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

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Q&A quick hits

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 6, 2014 - 7:50 PM

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly are in the house tonight to take in the Wild's first second-round home game in 11 years.

Bettman came by the press room to say hello, and here he is on a couple brief subjects.

He said the divisional rivalries in the first two rounds of the playoffs are "what we envisioned," especially in terms of engagement from the fans.

"Buildings are more than 100 percent full, our TV ratings nationally are up, our digital platforms and social media is up."

He pointed out that of the second-round rivalries -- Wild vs. Hawks, Ducks vs. Kings, Bruins vs. Habs and Rangers vs. Pens, nobody's traveling more than 400 miles.

On the 8:30 p.m. starts to make sure every game can be seen nationally, Bettman said, laughing, "You’re asking me because you’re worrying about your deadline, but in this digital era, deadlines have become largely irrelevant." (I'd disagree, but ...)

As far as the fans, Bettman said, "The fact of the matter is we’re trying to satisfy the greatest demand for all the fans throughout North America, so it’s a balancing act. We think we’re doing it as sensibly as possibly. We think it’s worked well. It’s been a fair balance."

On a stadium-series outdoor game in Minnesota (I reported today the Wild's getting one at Target Field probably next year; Wild wants Chicago, NHL wants it to be Dallas), Bettman said, "We know of the interest. You know I was here looking at venues. I have nothing to announce, but," he said with a sly smile, "we’re very focused."

Matt Cooke makes statement regarding 7-game suspension

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 24, 2014 - 4:08 PM

Matt Cooke, suspended seven games for injuring Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie with a knee-on-knee hit Monday night, addressed the media this afternoon.

Cooke didn’t field questions but made an unwritten statement.

“First and foremost, I want to say that I’m disappointed and sorry that Tyson Barrie can’t play for the Colorado Avalanche tonight. I wish that he could. Unfortunately, it was not my intent to collide with him knee-on-knee. It was my intent to finish my check. Playoffs are a hard and physical time and it’s my job to be physical. I’ve led my team in hits in all three games and it’s an intense time. I’ve led my team this year in hits and in this series.

“Since March 20, 2011 (the elbow to Ryan McDonagh that resulted in a 17-game suspension), I’ve been a changed player. I’ve approached the game differently, I think differently about the game. That The stats that I’ve collected over those three seasons prove that I’m a changed player and the plays that I make and the plays that I don’t make prove to that point as well. At the end of the day, this situation was not my intent.”

Cooke has until tomorrow night to decide if he will appeal his suspension to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Cooke didn’t respond when I asked if he would.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said this morning, “It doesn’t matter the number of games [Cooke received]. It doesn’t replace Tyson Barrie. We want to see Tyson on the ice tonight.”

Zach Parise wouldn’t discuss his opinion of Cooke’s suspension length nor the perceived inconsistency in the league’s decision-making process when it comes to suspensions (i.e. Bryan Bickell leading with his knee on Vladimir Sobotka last weekend and getting nothing):

“I don’t know what they look for. It’s not fair for me to comment on it, but I have got my opinion.”

On Cooke, Parise said, “You’ve got to know when he’s on the ice because he finishes his hits. So when you’re playing against him, if you’ve got your head down, he’s going to come after you and try and hit you. He’s one of those players where you just got to know where he is.”

Coach Mike Yeo is excited to finally drop the puck on Game 4 at an absurdly late 8:30 local time.

“It’s amazing a couple days between games in the playoffs feels like a week. Good day off, good practice yesterday, and now I can’t wait to hurry up and wait ‘til 8:30 tonight,” he joked.

As you know because you READ TODAY’S COVERAGE, Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine line. Also, Kyle Brodziak, scratched Monday, will center Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.

Darcy Kuemper vs. Semyon Varlamov. Kuemper made 22 saves in his first career shutout in his first career playoff start Monday.

“Honestly, I don’t think it would even matter who would be in net for them,” Roy said. “I think we had only four scoring chances all night long. They played really well. I mean, they tracked really well, they came back hard in the middle of the ice. They played with great urgency. I mean, they had a solid game. I have to give it to them. I don’t want to take anything from [Kuemper], but at the same time, I thought he had an easy game and I’m sure Bryzgalov could have done the exact same thing.”

On Cooke’s sentence, Yeo said, “We always definitely respect and accept what the decision is from the league, and with that, it’s just real important that we all put it behind us.”

