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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Posts about Wild news

Devan Dubnyk nominated for the Masterton Trophy by the Twin Cities chapter of the PHWA

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 2, 2015 - 1:22 PM

Frankly, there has been no better comeback story in the NHL.

A year ago at this time, Devan Dubnyk was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. Today, he has become the toast of the NHL for turning the Wild’s season around an incredible run of success since being traded to Minnesota on Jan. 14.

The Wild workhorse goalie, who will start his 36th consecutive game tonight (35th in a row for the Wild) against the New York Rangers, has allowed two goals or fewer 26 times. He has allowed 57 goals in 34 starts, one fewer than the Wild allowed in the 14 games before he arrived. He is 26-6-1 with the Wild with a 1.70 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, which includes a crazy 14-1-1 road record with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.

Behind the scenes, it took a ton of work to resurrect his career and become this year’s feel-good NHL story.

If you didn’t read here, I wrote today about how Dubnyk has put himself in the conversation for the Hart and Vezina Trophies. In fact, Bovada has him as the fourth-best odds to win the Hart (15/1)

The Bill Masterton trophy is the award given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has chosen Dubnyk as this year’s Wild nominee.

Last season, Dubnyk was basically run out of Edmonton. He was dealt to Nashville, played two admittedly poor games and was traded to Montreal after the Olympic break and immediately assigned to Hamilton.

During the playoffs, Dubnyk was so far buried on the depth chart, the Canadiens permitted him to leave the team and return to his wife and infant son in Edmonton so he could be a husband and a dad.

“It was crazy. It feels like last year was so long ago now,” Dubnyk said this morning after being informed of the honor by the two Wild beat writers. “The most important thing was getting that break in the summer, really getting a chance to reflect on last year, think about what happened, what could I have controlled and what couldn’t I have controlled?

“The most important thing for me is I wanted to take the mindset of realizing that if I would have played better, I wouldn’t have been in that situation, and not think that I didn’t get a fair shake or wasn’t treated fairly somewhere. The thing is if I would have played better hockey, I wouldn’t have ended up in Hamilton.”

Last summer, the NHL allowed a free-agent interview period for teams. That turned out to be perfect for Dubnyk.

His agent knows Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett well, and Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, like Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, always liked Dubnyk’s game from afar.

Burke and Dubnyk had a long phone conversation.

“To have them put full confidence kind of just allowed me to start from square one and feel good about what I had done and really try to forget about that period of time,” Dubnyk said.

Off the ice, Dubnyk said, “A lot of it was mental. I’ve always been comfortable as far as my summer program and conditioning. I think I got on the ice a little more early on. And then to have that opportunity to go to Vail and work with [former NHL goalie] Steve Valiquette [on a new head trajectory technique] was important for me and also going to Arizona early and talking to Burkie and starting that early.

“The reflecting part – during the season] you don’t have a chance to think about it. It’s not a lot of fun and you’re just kind of stuck in it. You go to the rink every day and it’s kind of the same old, same. You don’t have a chance to sit back, but once I was able to get away with it and get back with my family, it gives you the opportunity to really just look back on the entire situation and go through it and understand what it was that happened and what I could do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Now, he’s come to Minnesota and was immediately embraced by his teammates. It helped a ton that he showed such commitment by flying all night after the trade to start that first game in Buffalo when the Wild so needed something different. The next day, after that 7-0 win, a lot of teammates also took note that there he was at J.P. Parise’s funeral even though he had his entire life uprooted and his wife and son were still in Arizona.

This afternoon, I am filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN from 3-6:30 p.m. One of my guests is Zach Parise. I pre-taped the interview because the interview is running at 5:55 p.m. and he has a game tonight.

“I remember playing against him, scoring on him a couple times before he got here, I remember that,” Parise said, laughing. “Other than that, I didn’t know much about him at all. So I was surprised and happy we traded for him because I knew he was a big guy, and it’s just been a really good story.”

Parise also said how well he’s fit in, saying, “He’s a really easygoing guy, very easy to get along with. You’ve got a guy like [Niklas] Backstrom, you can’t talk to him on the day of a game. It’s like you don’t even exist.” He said, kiddingly, “I don’t know how he lives his life like that. So it’s kind of refreshing to have someone you can joke around with in the locker room before the game.”

Dubnyk said he is enjoying everything about being here.

“I’ve been trying to do that the whole way through,” Dubnyk said. “You want to stay level. You don’t want to get too high and think too much about it, but at the same time my approach from the get-go this year was to really try to enjoy and embrace every opportunity that I got. That continued when I got here, just taking those days in between games to just enjoy the wins and enjoy the feeling that we have here and what we’re doing because it is a special thing, and that’s made it that much more special. It’s not like I’m trying my best to pretend nothing’s going on here. It’s been fun and I’m enjoying it, so it’s just going to get more exciting from here on out.”

