NASHVILLE – Ryan Suter returned to Nashville, his home for seven seasons, for the third time Sunday night, but Wild coach Mike Yeo joked the “big return” was actually Jon Blum.
“We’ll put him on the ice with Sutes at the same time so we won’t know who they’re booing,” said Yeo, a crack at the distaste Predators fans still show Suter for signing a 13-year contract in Minnesota.
Blum, 24, who signed with the Wild last summer, played his third game in a row for struggling Keith Ballard after spending the first half of the season in Iowa.
“He’s played composed, he’s executed, he’s moved the puck well,” Yeo said. “It helps that Iowa plays the same system because he’s come up and he’s fit in seamlessly.”
Blum, a 2007 first-round pick by the Predators, played 91 games for Nashville over parts of three seasons. He spent much of five years with AHL Milwaukee.
“Nashville likes to let you grow in the minors and let you develop down there,” Blum said. “I think it was very good for me. I played in every situation — penalty kill, power play, lots of ice time. It’s nice to grow your game and it teaches you that when you come up here, you’ve got to make the best of it.”
Blum grew up 25 miles south of Anaheim in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. He was a Los Angeles Kings diehard and grew a love of the sport by playing roller hockey after school daily with 10 to 15 of his buddies because his family lived on a cul-de-sac.
At age 6, Blum went to a public skate, tried on ice skates for the first time and never took them off. At age 8, he joined the California Wave, a traveling youth hockey program that was featured in the documentary “In the Crease.” They’d travel to such places as Quebec City, Toronto, Chicago, Denver and Detroit.
“We’d show up to all these tournaments and kids would make fun of us, like, ‘Where’s your surfboard?’ ” Blum said, laughing. “But we’d win all the tournaments and kind of made a name for ourselves. It was cool.”
Blum’s goal is to become a full-time NHLer.
“I’ve got to be consistent every game and not have any lulls and not take anything for granted,” he said. “This is the best league in the world. Every game is a hard game, so it’s just about playing consistent.”
Getting boxed in
Matt Cooke entered Sunday’s game with five minor penalties in the previous four games, including two costly ones during Saturday’s loss to Colorado.
“He’s working extremely hard, but you have to make sure you’re doing it the right way,” Yeo said. “You’re working hard, but you’ve got to be doing the right things, you’ve got to make sure you’re keeping your stick on the ice and moving your feet. We want to keep the work ethic but make sure we’re losing the penalties.”
Picture tells a story
Next to the Predators’ locker room are the team pictures for every season in franchise history. In the top right of the original one in 1998-99 is a young Andrew Brunette, the former Wild player.
David Poile, Nashville’s original GM who still remains, came to the Predators from Washington, where he had Brunette. So Poile scooped Brunette up in the expansion draft.
“It brings back special memories every time I come back here,” said Brunette, who helps the Wild coach in addition to working alongside GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr in the hockey operationss department.