On if Cooke will continue to provide a leadership role on team (he can practice and travel and be around all team functions, and he did skate today with the team), Yeo said, “For me, I’m focused on the game tonight, so to sit here and say that I spent the morning trying to make a plan for Matt Cooke, I haven’t. We’re playing Colorado tonight and I’m focused on the guys that are in the lineup. There will be time for some of those decisions.”

Matt Cooke suspended seven games by the NHL

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 23, 2014 - 8:38 PM

Matt Cooke’s 100th career playoff game was his last for awhile.

The NHL threw the book at Cooke on Wednesday by suspending the Wild’s physical winger seven games for his knee-on-knee-hit that injured Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie’s left knee in Monday’s playoff game.

If the term of the suspension is not fully served during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the remaining games will be served at the beginning of the 2014-15 regular season.

It is the second-longest suspension in NHL history for kneeing. Bryan Marchment, who made kneeing an artform, got eight games in 1998 for kneeing Kevin Dineen in the regular season.

Here is the NHL video explanation

In the video, the NHL explains that Cooke was leading with his left knee and "After Barrie releases the puck, Cooke continues in this posture, further extends his knee and makes contact with Barrie's left knee. The play is entirely in front of Cooke from the moment he steps on the ice and begins striding toward Barrie well before impact is made."

The video continues, "Seeing Cooke coming at him, Barrie takes evasive action and moves to his right in an attempt to avoid contact. While this evasive action might have worsened the extent of the injury, it should have been entirely predictable to Cooke that Barrie would attempt to avoid contact."

Cooke, who met with league officials Wednesday afternoon with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, has the right to appeal the suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman within 48 hours. If the ruling is upheld, Cooke would then have the right to appeal to a neutral arbitrator within seven days. If he appeals, Cooke cannot play until the appeal is heard and ruled upon.

Barrie is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Even though Cooke had mostly kept it clean the past three years, there is no doubt Cooke’s history of past on-ice transgressions played a giant role in the severity of the suspension.

In the video, it says, "The distance traveled with an extended knee, the further extension of the knee to ensure contact, the force of the impact and the resulting injury to an opponent merit supplemental discipline. These factors, combined with Cooke’s history, warrant a more significant penalty than the most recent suspensions that have been imposed for kneeing."

(Chris Porter got four games, James Neal five, but he kneed a guy in the head)

Cooke had previously been suspended five times for a total of 20 regular-season games and seven playoff games and fined four other times. He had not been suspended since March 2011. In that incident, Cooke, then a Pittsburgh Penguin, elbowed the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh and was suspended the final 10 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs, which lasted seven games.

“Everybody’s well-informed about who he is and what he does, it speaks for itself,” Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said this afternoon. “There’s no place for that in the game. Look at the guy he hit, one of our top D, he’s going to be out for the foreseeable future. I don’t even know if there’s a place for [Cooke] in this game. It’s disgusting what he’s done to guys’ careers.”

Cooke’s most notoriously known for his head-shot on the Bruins’ Marc Savard in March 2010. Cooke wasn’t penalized or suspended, but the elbow led to the league cracking down harder on head shots. Savard returned in the 2010 playoffs, but he was limited to 25 games in 2010-11 after suffering another concussion and hasn’t played since.

On and off the ice, Cooke has worked to try to alter his agitating, hard-nosed style since the McDonagh eye-opener. Cooke knew if he didn’t clean up his act, he would be out of the league. So he worked with coaches on the ice and watched video off the ice.

He hasn’t had a major penalty since the McDonagh hit and has cut down his penalty minutes dramatically.

Until the Barrie incident, there were several examples during his first season with the Wild that he was a reformed player.

Cooke had a solid regular season for the Wild, but he was taking his game to a new level in the playoffs. He had an assist in three games, was a big part of the Wild’s 10 for 11 penalty kill and was tied for third in the NHL with 18 hits.

“The way he plays, he gives confidence to the whole team,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “We’re going to support him whatever happens. Now it’s a chance for somebody else to come into the lineup and do that job for us … in a different way. Obviously you can’t find another Matt Cooke. … We’ll miss him, but at the same time, he’s going to support us, we’ll support him and we’ll move on.”

Coach Mike Yeo has also raved all season about Cooke’s leadership.

“He’s a great player, great guy to have in the room,” center Erik Haula said. “He’s our physical presence out on the ice. We’re just going to have to replace that. Of course, he’ll be missed.”

Koivu said he hasn’t seen the Barrie incident, but “everything happens fast. We’ve seen those hits before. We will see them in the future. No one’s trying to do that, but it’s hockey. It happens very fast and you’re trying to be physical.”

