "We’re throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and we need something to stick.”

Charlie Coyle is now centering the third line, Kyle Brodziak, who hasn't scored in 30 games, is downgraded to the fourth line, Dany Heatley and former Sabres captain Jason Pominville are popped up to the first line and Yeo has an all-kid second line.

Heatley-Mikko Koivu-Pominville

Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Zucker

Matt Cooke-Coyle-Justin Fontaine

Stephane Veilleux-Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell

Injured Clayton Stoner practiced today and is questionable to return Thursday.

On Heatley going to the top line, Yeo said, “He’s moving well, he’s battling hard, he’s involved in creating some scoring chances every game.

“In the last couple games, there’s been, I would say not a lot of guys, [but] some that have kind of stepped up and really brought what would seem to be another level, and he’s one of them.”

Owner Craig Leipold watched practice. Not the first time, but still of note. Leipold won't comment on the Wild's recent plummet.

Most the quotes will be in Thursday's paper, but one that didn't make the cut?

"I've been real pleased with our leaders lately, and that may sound funny because we’ve lost a lot of games, but when you really dissect it, when you’re on the inside and you see what's going on, that’s why I say that."

Yeo also clarified his postgame comments from Tuesday that he just hasn't talked to the team immediately after the last two losses (a lot of coaches don't, he says), that he's saved his message for the next day's practice. He still meets with the players constantly.

"I’m definitely talking to the players," he said, laughing. "I think we have meetings to try to figure out when our next meeting is going to be right now, we’ve had so many."

Defenseman Keith Ballard said, "No one's going to get us out of this but us. Individually, everybody’s got to be better. Myself, for sure. We’ve got to find a way to relax and play. It’s hard right now when there’s so much emphasis on, 'We need a win, we need a win,' but as players, we need to put that focus on we need to play well, we need a 60-minute game. Our intentions are in the right place, but we're not doing it right. We just need to relax and play."

I'll be on KFAN on Thursday live from the penalty box from 9:55-10:35 a.m.

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