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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No rest for Devan Dubnyk, will make his 23rd consecutive start tonight in Raleigh

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild pregame skate Updated: March 6, 2015 - 12:28 PM

Afternoon from beautiful Raleigh, where the sun is out and the air is crisp.

I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. CT.

Wild, an NHL-best 17-3-2 in the Devan Dubnyk era and an NHL-best 15 wins and 31 points in 18 games since the All-Star break (15-2-1), faces the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in the parking lot of North Carolina State's football stadium.

Canes have won three of their past four and have been playing well since New Year's.

The Wild, winners of seven of its past eight overall, is an NHL-best 9-1-2 on the road since Dubnyk came to save the day and has won five straight on the road.

"If we don't respect these guys tonight, then it will be an awfully frustrating game," coach Mike Yeo said of the Canes.

Dubnyk will make his 23rd consecutive start tonight. He is 17-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.63 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, allowing a league-low 35 goals in the past 22 games (1.59 per game). Again, consider this: The Wild allowed 58 goals in the 14 games before he arrived (4.14 goals per game).

FIFTY-EIGHT GOALS IN FOURTEEN GAMES COMPARED TO THIRTY-FIVE GOALS IN TWENTY-TWO!

I thought I would amplify that.

Wild was 45 seconds from having a five-point lead in 9th today until Marian Gaborik forced overtime for the L.A. Kings and they won in a shootout.

Now, Wild still has a three-point lead, is one over Winnipeg and four from Chicago for third in the Central. If the Wild's not careful, it'll play itself right into a first-round series with St. Louis. crying

(I'm crying purely for selfish, travel-related reasons).

Tonight is the Wild's game in hand on the Jets, so if it can win, it would be three points up. Quite the accomplishment considering Minnesota was 14 back of the Jets on Jan. 27 and seven points behind eighth.

Why not rest Dubnyk and start Darcy Kuemper for the first time since Jan. 6?

"Number of reasons," Yeo said. "We look at this game as an extremely important game for us and we're treating it as such. You can talk about maybe resting or keeping an eye on games maybe two, three weeks from now, but those games don't mean a lot unless we win games right now.

"Part of the other reasoning is no skate this morning, no skate for the guys tomorrow with a mandatory day off and probably no morning skate on Sunday [because of a 5 p.m. game against Colorado]. Given that, I think in a lot of ways, it's important for him to almost have this game to keep sharp. And also, we only gave up 25 shots last night [in Washington]. So I don't think he should be too tired."

Jared Spurgeon (concussion) and Nino Niederreiter (lower body) skated this morning in a very optional skate. I'd guess Spurgeon won't play, but we'll see about Niederreiter. And if Niederreiter plays, we'll see who comes out because Jordan Schroeder was good last night with four shots.

Maybe Sean Bergenheim? Maybe a member of the fourth line, although I thought again last night that Erik Haula-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine looked good and they're all penalty killers and the Canes' power play ranks sixth in the NHL in 2015.

No. 1 ranked (Carolina) vs. No. 2 ranked (Minnesota) penalty kills tonight. Wild's power play is 1 for 19 the past 10 games. Yeo indicated the power play is the only thing about the Wild's game he doesn't like right now.

Looks like former Wild Anton Khudobin is starting for Carolina. The Wild shellacked him a few weeks ago in a 6-3 win.

NHL's best road team since Jan. 15 rallies to beat Washington; Wild now in top wildcard spot

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 5, 2015 - 10:41 PM

Impressive comeback win for the Wild over the Washington Capitals tonight. Catching the Caps without Alex Ovechkin, who scores nightly these days, the Wild rallied from a 1-0 third-period deficit against a team that was 30-1-4 when scoring the game’s first goal and 28-1-3 when leading after two periods.

Jason Pominville scored twice 5:09 apart and the Wild, 15-2-1 in its past 18, jumped over Winnipeg for the top wildcard spot.