On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.

Niederreiter takes Cooke's spot on checking line; Cooke suspension length coming

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 23, 2014 - 4:14 PM

Wild veteran left Matt Cooke and GM Chuck Fletcher were in New York today for an in-person hearing stemming from Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie on Monday.

Cooke faces a significant suspension, one that is expected to be announced later today (I'll blog later when ruling is out). Remember, Cooke can appeal any suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman and any suspension six games or more to a neutral arbitrator. He cannot play during any appeals process.

So at the very minimum, we shouldn’t expect to see Cooke again in the first round. Want to hear my thoughts on Cooke and other interesting things? Last night, I did another edition of Denver Post Avs beat writer Adrian Dater’s Podcast, “Hockey Talk.” Fox 9’s Dawn Mitchell also joins! We talk about a number of interesting things, I think. Here’s the link!!! It’s about an hour. Last week’s one is also on iTunes. (free).

Good day from the X, the site of Game 4 Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. The NHL has announced that Game 5 will be at 7:30 p.m. MT/8:30 p.m. CT on Saturday from the Pepsi Center in Denver.

With Cooke suspended, youngster Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the shutdown line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Haula, Fontaine and Cooke were largely credited for helping slow the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line in Monday’s 1-0 OT win.

Fontaine and Haula were quick to say it was a team effort of five-man units, good gaps and large portions of the game played in the offensive zone. That must continue.

If you remember, in almost identical circumstances, the Wild returned to Minnesota to play Game 3 last year against the Blackhawks. In almost identical circumstances, the Wild needed an overtime win (Jason Zucker’s heroics off Matt Cullen’s setup) to beat Chicago in a game the Wild dominated. Sound familiar?

The Wild then came out in Game 4, started well, didn’t score, went 0 for 6 on the power play and lost 3-0 to the Blackhawks. That set the stage for a Game 5 blowout.

You know that Colorado will come out a desperate team in Game 4 because it knows a victory means it can close the series at home Saturday. The Wild must exceed that desperation Thursday to even up the series.

With Cooke coming out of the lineup, Kyle Brodziak enters back in the fray. Scratched in Game 3, Brodziak will center the fourth line with Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.

Here’s some of coach Mike Yeo’s thoughts from today:

On putting Niederreiter on that third line: "Yeah, obviously like I said yesterday there's some things we discussed, different scenarios we could have tried. Probably looking at the way Haulzie and Fonzie played, trying to keep that intact. Adding a guy who can be strong on the puck, whose responsible defensively and can play a strong two-way game and that was important to us. Obviously a good challenge for three young kids."

Concerned about youth? “Listen, they're a big part of our team. We have confidence in those guys so we're not going to try to hide anybody out here. Obviously if we feel it's not working, I'm comfortable with any line. I'm comfortable with any of our centermen. If that's their assignment they'll take care of it and if we put somebody else on the task they'll have to take care of it too”

Evaluate Niederreiter’s year: “I think it's been very good. It would be easy to sit here and say he started off one way and finished another. It's the time of year where the hockey has improved and the pace of play has improved. What I really appreciate about him is we've been able to insert him into different roles. We've put him in a scoring role, we've put him in a checking role and he's always sort of adapted. To me, that's the sign of a good player. That's the sign of a guy who's going to have a good career. He's not pigeon-holed. For a player like that, big strong, physical guy he has skill. I feel really good about how he's developed and I think it's been a good first year for him here.”

Urgency needed Thursday: “Well, there better be. It’s not like we’re ahead in the series here. We’re down and I think we recognize that they’re going to come in with a real strong effort next game. i think that they recognize the importance of the next game, let’s not kid ourselves, and I think we should too. We would love the opportunity to go back to Colorado with some momentum, we’d love the opportunity to go back to Colorado and hopefully they’re feeling a bit of pressure. I think that game is going to be an important one.”

Last year proof of that?: “That’s part of it. Let’s not kid ourselves, we know it’s a swing game, for sure. I look closely at that game last year, we had a real good start and then the game kind of got away from us. I think what’s important is, we understand the result we want to have but there’s a way we have to do it and there’s a way we have to play the game. We have to make sure we’re ready for that.”

