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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Scandella to make NHL debut tonight vs. Florida; Richards "challenges defensive group"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: November 12, 2010 - 12:41 PM

 

 

Scene of the crime: Free Russo's Rants subscription to the first person who tells me what the above is. Answer below.

Good afternoon from Boca Raton, where I grew up. She claims it was just a coincidence, but my mother was staring out the front window when I arrived (hopefully I don't get her in trouble if somebody reads this because I'm assuming she's playing hookey from work).

Back in my old stomping ground. I'll get more into that in a few minutes, much to the delight of Wild radio personality Kevin Falness.

Marco Scandella, the Wild's best defenseman prospect and a second-round pick in 2008, will make his NHL debut tonight at Florida. Scandella, who is lauded often by Third Intermission blogger Ms. Conduct, has eight points in 14 games down in Houston. Scandella was scheduled to arrive at 11 a.m., so he didn't make it to the morning skate.

Coach Todd Richards, who admitted today he's a huge fan of Russo's Rants  (actually I might be exaggerating, but he did admit to reading it, which is always the first step toward solving a problem), wouldn't divulge tonight's scratch.

But unless the Wild's going with seven defensemen, it'll likely be rookie Justin Falk or Cam Barker. Falk had really his first bad game last night. Barker's been erratic to say the least. But Richards praised the improvement of rookie Clayton Stoner this morning, and since Stoner and veteran Greg Zanon were the only D-pair left intact last night, Stoner's going to get another shot, I'm betting.

Richards said the forward lines will start the way they ended last night, meaning Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen; Clutterbuck-Cullen-Havlat; Nystrom-Madden-Wellman; Almond-Brodziak-Staubitz.

Cory Stillman's back in for Florida; Darcy Hordichuk (and Richards' former Orlando teammate) is scratched, as is former Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Jason Garrison because of a groin injury.

I don't know if Richards and his staff read excerpts of my gamer and blog to the team or what, but every single player seemed to know verbatim what I wrote today. Richards kind of alluded to the team knowing what I wrote.

Eric Nystrom, as stand up a player as I've covered, even said, "the truth hurts" though regarding my mention of him early in the game. As I told the players this morning and as I always tell them, when they score the big goal, I'll be there to write that, too. As a pro athlete, it comes with the territory. They've got to take the good with the bad.

I've got a feeling that parts of this game story were instead read to the team specifically because of Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay's quote and my transition:

When it came to battle for pucks, the Wild waved a white flag and surrendered dozens.

"We've started to chart battles won and lost," Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said. "We were well ahead in won battles. I think we went 8-0 to start the game. When you do that, you're telling the other bench you're ready to play."

Conversely, the Wild told the Thrashers it wasn't.

Richards said, "We challenged our defensive group this morning. I know we're going to be a lot better there tonight. ... When you come off a game where you struggle, you just challenge them to be better in really all facets of the game. We went over some video with them, and I know they're going to better tonight."

On Scandella: "He's a big, strong guy. What we really want tonight is just a steady game. ... This is going to be his first NHL game. I'm sure he's going to have lots of things going through his head, and a lot of emotion. But what we've seen ..., he did some good things. But this is a whole different stage, too."

 

On video from last night: "I think the players know it. You guys wrote it. They've already read it, so I think they know what's going on. And they know what they didn't do well. So it's already been talked about. I don't think you want to beat them up too much with it. They're all professionals, and they know. They've responded pretty well when there's been challenges. Coming off a game like that, I don't think you have to say a lot to challenge them."

Panthers coach Pete DeBoer on last year giving up 11 shots to the Wild in a 3-2 shootout win: "I don't think there's chances of that again. The stars were aligned that night."

Tonight is Radek Dvorak's 574th game with the Panthers, which breaks the team record. Even he pointed out that it's an irony of all ironies that I'm here for the record-breaker. I covered a majority of them.

My favorite Dvorak story is his rookie year -- my rookie year, too (1995-96) -- he sat next to Brian Skrudland in the locker room. Dvorak, a Czech, knew no English, so Skrudland taught him a curse word a day. Dvorak also used to get terrorized as a kid by Paul Laus for his acne. Great dude, that Radek Dvorak. He was teammates on Florida with four guys who now works for the team -- Skrudland, Gord Murphy, Billy Lindsay and Randy Moller.

As I alluded above, we're back at the scene of the crime. It was the above site where Gaborik strained his groin playing soccer hackysack in October 2008.

We saw him again for four games in December, then not again until March. Then, adios amigos.

The day after that game, a young Cal Clutterbuck was recalled from Houston. Thanks to Gaborik's abdominal muscles, Clutterbuck never left: "This is where it all started," said Clutterbuck this morning.

Also that game, Mikko Koivu had five points, Antti Miettinen a second straight three-point game and Andrew Brunette two in a 6-2 win.

Always nice to be back at BankAtlantic Center. Not only did I get my start covering the Panthers, two Wild executives got their starts working for the Panthers -- Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr.

Talk to you tonight.

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