The Wild just stayed patient against the Barry Trotz-coached Caps, never got frustrated, never opened it up and started to cheat and because of that (and Devan Dubnyk and a couple goal posts), the Wild never let that 1-0 deficit become 2-0.

“I know their coach pretty well,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Mike Yeo. “Played for him before [in Pittsburgh]. He just preaches being patient and sticking to your game plan and being structured and that’s what they do. They don’t change a whole lot, whether they're up or down. They just stay with it and they don’t care if they get the lead in the first period or they’ve got to come back in the third like they did. It’s something we could probably learn from, too. Trust your game plan, stay with it. They didn’t open it up at all. They just waited for us to make mistakes.”

The Wild played a decent first, played a solid second and took over for many parts of the third. The first Pominville goal came after a rush in which the Wild got lucky the officials didn’t whistle down an injury to referee Ian Walsh in the defensive zone. He was in pain after getting crunched against the boards, and with him try to get up, Pominville got robbed by Braden Holtby, and the after Parise put a puck back at net, Pominville from the ice whacked at the puck and it went toward Joel Ward. The former Wild forward accidentally scored into his own net.

Then, five minutes later, Parise was pressuring and a neutral-zone turnover ensued. Pominville skated down the left wing and when the defenseman slid, he let it rip from the circle for a beauty go-ahead goal with 5:32 left.

The Wild is an NHL-best 9-1-2 in its past 12 on the road since Dubnyk arrived, including five straight road wins and eight in its past 10.

“We’ve been playing well on the road, we’re a confident group right now,” Pominville said. “Even though we were down by one after two on the road, we did a lot of good things and finally got rewarded. It wasn’t pretty, but sometimes you need those.”

Dubnyk, 17-3-1 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in 22 straight starts, gave up a goal 2:51 on Washington’s first shot, but he stopped the next 24.

“Not the way you want to start a game on the road, but for myself, the most important thing is just settle it down and make the next stop and go from there,” he said. “We’ve done such a good job reacting to so many different situations during this run. It’s no different tonight. We keep playing the right way and keep ourselves in a position where one play we’re tied back up.”

Yeo said he liked the Wild’s game through two periods and said he knew if the Wild just stuck to it and didn’t open up against a frustrating, defensively-structured team, they would have a chance. Finally the Wild began to take over, pressure and create turnovers.

Just a real solid road win. Now onto Raleigh. Yeo wouldn’t tip his hand if Dubnyk will start his 23rd in a row or if Darcy Kuemper would start his first NHL game since Jan. 6 and make his first NHL appearance since Jan. 20. Tough call. At some point, Kuemper will need to play here. Wild doesn’t have a practice Saturday, so do you give Dubnyk two good, solid rest and recovery days to get ready for a big Colorado home game Sunday and three-game homestand?

Doubtful they’ll have a morning skate, so we may not find out until 4 p.m. CT/5 p.m. ET. If I don’t tweet who’s starting, don’t ask on Twitter, “Any word who’s starting?” Trust me, I’m not keeping it a secret for my own amusement. smiley

Also, Nino Niederreiter felt lower-body discomfort. He tried to give it a go in warmup, but he couldn’t play, so Jordan Schroeder did. Yeo said if it was the playoffs, he probably would have played, but the team didn’t want to risk making it more severe.

Please read the gamer (cool scene anecdote in lede) and notebook and talk to you at some point from Raleigh.

Ovechkin questionable, Spurgeon out for tonight's Wild-Capitals affair

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 5, 2015 - 1:00 PM

Good afternoon from very snowy Washington, where the Wild faces the Capitals tonight at 6 p.m. CT. Love coming to D.C. Almost every trip, I try to do some sort of sightseeing.

Last year, it was the Newsium and Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Yesterday, an Air Force Major from Mendota Heights emailed me and graciously offered a private tour of the U.S. Capitol. I took the TV broadcasters and my colleague from across the river, and it was a great behind-the-scenes look. I saw a couple "celebrity" politicians and got a peek at the Congressional Black Caucus conducting a press conference, which was real neat. Also, I infiltrated a couple offices and wrote some policy.