Built up momentum in Game 3, does Cooke let air out of the balloon?: “It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We started the game really well, we built momentum and they started to come on as the game went on. I thought we were actually tight starting overtime. Getting that goal was big for us because it felt like that was the first sign of us starting  to fear that maybe something was getting away from us. I think getting that goal was huge, for me momentum it’s always there, it’s always something that you feel but at the same time, it’s always something you have to establish and keep or establish. So, going into next game, I think both teams will recognize the importance of the start. I know they’re going to come out hard and obviously our guys are going to have to too. We’re going to have to be ready to, not only come out hard, but sharp. If they’re going to pressure harder, we have to move the puck a little bit better, if they;re going to play more physical, we’re going to have to be ready to take hits to make plays, whatever the case is, at the same time, we’re gotta make sure that we’re ready to dictate and not just sit there see what they’re going to bring.” 

Brodziak, what do you want?: “You know, the same things that we always want from him. Obviously penalty killing will be important and sort of a defensive-minded presence on the ice but a guy who’s going to be play the game hard both ends of the ice and a guy who’s going to be strong on the puck. That’s really not a big change for him, and I’m confident he’ll come in and play well.”

Heatley, and how well he played: “I was real happy to see the way that he came in. I give real credit to him the way that he’s handled himself since being out. For a veteran guy like that and the success that he’s had, to not start in our lineup, he handled it with a great deal of professionalism. But more importantly he made sure that he was ready. The fact that he’s been around, that he understands that there’s going to be changes for injury or performance. He made sure that he was ready, and obviously if he keeps going the way he’s at, it’s a great thing for us and he’ll continue to get more opportunities.”

Who initiates physical play now without Cooke?: “I think that typically we’re not a team that one looks to one guy and sees how he’s playing and then we all react to it. We had the opportunity before Game 3 where I met with every player and just kind of figured out where they’re at mentally, and they sat there and told me what they were going to bring. We have an attitude as a group that we all play sort of the same way of how we play without the puck, how we play with the puck and again, whether that’s finishing a check or how you play in your own zone, or how that’s how you execute with the puck, we try to all be on the same page. So I would expect the same tomorrow.”

On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.

Joey Hishon, the 2010 first-round pick by the Avs, has been recalled and will make his NHL debut on Colorado's fourth line and the power play. Ryan Wilson replaced Barrie on the blue line.

Matt Cooke faces suspension, offered in-person hearing with NHL

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 21, 2014 - 11:41 PM

Wild left wing Matt Cooke will likely not play again in this first-round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche.

The veteran left wing, who signed a three-year contract with the Wild last July, has been offered an in-person hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety after a knee-on-knee hit tonight that injured Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie.

That allows the NHL to issue a suspension that exceeds five games if it so wishes. Cooke can decline the invitation and have a phone hearing.

Barrie, the dynamic free-wheeler who led Colorado blue-liners with 13 goals in the regular season, is expected to miss four to six weeks with an injury to his left medial collateral ligament, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said.

Cooke was assessed a two-minute minor for kneeing 2:02 into the second period of tonight's 1-0 overtime win over the Avs. Barrie, in pain, got up and said, "I'm done," according to TSN analyst Ray Ferraro, who was broadcasting between the benches.

The Wild killed off Cooke's penalty -- the first of three second-period minors -- before Mikael Granlund broke a scoreless tie in OT with his first career playoff goal.

“A knee on Tyson Barrie, without a doubt, that’s the play of the game,’’ Roy said after the game. “We lost our best offensive defenseman, and I think it could have been a five-minute major. Plus, I think that would have broken (the Wild’s) momentum.

“I’m sure the league will make the right call. We’re very confident they will make the right call.’’

Cooke was unavailable for comment. Cooke, who has suspended six times for a total of 25 games, has not been suspended since March 2011. He is not considered a repeat offender by NHL standards, but it's very clear with some of the kneeings this season and in this postseason, the Matt Cooke factor is in full effect.

Cooke has worked hard behind the scenes to "clean up his act" through video work and other means. Here's a feature I wrote on Cooke back in September. He has shown all season a tendency to err on the side of caution anytime there's a chance for a potential close call. He was having a terrific series to this point, and tonight he led the Wild with six of its 33 hits.

The incident in question is below. (Barrie is a great guy, by the way. He used to be a member of the Coral Springs Coyotes at Incredible Ice when he was a kid. I covered his dad, Len Barrie, on the Florida Panthers, and after the season, I used to watch playoff hockey with Barrie, then-Panthers play-by-play guy Jeff Rimer and an 11-year-old kid named, ... Tyson Barrie. I interviewed Barrie for awhile Saturday and was actually planning on writing a story on him for Wednesday's paper. That story likely won't see the light of day now.

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