Every day the grizzly Mike Rupp shows up at the rink, puts on his gear and practices with the Wild like every other player.
But every single game, Rupp knows the chance of him suiting up in that same gear is minimal.
Rupp, 34, is basically out of sight, out of mind as the Wild’s 14th forward. When the Wild has needed a forward for much of this season, the team’s first option is usually to play its 13th forward or recall somebody from Iowa.
“I want to make sure that the door’s just not closing on me,” said Rupp, a 10-year veteran who could be staring at the end of his NHL career. “I’m not content with doing what I’m doing, although I’ve spent a long time doing it.”
Rupp shows up every day intent on being a good teammate and not causing problems. But hockey players want to play, so it’s getting tiresome having to watch every game from the press box.
Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings, Rupp was a healthy scratch for the 15th consecutive game and for the 34th time this season. He hasn’t played since Feb. 1, has played four games since Dec. 31 and 12 games all season.
Rupp missed the first 18 games of the season following offseason knee surgery. There is no doubt he has slowed significantly, which is why coach Mike Yeo hasn’t been using him.
But Rupp said, “I feel probably right now the best I felt in the past 2½ years, so I obviously want to get in there.
“I enjoy being with the guys and … I’ve had teammates who dragged the team down, and I don’t want to be that guy. But at the same time, it’s getting to that time of year where you get that itch. I’m feeling healthy, so in my head, I’m getting excited right now. Maybe some people wouldn’t understand that because I haven’t played barely at all this year, but I’m excited.”
Rupp has talked to Yeo and told him “I just want to have the opportunity to show that I can get the job done. I just want him to make sure that door’s open for me still. I’m just going to keep going at it.”
Asked if he’s worried about finding a job next season, Rupp said, “I don’t want to say, ‘Take it one day at a time,’ but it’s been such a tough couple years. I finally felt like I was healthy last year and then I reinjured [my knee]. This year was always trying to get back to where I was and right now I feel really good. But obviously, I haven’t had much of a résumé this season. I just want to get that chance.”
Special teams slump
The Red Wings went 2-for-2 on power plays in Saturday’s 3-2 victory. The Wild has given up seven power-play goals in the past nine games.
Saturday, Brendan Smith scored after Kyle Brodziak lost a draw. Brodziak, also on the ice for Gustav Nyquist’s winning goal, turned the puck over on a clearing attempt before David Legwand’s power-play goal late in a second-period the Wild controlled.
“Both those penalty kills, we didn’t get a clear once and the first part of that is winning faceoffs,” Yeo said. “We’ve got to start digging in on these draws.”
• Defenseman Clayton Stoner missed the last six minute of Saturday’s game because of an injury. With defenseman Keith Ballard (groin) also hurt, the Wild recalled defenseman Jon Blum for Sunday’s rematch.