Braden Holtby vs. Devan Dubnyk, whom I wrote about in today’s paper. Interesting story about how a game early this season here in Washington helped turn his year around.

The big news of the day is Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 43 goals and is tied with teammate Nicklas Backstrom for the league-lead with 67 points, is questionable with a lower-body injury. He is a gametime decision, Caps coach Barry Trotz announced after their morning skate at their practice facility.

For the Caps update, here’s a pregame blog from Washington Post beat writer Alex Prewitt, a former Star Tribune intern extraordinaire.

Same Wild lineup tonight. Jared Spurgeon skated, but coach Mike Yeo said the Wild doesn’t want to risk him by playing back-to-back games (the Wild’s at Carolina tomorrow night). He said Spurgeon is a possibility for tomorrow, although my guess is a lot will have to do with tonight’s outcome. If the Wild wins and/or nobody gets hurt, Yeo probably won’t change the blue line, especially with the likely odd guy out playing well – Christian Folin.

Spurgeon will miss his seventh game since taking that Mark Giordano shot to the chin in Calgary on Feb. 18. He sustained what he says is his second career concussion.

“It’s tough. Not a lot of practice time, so you use these pregame skates like practices,” Spurgeon said. “But it’s tough because with what I had, you can’t do much, so you lose it pretty fast when guys are playing every other day.”

The schedule is so condensed right now, the Wild, like all teams, barely practices because of the necessity to use the off-days as recovery days.

For instance, Sean Bergenheim was acquired Feb. 24. On the off-days since, he gathered his stuff in Florida on the first off-day, and the Wild didn’t practice Friday, Sunday, yesterday and won’t on Saturday. The Wild’s only practice in the past week was Monday.

So to put that in perspective, when Bergenheim plays his sixth game Sunday against Colorado, he will have practiced once (excluding morning skates). How about this one? Jordan Leopold and Chris Stewart were acquired Monday. By the time Sunday comes around, he may play in their fourth Wild games with no practices.

It’s a good thing they’re all veterans, so they’ve deal with this stuff before. But just imagine how tough it must be to be traded this time of year, be immediately dropped into games and yet get no practices to get acclimated to teammates and systems, etc. That’s why it often takes awhile for teams to pick up right where they left off from a chemistry standpoint and why it takes new players a little while to get accustomed to their new surroundings.

Not to mention the fact these guys dropped everything in one city, moved to another and have to get their real lives in order.

Jordan Schroeder will be a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game.

Thomas Vanek, who didn’t seem to mesh with Mikko Koivu and Chris Stewart, will skate with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle and Sean Bergenheim will move up to the Koivu-Stewart line. That’s the way the lines finished in Tuesday’s shootout win over Ottawa, which did Minnesota a favor last night by beating Winnipeg.

That means a Wild win tonight, and it moves into the top wildcard spot. That would be quite the achievement since Minnesota was 14 back of Winnipeg coming out of the All-Star break Jan. 27. But that’s what a 14-2-1 record since the All-Star break accomplishes.

Nate Prosser is feeling better. He had a nasty case of food poisoning the other night. He went for his normal pregame lunch, had some chicken, immediately got sweaty and hot, thought he could sleep it off, took an hour-and-a-half nap and then all heck broke loose.

Prosser raced down to Xcel Energy Center to get some fluids and very descriptively told me he threw up 15 to 20 times “violently”, including the first intermission.

“I got lightheaded and dizzy and thought it probably was not good for me to get back out there,” said Prosser, a plus-10 his past 16 games (even or plus in every one of those). “I wanted to play. We only had five D, and just thought before the game I should try to help the guys out on the back and try to get in as many minutes as I can. But it came to the point I couldn’t play anymore.”

Prosser gave the Wild seven first-period shifts.

