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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Wild on ice

Posted by: Kent Youngblood under Wild practice Updated: March 27, 2011 - 2:55 PM

Greetings. Youngblood here. Russo will be in charge of coverage tomorrow. I will be in St. Louis Tuesday.

 

Well, so the Wild practiced today, over at St. Thomas Academy. It ran for less than an hour. The team warmed up, did some up-tempo drills, then did some five-on-five work. It didn't go particularly long.

To be honest, I didn't know exactly what to expect when I pulled into the parking lot. With the Wild mired in a losing streak, after another particularly one-sided loss to the Blues the night before, what kind of practice would it be? I know some of the folks tweeting in my direction expected a bag skate, screaming and shouting, an emphatic message being sent.

I talked with Todd Richards after the practice. He admitted that sort of practice crossed his mind. But he decided against it.  "I've done a lot of talking over the last four or five days," he said. "Really, since the Montreal game. I've done enough talking. ... it's not about beating the guys completely into the ground. They feel bad enough the way it is."

What might have been accomplished by raising the voice or skating the players into the ground? Everyone will have a different opinion about this but I think doing that might have  been a way for Richards to exact, perhaps, his pound of flesh. It wouldn't have necessarily produced results down the final stretch of the season. Personally, I think it says something about Richards that he didn't run a practice like that. I'm writing more about this tomorrow -- about the pallor that you could almost feel hanging over the arena Sunday. But one thing Richards said was that, no matter what happens -- with the team, with his job, anything -- he'll be able to sleep at night knowing he did what he could.

Now, here's a question for the fans: Do you think every player in the room can say the same thing? I think most, the vast majority, could say  yes. But could all of them? 

During today's interview with Richards, he talked -- almost wistfully -- about just a few short days ago. Richards remembered the end of that four-game road trip. About the game in Vancouver, in which Richards thought the team played well. And then a tough game in San Jose, a 3-2 loss that the Wild at least had a chance to win.

To me -- and, again, this is only my opinion -- the bomb that ultimately blew up this season came in that first game back home, against Columbus. The Wild is down two goals, late in the game. then Miettinen scores with 5:07 left in regulation. Bouchard ties it off the rebound of Spurgeon's shot with 2:03 left. Overtime. In the OT the Wild had multiple good chances to win the game. Then, in the final minute of OT, Burns' semi-whiff on a pass straight up the slot is intercepted by Vermette. Game over.

Let's say the Wild manages to win that game. Dramatic comeback late, two points in the first game back home. I believe the team would still have a playoff shot today. I think that stunning loss exploded the season like a bomb. Look what's happened since: Montreal destroyed them the very next day. Then Toronto. Saturday night another one-sided, lifeless loss.

Oh, well. Just one man's opinion. Russo is uncanny in predicting the effort level of the team before a game. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Wild plays pretty well Tuesday in St. Louis. Too late, though, of course.

As I said, I'll be writing more about this for tomorrow's paper. Have a good night and a pleasant tomorrow.

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