In 2013, Josh Harding won the Masterton Trophy.

The Wild’s all-time nominees are Harding (2013-14, 2012-13), Clayton Stoner (2011-12), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010-11), Guillaume Latendresse (2009-10), Kurtis Foster (2008-09), Aaron Voros (2007-08), Marian Gaborik (2006-07), Wes Walz (2005-06, 2000-01), Alexandre Daigle (2003-04), Dwayne Roloson (2002-03) and Richard Park (2001-02).

As I mentioned, I am filling in for Barreiro today.

Besides Parise, my guests include Super Troopers/Beerfest, etc. actor/comedian/writer/director Erik Stolhanske, Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson, Rangers play-by-play guy Kenny Albert, Minnesota United coach Manny Lagos and the Wild’s Kevin Falness will be in with me as well.

I’ll also be on Fox Sports North tonight to talk about the Wild, Dustin Byfuglien, Dubnyk and the Wild’s upcoming schedule and potential playoff opponents if the Wild makes it.

Lineup the same as has been reported all week.

Coach Mike Yeo said today that Matt Cooke’s conditioning after so much time off still needs to improve, so the first “realistic goal” for Cooke to return is likely next Tuesday in Chicago.

The Rangers are awesome on the road. The Metro leaders are a road win for its 26th to break a team record. They are fast and good, so the Wild will have to beware the first 10 minutes tonight to make sure the inevitable rust from four days off doesn’t kill them.

Yeo is worried about an emotional letdown after two big wins and just wants the Wild to get back to that desperation level it was playing with every night.

Also, after four days of hearing how good they are and after four days of so much talk that they’re already in the playoffs, Yeo wants to make sure his players remember they’re not yet.

Yeo met with the six potential fourth-liners down the stretch, tonight’s fourth line of Ryan Carter, Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder and scratched Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim and the injured Cooke to explain that they all have arguments as to why should play down the stretch, but if they’re not, it is incumbent on them to have good attitudes, support the rest of the team, not create problems and work hard.

He doesn’t foresee problems but wanted to get ahead of it and explain the situation.

“It’s healthy for a team to have competition,” Schroeder said. “It pushes guys. But at the same time you don’t want guys being upset and negative around the locker room. You want guys to be upbeat and positive and trying to help and support each other.

“Good teams have depth. It’s difficult for everyone from the coaches on down to make decisions when guys are playing so well and the team’s playing so well. So if you’re in, play your butt off and try to stay in the lineup. But things can change night to night.”

Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk once again honored by the NHL

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 30, 2015 - 11:25 AM

For the second time since coming to the Wild on Jan. 14, Devan Dubnyk was named the NHL's First Star of the Week after winning back-to-back, back-to-backs last week. In February, he was named First Star once, Third Star once and the February First Star of the Month. It's the first time a Wild player has gotten four honors in a season.

Last week, Dubnyk went 4-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .962 save percentage to lead the Wild (44-25-7, 95 points) to four consecutive victories, including their franchise-record 10th straight on the road. He opened the week with 35 saves in a 2-1 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs March 23. Dubnyk followed that performance by stopping 37 shots – and all three attempts he faced in the shootout – in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders March 24. He capped the week with victories on consecutive days, making 23 saves in a 4-2 triumph over the Calgary Flames March 27 and 31 stops in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings March 28. The 28-year-old Regina, Sask., native has won a career-high 35 games while ranking second in the NHL with a 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 53 appearances this season. That includes a 26-6-1 record with a 1.70 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and five shutouts since joining the Wild Jan. 15.

When Dubnyk came to the Wild, Minnesota and Edmonton were tied for the worst save percentages in the NHL (.889). The Wild's .940 save percentage since (which included 14 saves on 14 shots by Darcy Kuemper in relief Jan. 20 in Detroit) has the Wild up to a tie for 11th with a .912 save percentage.

Amazing turnaround.

Defenseman Christian Folin got his game with Iowa yesterday and was recalled back up. Folin has been scratched in five straight games and nine of the past 11.

Rachel Blount is covering today's optional practice as I write an enterprise piece on the NHL's Situation Room for tomorrow's newspaper. Should be a fun read.

Wild signs Minnesota State's Zach Palmquist and Vermont's Brody Hoffman

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 30, 2015 - 11:30 AM

UDPATED WITH SCOUTING REPORTS

The Wild has dipped into the college free-agent market again.

Six days after signing University of New Hampshire forward Grayson Downing to a two-year, entry-level contract, the Wild has signed Minnesota State senior defenseman Zach Palmquist and University of Vermont junior goaltender Brody Hoffman to one-year deals.

Because both players are 24, the one year is the max term for an entry-level deal. They'll be restricted free agents in the summer of 2016.

Palmquist impressed during last year's Wild development camp as an invitee.