The Caps are good, especially at home. Their power play is second in the NHL, the Wild’s PK is second in the NHL and on a 47 for 48 hot streak since the All-Star break. The Wild’s power play is 1 for 17 the past nine games (1.9 power plays per game amazingly enough).

The Caps are sixth-best offensively and defensively. The Wild allows the fewest shots per game in the NHL.

A good start is imperative tonight. The Caps are 30-1-4 when scoring the first goal, 28-1-3 when leading after two, so Yeo said the Wild needs to “get on the hunt” tonight, be aggressive and not respect them too much.

Yeo said Marco Scandella’s injury isn’t considered serious and he’s only supposed to be out a week.

Yeo said the Wild hasn’t decided yet which goalie will start tomorrow in Raleigh. They’ll decide that after the game in concert with Dubnyk and goalie coach Bob Mason. If it’s Darcy Kuemper, it’ll be his first NHL start since Jan. 6 and appearance since Jan. 20.

“Especially early in the game, it’d be nice to give [Kuemper] a really good chance to settle into the game,” Yeo said IF Kuemper plays. He said practices are a “different intensity, a different feeling, so we’ll have to give him a chance to settle into the game.”

The Wild asked Jordan Leopold and his wife, Jamie, if 10-year-old daughter, Jordyn, who wrote the infamous “Letter” if she’d like to do the Let’s Play Hockey before Sunday’s game against the Avalanche.

Jordyn is pretty shy, so the Leopolds asked family friend Paul Allen, the KFAN morning host who made that letter go viral, if he would do it with her.

Allen was touched and honored and agreed.

The Wild has been inundated with dozens of national media requests to interview Jordyn and the Leopold family. Jordan said the family plans to do only one and has pretty much decided which national outlet they will sit down with.

That will be revealed soon, he said.

“We’re humble, private people, so this is tough,” he said.

“I am very old school as far as technology,” Leopold said. “Everybody had Blackberry’s and I still had the old [flip] phone. I’m not on social media, so I don’t even know what’s out there. People had to tell me.

“Quite honestly, I don’t know how big it really is because I’m not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on all the sites. The only thing I see is what’s on your site and the TV. The response has been tremendous. My daughter has become somewhat of a folk hero or whatever you want to call it. She’s liking it. I asked her today how she’s feeling about it, and she said, ‘It’s good.’”

Leopold knows that if the Wild’s healthy, he’s probably going to be in and out of the lineup, but “whatever my role is here, I don’t care. I’m happy with it.”

“It’s funny, this is my hometown, but I played for the Gophers 13 years ago. I looked in the stands the other night and saw all these little kids and they have no idea who I am. But I think this is special for people who shared those experiences of the Gophers [national championships].

“This is home. This is where I always wanted to be. I can’t think of a better time to be here. Most likely I will end my career in this jersey. My family isn’t going to move again. It’s been fun so far. We have things to do as a team and goals to accomplish.”

Leopold isn’t saying he’s necessarily retiring after this year, but if the Wild doesn’t want to re-sign him after this season, he’s saying he’s probably not willing to sign anywhere else. All that will depend obviously on how he plays and what it has planned in terms of adding depth defensemen.

Talk later.

Wild survives blowing two-goal lead, beats Ottawa in a shootout to improve to 14-2-1 since the All-Star break

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 3, 2015 - 11:44 PM

The Wild won for the sixth time in seven games, eighth in 10 and 14th time in 17 (14-2-1) since the All-Star break by pulling out a 3-2 five-round shootout victory over Ottawa after quickly blowing a 2-0 second-period lead.

Matt Dumba scored both goals in the second period, the first off a great pass by Mikael Granlund after the Wild pressured Erik Karlsson into a turnover. The second goal came on a pinch to the goalmouth where newcomer Chris Stewart set him up.

