This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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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Tonight at Mariucci Arena, the No. 1 ranked Gophers face off against the No. 2 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The Gophers are coming off an 8-1 win Dec. 30 against Boston College to win the Mariucci Classic and overtake the Eagles for No. 1 in the nation. Notre Dame has not played in 24 days and once since Dec. 8. The Irish has won six in a row.
The game will also feature Don Lucia going up against his son, Notre Dame freshman Mario Lucia, for the first time. Here is the feature I wrote on them today.
Lucia, Gophers assistant coach Grant Potulny are just back from Russia, where they won gold with the U.S. at the world juniors. The team will be honored before the game.
Don Lucia flirted with not dressing defenseman Mike Reilly, but he is listed as an extra skater on the line chart. So I'd assume that means Lucia monitors his ice time and energy level.
Erik Haula is out with a finger injury. Nate Condon takes his spot.
Here are the lines
Kyle Rau-Nick Bjugstad-Christian Isackson
Sam Warning-Nate Condon-Zach Budish
Tom Serratore-Travis Boyd-Seth Ambroz
XXXXXXXXXXX-A.J. Michaelson-Justin Holl
Seth Helgeson-Mark Alt
Jake Parenteau-Ben Marshall
Brady Skjei-Nate Schmidt
Jeff Costello-Anders Lee-Bryan Rust
Mario Lucia-T.J. Tynan-Mike Voran
Nick Larson-David Gerths-Austin Wuthrich
Thomas DiPauli-Steven Fogarty-Peter Schneider
Shayne Taker-Stephen Johns
Kevin Lind-Robbie Russo
Eric Johnson-Sam Calabrese
In a remarkable turnaround after one-goal losses in the preliminary round to Canada and Russia, the United States reeled off four consecutive victories and capped it off with a 3-1 win over defending champion Sweden today to win the gold medal at the World Under-20 Championship in Ufa, Russia.
The gold is the Americans' second since 2010 and third in history.
Just a tremendous job by coach Phil Housley (South St. Paul, Stillwater High), who juggled the lineup around, found the magic formula and helped this team jell in wins over Slovakia, Czech Republic, Canada and Sweden.
"They inspired a nation today," Housley told NHL Network after the game. "We're bringing home the gold, guys!"
Housley's group continued to grow game by game.
Congrats also to Minnesotans Mike Reilly (Chanhassen, Gophers) and Mario Lucia (Wayzata, Notre Dame) and Housley's staff, which included Grant Potulny (Gophers assistant) and Mark Osiecki (Ohio State).
(You can read quotes from Reilly, Lucia and Potulny from a few nights ago on the previous blog).
University of North Dakota redshirt freshman Rocci Grimaldi was the offensive whiz today, scoring two goals, including the winner. This came after Grimaldi was relegated as the 13th forward four games ago.
"He played unbelievable these last three games," Housley told NHL Network. "My hat goes off to him. He took [the 13th forward slot] the right way."
The world junior All-Star team was selected as John Gibson (USA) in goal, Jacob Trouba (USA) and Jake McCabe (USA) on the blue line and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins (Canada), Johnny Gaudreau (USA) and Filip Forsberg (Sweden) at forward.
Rock-solid Gibson was named tournament MVP and top goalie. Trouba was top defenseman and Nugent-Hopkins top forward.
I will be on KFAN at 10:35 a.m. to talk world juniors, Gophers and NHL lockout (mediation today after 12 hours yesterday, 5 p.m. CT deadline for NHLPA disclaimer of interest vote to be concluded).
In the wee hours of this morning, the United States, coached by Minnesotans Phil Housley, Grant Potulny and Mark Osiecki, crushed Canada, 5-1, in the semifinals of the world junior championships in Ufa, Russia.
Here's the story, with video highlights.
The Americans will face defending champion Sweden, who upended Russia in a shootout, in Saturday's gold-medal game at 7 a.m. CT.
Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau continued his offensive assault with two more goals (seven in the past three), Wisconsin's Jake McCabe, the U.S. captain, had two goals and an assist and John Gibson made 36 saves.
Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly tweeted at @mreilly93: "What a game to be a part of. Moving on to the finals. #goforgold"
Saturday morning's game will be on NHL Network and streamed on NHL.com. I will be on KFAN at 10:35 a.m. to talk about the game and NHL/NHLPA bargaining updates.
As you can see on the previous blog, the two sides met late into the night last night and expect to meet again today with a federal mediator. Gary Bettman said the sides agreed to meet at 10 a.m. ET. The two sides haven't begun meeting yet as the NHLPA is reportedly meeting internally and updating its membership of yesterday's events.
I get asked a lot if there's any chance after a handshake agreement that the NHL starts playing while the collective bargaining agreement is drafted, lawyered up and ratified. Doubtful.
In 1994-95, there were tons of wildfires that had to be put out the ensuing months when they tried that, stuff like, "You agreed to this, ... Uh, no we didn't." This morning is a case of the NHL thought they agreed to meet at 10 a.m. moments after this alleged agreement, and the NHLPA didn't understand it that way.
So the two sides can't agree on that, think they'll play with a handshake?
Details are starting to emerge:
-- I have confirmed ESPN Pierre LeBrun's report that the league has agreed to the two compliance buyouts the players want for 2013-14 (wouldn't count against the salary cap). But the owners feel that since they're willing to hand players a lump sum of money to walk away, that should come out of the player share of the 50/50 split of revenues, not the owners. Players don't want it that way; they want it to come from outside the system. This transition rule is a big bridge that must be gapped.
There seems to be a lot of confusion among fans. The purpose of the compliance buyouts are so teams can get compliant with the 2013-14 salary cap that will decline (the league wants it to be $60 million, the union $65 million) as the split in revenues go from 57-43 in favor of the players to 50-50.
Because this affects 2013-14, this really has little affect on the Wild.
The salary cap this year (if they get a deal done to salvage the season) will still be prorated at $70.2 million, so the Wild, with the second-highest payroll in the NHL, are compliant. Even if the cap falls to $60 million in 2013-14, the Wild would be at $50.5 million assuming Niklas Backstrom, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen aren't re-signed. This doesn't include the promotions of Houston prospects other than Mikael Granlund, free-agent signings and the re-signings of potential restricted free agents like Cal Clutterbuck.
But the Wild conceivably wouldn't have to buy out anybody.
By the way, check out the previous blog for Wild injury news and also how an abbreviated training camp may determine which kids from Houston get a look right away. It's interesting because the kids in Houston succeeding are in midseason form, so that could be quite the advantage for the Wild. However, there's very few open spots due to one-way contracts, so there's just no chance more than a handful could start with the Wild.
-- Also, reportedly (I have not confirmed yet), the NHL is willing to move the variance of salaries inside contracts year to year to 20 percent.
-- Pensions, the fact the NHL wants six-year max deals (seven to re-sign your own players) and a $60 million ceiling in 2013-14 continue to be the big "open issues."
I'll be back later with a report on the Gophers after availability, but as I mentioned, Erik Haula is expected to miss at least the next three games with a finger injury. Don Lucia indicated yesterday that Nate Condon may move to second-line center from first-line right wing to replace him.
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