The 6-foot Palmquist, a native of South St. Paul, served as an alternate captain this past season and tied for fourth on the Mavericks with 29 points (eight goals). In four years in Mankato, Palmquist didn't miss a single game. He set a school record by playing 160 consecutive games, scoring 96 points and 109 penalty minutes. He tied for first in defensemen scoring in Maverick history (since the Mavs became a Division-I school in 1996-7). Palmquist was named to the All-WCHA First Team in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and a WCHA All-Academic selection in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Prior to playing at Minnesota State, he collected 57 points (13-44--57) in 124 games during parts of three seasons with Waterloo (USHL, 2008-11). Palmquist played at South St. Paul High School and was a finalist for the 2009 Mr. Hockey Award. He will report to the Iowa Wild on an amateur tryout for the remainder of this season.

From Wild scout Brian Hunter: Puck moving D who plays a smart game, will get up in the play offensively to join the rush, competes in all 3 zones, very good skater, with a smooth, long stride. His style and skating allows him to play big minutes like he did at MSU.

The Wild loves Hoffman's 6-foot-4 frame, and I think we're starting to see the Wild believe in what is becoming a leaguewide trend of big goalies. Heck, look at Devan Dubnyk.

Hoffman went 13-6-2 in 22 games this past season. He ranked 18th in the NCAA with a 2.06 goals-against average and tied for 29th with a .922 save percentage. He was 34-33-9 in three years there with a 2.45 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

The native of Wilkie, Saskatchewan, was recently the NCAA First Star of the Week in part for helping the Catamounts upset Boston College in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs. Hoffman will not be playing for Iowa this season.

Hunter: Obviously can't teach size at 6'4. Decent puck handler, He tracks the puck well, plays quiet in goal, doesn't get too swimmy, but is athletic enough to have the ability to scramble if needed. But his strengths are cutting angles down, controlling or swallowing up rebounds and using big frame to be a blocker.

The Wild is trying to influx more goalie prospects into the organization.

Darcy Kuemper can not play minor-league games without going through waivers.

Iowa goalie Johan Gustafsson, 23, who once backstopped Sweden to a gold medal at the world junior championships, is a restricted free agent this summer and has yet to play an NHL game. He is 8-20-1 this season with a 3.41 goals-against average and .895 save percentage. Last year as a first-year North American pro, he went 12-20-4 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

Fellow Iowa veteran goalie John Curry is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Draft picks Stephen Michalek, Alexandre Belanger and Kaapo Kahkonen are currently unsigned.

Wild close to signing University of Vermont goalie Brody Hoffman

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 29, 2015 - 9:27 PM

The Wild is close to signing 24-year-old University of Vermont junior goaltender Brody Hoffman to an entry-level contract, sources say.

The deal, which will be one year long due to his age, is not yet finalized.

The contract will start next season and he will likely not report to Iowa this season on an amateur tryout. University of New Hampshire forward Grayson Downing signed an ATO along with his entry-level deal last Tuesday.

Hoffman, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds, went 13-6-2 in 22 games this past season. He ranked 18th in the NCAA with a 2.06 goals-against average and tied for 29th with a .922 save percentage. He was 34-33-9 in three years there with a 2.45 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

The native of Wilkie, Saskatchewan, was recently the NCAA First Star of the Week in part for helping the Catamounts upset Boston College in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.

The Wild is trying to influx more goalie prospects into the organization.

Darcy Kuemper can not play minor-league games without going through waivers.

Iowa goalie Johan Gustafsson, 23, who once backstopped Sweden to a gold medal at the world junior championships, is a restricted free agent this summer and has yet to play an NHL game. He is 8-20-1 this season with a 3.41 goals-against average and .895 save percentage. Last year as a first-year North American pro, he went 12-20-4 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

Fellow Iowa veteran goalie John Curry is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Draft picks Stephen Michalek, Alexandre Belanger and Kaapo Kahkonen are currently unsigned.

Have a question about the Wild? Ask on my blog for a Sunday column Q and A

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 27, 2015 - 7:46 AM

I plan to do a live chat on startribune.com next week, BUT as I just sat down to write my Sunday Insider, I decided to change up the plans and conduct another Russo's Rants Q and A for this Sunday's paper.

I typically write my Sunday columns on Fridays. TODAY IS FRIDAY!!!!

Late notice, I know, so get to work. Here's your shot to ask a question that may be answered in my Sunday column.

Here's the deal though: They have to be quick, easy-to-answer questions because space is at a premium in the newspaper and I'd like to include as many of your questions as possible.

So fire away, and understand that for space reasons, I may have to edit (trim) your question.

Try not to repeat questions asked by others and please don't use this space to comment on reader questions. This way I can easily snip out the questions I'll answer in my Sunday Insider.

You have until early this afternoon.

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