The Wild promptly gave up the lead in 3 minutes, 43 seconds, but survived a tense third and Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle scored in the shootout. It was Koivu’s 39th of his career, tied for second all-time behind Jonathan Toews. It was Pominville’s 23rd and it was Coyle’s second. Both of Coyle’s shootout goals (the other last year in Winnipeg) have been “determining goals.”

Devan Dubnyk made 31 saves, has allowed 34 goals in 21 consecutive starts (franchise record), is 16-3-1 with the Wild and has a 1.65 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.

He was helped in the third period by three posts on one penalty kill, but the Wild’s PK was 4 for 4 and is now 47 for 48 in 17 games since the All-Star break.

The Wild did this by yet again playing with five defensemen. Nate Prosser, who has been so good, was sick and tried to take IV’s before the game because the Wild only has five defensemen on the active roster with Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon hurt. He had to leave after the first period, but Dumba stepped up bigtime, Ryan Suter logged 33:46 (only the second time in 17 games since the break he has topped 30) and Jonas Brodin logged a great 29:18. Christian Folin logged a career-high 21:50 and Jordan Leopold, in his first game, logged 17:19.

“The way guys have stepped up and it’s pretty incredible,” Dubnyk said of the D. “When you’re five defensemen it seems to be every other game, that’s a lot of minutes for guys, especially when the points are as important as they are, they’re crucial minutes. You just got to hope that trend does not continue because we need our guys healthy.”

My game story is a lot about Dumba and his playing with Leopold, so please check that out.

“I told ‘Leo’ that I watched him when I was a young kid in Calgary during that Stanley Cup run,’’ Dumba said. “He was part of that, a big part, and as he was a player that I tried to pattern myself after as a defenseman.

“It’s crazy to be sitting next to him now in an NHL locker room.”

Dumba is coming of age, especially defensively, and Yeo said he loves how he’s maturing defensively, how he has confidence to put him on the ice against anybody and how he is showing he can play big minutes.

Leopold, who had some great offensive shifts and a couple defensive scares, said, “It was an absolute wonderful feeling to come home. Baby steps for me. I haven’t played a lot in the last couple months. You aren’t going to play a perfect game by any means. Anybody that’s ever been traded, it’s not easy to come into a locker room and come in and play a sound game.

“You don’t know personnel as much, you don’t know the systems as much. You’re really just out there trying to read and play hockey.”

On playing more than he thought after being scratched 26 times in Columbus, Leopold said, “I come here at the tail end of my career. Whatever they need me to do, I can do. I’ve played every role on many different teams. It’s about winning games. If it’s playing with young guys, playing with old guys, filling a void when somebody goes down, it’s the game of hockey.”

Asked how he felt after the game, Leopold, 34, said, “My back hurts. It’s been a long 36 hours. Lot of sitting on planes, a lot of sitting in cars. My body’s not what it used to be.”

Dubnyk said it was a tough game because they’re playing a team they’re not familiar with, so “you’re not quite sure.”

No doubt the lines will have to be worked on. Yeo switched Thomas Vanek and Sean Bergenheim in the third, putting Vanek on the Nino Niederreiter-Coyle line because he was not meshing with Koivu and Stewart. But Yeo is very intrigued by Koivu with Stewart and things that can be a formidable duo if given a little time to play together.

Yeo didn’t feel the Wild’s convoluted play was so much about the chemistry being messed with as much as the Wild just getting into trouble by playing east-west against a strong neutral-zone team. That led to turnovers (especially by Zach Parise and Jason Pominville) and counterattacks and momentum. Yeo said he loved the Wild’s game when it went north with speed.

He felt it was just players trying to make something happen in a tight game, and because the outs and puck support wasn’t always spot-on, it made for sloppy play.

Yeo credited the five D for stepping up with Prosser sick. Remember, the hope is Spurgeon can return in Washington, where the Wild plays Thursday. However, the Wild’s not practicing Wednesday, so we’ll see what the status is of Prosser and Spurgeon.

Big game at Washington. The Wild has won seven of nine on the road, but the Capitals are playing great hockey and Alex Ovechkin is just sensational right now. He is lapping the rest of the league from a goal-scoring standpoint, scoring 26 in 29 games since Jan. 1!!!!

Oh, and as Parise pointed out after tonight’s game, they have Nicklas Backstrom, too, who isn’t too shabby.

No practice Wednesday. No blog unless there’s news. I’ll have an advance on the Caps game in Thursday’s paper. Later. I have an early flight to D.C., and if all goes well, I have a tour at the Pentagon!

Jordan Leopold talks about daughter's letter; Chris Stewart's debut leads to Jordan Schroeder's scratch

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 3, 2015 - 1:43 PM

Some light reading for ya, and I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission.

Wild, 13-2-1 in its past 16, vs. the Ottawa Senators, winners of five straight including three on this road trip, tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold will make their Wild debuts and Sean Bergenheim his home debut.

Jordan Schroeder is the odd guy out tonight (and more on that in a few).

First the news:

Marco Scandella had, what coach Mike Yeo called, a setback and will be out at least a week. I’m hearing he has an oblique issue.

Jared Spurgeon skated today, looked good and Yeo said is a possibility for Thursday’s game at Washington. However, there’s no practice Wednesday, so maybe that’s a stretch.

Ryan Carter (upper body) skated for the first time today. Matt Cooke has been skating for a week. Both skating by themselves and are still a way’s off. Jason Zucker continues to work out off the ice and was in the shooter tutor ripping pucks today.

Also, Matt Dumba and Schroeder are definitely here the rest of the year. The Wild made a paper reassignment and recall yesterday that will allow Christian Folin to be sent to Iowa if it turns out he’s a healthy scratch for an extended period again. Players had to be on Iowa’s roster yesterday in order to play there again this season.

Teams get four non-emergency recalls after the trade deadline and this was one of them.

Lines tonight:

Parise-Granlund-Pominville

Vanek-Koivu-Stewart

Niederreiter-Coyle-Bergenheim

Haula-Brodziak-Fontaine

Suter-Brodin

Prosser-Dumba

Leopold-Folin

Devan Dubnyk will make his 21st straight start, setting a Wild record.

As I guessed on last night’s blog, my gut said Schroeder would be the odd guy out. It’s a shame because he has been playing so well, but the fourth line has been solid the past two games and all three are penalty killers partially responsible for the Wild’s 43 for 44 post-All-Star break 16-game run. And if Schroeder comes out, it leads to the most minimal disruption of the other lines.

“It was going to be a tough decision no matter who we took out of the lineup tonight,” Yeo said. “Obviously, you trade for a guy like Stewy, we’re going to put him in and that takes somebody out of the lineup, so it was going to be a tough decision one way or the other. It kind of came down to the fact that Schroeds doesn’t have a penalty-kill role, doesn’t have a power-play role right now. But things could change here in the near future. When it comes to the group, there’s always challenges when you add a couple new players and getting to the chemistry right off the hop.”

On the Vanek-Koivu-Stewart line, Yeo said he will be watching to make sure they have enough speed in tonight’s game. Stewart can skate well, but he is gigantic, so we will see his speed tonight.

Yeo said on that line, “We know with the Granlund line, there’s a lot of chemistry there, we’ve seen the way that the Brodziak line has been playing the last couple games for us. And Nino and Charlie have some real chemistry together. We feel that Bergy can be a real complement to that line in terms of his north-south mentality and being a guy that plays kind of a big game and a hard game along the boards. And he should be a tough guy to play against. We put three skilled players together as far as Thomas and Mikko, we know that both those guys have the ability to create and Stewy is a big body who’s going to go to the net and hopefully go retrieve a lot of pucks and be strong down low in the offensive zone. There’s no magic formula where you can just punch in a program and come out with the perfect combination. We have to try some things and see how it works out.”

I did grab Schroeder and he’s obviously disappointed. He has three goals and four assists in his past 11 games and is plus-8 in that stretch.

“Mike told me to keep my head up,” Schroeder said. “It’s obviously a difficult decision. That’s part of the business, that’s part of the game. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone wants to play and contribute and I thought I’ve been doing a great job of just coming in here and making plays and using my speed. Next time I get in the lineup, I’ll be determined to prove to them that I need to stay in the lineup. That’s all you can do, be ready for the next time you get slotted in. It stinks, but that’s life. Sometimes you’ve got to take a few punches to make it. I’ve been through this before. Just keep my head up and keep working hard.”

Yeo said the one benefit of adding Stewart is “people probably looked at our team and we’ve felt it in games, I’ve seen it many times where teams think they’ve got an edge on us physically and they try to impose that in the game. Our team is tough in a much different sense than most people think. We respond well in those games, our guys continue to go to the hard areas, we win a lot of battles, but we’re not necessarily a physically imposing team in a lot of ways. I think Stewy changes a lot of that identity. I think just adding one player like that, all of a sudden you start to look like a big team. You look at some of the big bodies that we have out there, in this day and age, I think it’s how you play the game that’s most important. And if we play a big game, that could change that identity quickly. It’s going to take a little bit of time to figure it out, but we can’t allow for it to take too much time.”

At some point, Carter, Cooke and Zucker will be back, too. That means more difficult decisions.

“That’s what we have to deal with,” Yeo said. “We have one extra forward right now and arguably sitting a guy that played some really good hockey lately, and that’s not easy. We’ve got a couple guys that are on the mend that are not too far away. Things change quickly. We’ve got three games in four days right now and these types of things play out. We’re not looking too far ahead.”

Jordan Leopold addressed the media for the first time today.

He is very excited.

“This is home to me and this is pretty special,” the former Gopher said. “I got the phone call yesterday from Jarmo [Kekalainen] and didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve always dreamed of it and knew it was possible, but the fact that it becomes reality tonight is something special.”

On putting on the jersey tonight, Leopold said, “It will be pretty nuts, I anticipate there will be quite a lot of friends and family in the crowd. I heard from a lot of people yesterday, I turned my phone off for about 10 minutes and got about 150 texts. Anybody that knows me and has my number has contacted me, but it’s been great. The thing with my daughter writing the letter, it’s been a humbling experience.”

On that letter (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please look at the story in the paper and the past two blogs) written by actually his 10-year-old daughter (not 11), Jordyn, Leopold said, “That letter was written by my daughter back in January. With anybody that has kids, you know they take things upon themselves sometimes. She was writing a little bit persuasively at school and thought it was a good idea to write a persuasive letter. That was something our family shared, ended up putting it on Facebook. Friends and family saw it and some other wives through the years that can relate to it, it definitely has some sentiment. I actually told my wife maybe she should take that off before deadline, but it ended up staying on and going out there. A local friend who is on the radio (Paul Allen) ended up getting it from my wife and made it public just before the deadline. It is what it is, it’s a good story and I’m happy the media spun it the right way because really, in the end, this business is hard on families. It really is. Myself, with the experiences I’ve had over the years, it’s been crazy. But I woke up this morning and Carson Daly is reading the letter on the Today Show, and we’ve been contacted by everyone to get my daughter on TV. We’re quite humble people, the fame or whatever you call it, we don’t want it to get to their heads, but it’s nice. But like I said, there are many teammates that have reached out and said it was a good thing. I think the hockey community sees it that way as well. It has definitely been an interesting 24 hours.”

Asked how Jordyn reacted, Leopold, getting emotional, said, “My daughter is very shy. But my kids picked me up at the airport last night with open arms and it was special. I try not to get emotional, but it is. It’s a good thing.”

On what it will be like tonight, Leopold said, “As most people know, I won a national championship for the hometown team. Those days in this building are very special and they meant a great deal to me and my family. Anyone associated with Minnesota hockey has been excited about this story, and also the fact that my family has always wanted me to come home, and it’s time. Here I am. It’s going to be an emotional first five minutes, I can tell you that. But after that, it’s playing hockey again and doing what I grew up loving to do.”

He said it’s been an emotional 24 hours: “I didn’t think the letter was going to go viral, but it did. It’s something that I never asked for, all the attention but... my daughter doesn’t know what to think. … She’s pretty shy. Like anyone who has kids (knows), your kids can say some pretty funny things and do some pretty funny things.”

Leopold has been traded eight times. On yesterday, he said, “As a player going through it, you kind of joke around any time you get a phone call on deadline day even if it’s your dad or your mom or whatever it may be. Anything is possible. I’ve been traded four times on deadline. It’s never a comfortable feeling, you know it’s in the back of your mind. The good thing is I’ve been able to adapt pretty well to wherever I’ve been moved. That’s probably part of the reason I’ve been traded so many times. I’d like to look at that as a positive. People want you and feel you can fit in and help the team and that’s why I’m here.

“This team is hot right now. I’ve always followed the Wild. It doesn’t matter. They’re my hometown team, I can relate to the people, I want to see success at home and it’s good for the community. To have the opportunity to come back home is quite neat. We’ve just got to keep this thing on a roll. When you win hockey games and put streaks together, you know every night that when you come to the rink you’ve got a good chance of winning. That’s a good feeling.

On how tough this has been for his family living in Columbus, he said, “It’s not one of those things that people really see. The kids do suffer. Our wives definitely live a tough life at times. We aren’t asking for any sympathy. I can tell you that. It comes with the territory and we signed up for this. I chose to have kids at a young age. My career is not going to last forever. There’s more important things than hockey and the kids rank up there.”

On how tough it was in Columbus: “There were some discussions with management. Not a lot. But there was a time when we had 9 D men active on the roster and I was the ninth D man. I knew I was either going to get waived or traded at some point in time. But they were very respectful. I owe it to them for being respectful. They did the right thing and now I get an opportunity at home.”

By the way, Stewart called Leopold yesterday and started singing the Peaches and Herbs song, “Reunited.”

Stewart joked this is the third time he has played with Leopold: “I can’t shake him.”

He said, “I'm just happy this is over with, and I'm here now, excited to be a part of this team. I'm looking forward to the future and having a great run here. It's kind of still surreal. It's been a long 24 hours, but finally got in here last night and got a good night's rest. I think once the puck drops and all that's complete, the easiest thing is just playing hockey.”

On coming to a playoff contender, he said, “It's great. It's a dream come true. Last year, I was on the exact reverse situation. I went from St. Louis to Buffalo, who was dead last at the time. I wasn't too happy about that. So to be in the opposite shoes this time around, it's definitely a good feeling.”

On playing in the West again, he said, “I just think, me personally, it's a lot more physical brand of hockey. The East, I think it's a lot more high-offensive, run-and-gun, and a little bit looser defensively. I think going up against some of the bigger teams in the Western Conference will probably bring a lot more out of me.

“The way the team is set up and knowing the players in the room, I think my job's pretty simple. They've got the high-end skill guys here who can put the puck in the net. I think for me, I've just got to come in and bring that physical and that power element. When you're only worried about one or two or three things a game, it's really easier to play.”

Zach Parise talked about the trades, saying, “It sends a good message to us, that they’ve done it the last couple of years now. They’ve gone out at the deadline and got players. It just means that they believe in us, you know? They believe in what we’re doing. They think that just a little boost can help us even more.”

Asked how they incorporate Stewart into a team that’s running well, Parise said, “It’s never a problem. When you bring in guys, they want to come in and contribute. They know how we’ve been playing lately, and they want to contribute and they want to be a part of it. And these guys are no different than that. They want to help out in any way that they can. So to me, the chemistry thing is never going to be an issue.”

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