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.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
Hope you all enjoyed your holiday the past few days.
The Wild resumes its season Saturday night (6 p.m.) when the Winnipeg Jets come to town. The Jets are 4-0-3 in their past seven on the road and 10-4-4 on the road this season. Neither team has played or practiced since Tuesday, so that first game after the break is usually an interesting one with some sloppiness.
Huge couple games for the Wild as it starts a home and home with its geographical divisional rival (alliteration).
It has three games in hand on the Jets but are eight points behind them for the first of two wildcard spots. There are several red-hot Jets players right now, from Mathieu Perreault to Mark Scheifele to Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and both goalies. They also have overcome a devastated blue line for much of the year.
I did a state of the team analysis for tomorrow's paper where I quote GM Chuck Fletcher throughout from an interview he did with both paper beat writers during the second intermission Tuesday's game. I'll put a more detailed transcript of the quick, 10-minute interview on the blog once the Insider gets up later tonight.
Today, from 3-6 p.m., I'll be filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN (100.3-FM).
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter will be joining at 3:35 p.m. Also joining to talk Wild will be Fox Sports North's Anthony LaPanta and KFAN's Brandon Mileski. My pal from the Winnipeg Sun, Ken Wiebe, will be joining to talk Wild-Jets.
I'll also be talking Gophers and Vikings with Fox 9's Dawn Mitchell and KFAN's A.J. Mansour and Justin Gaard.
Cities 97's Paul Fletcher will also sit in the first few segments.
Tonight at 10:15 p.m., I'll be Fox 9's Sports Now with Dawn Mitchell and tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., I'll be on the season debut of Beyond the Pond on KFAN.
I'll be back later with the Fletcher Q and A, and then talk to you tomorrow after the morning skates. Please tune in later on KFAN though.
Happy holidays everybody.
It dawned on me the other day that I have yet to do a Sunday column Russo's Rants Q and A, so here's your shot to ask a question that may be answered in my Sunday Insider.
Here's the deal though: They have to be quick, easy-to-answer questions because space is at a premium in the newspaper (I'll do a longer live chat in the coming weeks) 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.
Thanks, and again, enjoy the holidays and your mental break from your slumping favorite team.
Remember, I'll be filling in for Barreiro on Friday from 3-6 p.m. There will be plenty of hockey talk. I'll also be on Fox 9 with Dawn Mitchell at 10:15 p.m. Friday.
With Darcy Kuemper sidelined because of illness, the Wild is bringing John Curry up from Iowa of the AHL to back up goalie Niklas Backstrom tonight against Boston.
At least that's the plan -- Backstrom wasn't 100 percent himself in last night's 5-3 loss at Chicago, but coach Mike Yeo hopes Backstrom can play in tonight's game.
Curry has a 3.02 goals against average in 12 games for Iowa, and a .911 saves percentage. He played in two games for the Wild near the end of last season.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who missed the past two games because of illness, should return to the lineup tonight for the Wild.
The illnesses of Spurgeon, Kuemper and Backstrom were flu-like in nature, but were not the mumps.
CHICAGO – Hours ago, Darcy Kuemper lay on the ground between defensemen Marco Scandella and Christian Folin doing his normal stretch routine in preparation to start tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The goalie was bubbly and even shot the breeze, talking about the time he lost a personal-record 10 pounds of water weight during a start.
Well, something happened between 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. because Niklas Backstrom will get the surprise start tonight vs. Chicago.
There is a stomach bug going around the Wild that has caused Charlie Coyle to miss a recent practice and Jared Spurgeon his second game tonight. And, of course there’s the mumps, but it's not the mumps.
During coach Mike Yeo’s availability two hours before the game, Yeo confirmed that Kuemper was starting at the exact moment Backstrom walked out of the locker room to begin his pregame slow-walk routine when he’s the starter around the bowels of United Center. In hindsight, that was strange.
Then, after Backstrom led the Wild onto the ice, General Manager Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t disclose what was wrong with Kuemper other than to say he would back up.
But during warmups, Kuemper didn’t move from his spot near the red line until the very end when he skated to the crease and basically stood stationary so players had a target to shoot around.
Must be something around the United Center. Remember, two years ago, Backstrom aggravated an abdominal injury in warmups prior to Game 1 and Josh Harding, who had just returned from weeks away with complications from multiple sclerosis, had to start the series.
The Wild hosts the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, so Backstrom may have to start consecutive games. If Kuemper is unable to dress, John Curry and Johan Gustafsson have a game tonight in Iowa.
In other news, Yeo said before the game that Spurgeon, Ryan Carter and Matt Cooke all skates this morning. Yeo didn't know if Spurgeon would be able to play tomorrow. Carter (shoulder) and Cooke (hip) may return Saturday vs. Nashville.
It didn’t take Matt Cooke long to make his presence felt. Out the past 20 games with a hip flexor injury, Cooke finally returned to Wild practice at Xcel Energy Center Monday. He won’t travel to Chicago for Tuesday’s game, he won’t play Wednesday vs. Boston. But he could return Saturday vs. Nashville.
But he was very much his old self today. He was squirting water bottles. He hit Mikko Koivu a little too hard at one point, angering the Wild captain. After practice was over, Cooke comically tried to go over to Koivu and give him a hug.
Not well received.
“I feel great,” Cooke said. “It’s been a long process, a lot longer than anybody would have liked, especially myself. But I had to make sure it was right before I got back with the team. Today it felt awesome to get back with the guys.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo indicated Saturday was the earliest Cooke might return. Cooke, who had more than a dozen individual skates under his belt before this practice, pushed himself hard Monday. Now he has to see how the hip feels tomorrow. And then there is the need to get his conditioning back a bit before returning to action.
But Monday he took a big step. Cooke played in pain for a while before ultimately shutting it down. But Monday he said he was symptom-free.
Yeo, meanwhile, is eager to get the gritty play Cooke is known for back in the Wild lineup.
“He’s an important player for us,” Yeo said. “He’ll bring energy and leadership to the group. What we’ve missed in particular is his board work.’’
Yeo said Cooke’s work along the boards on the breakout has been missed, as has his one-on-one battling in the offensive zone.
Here are some other nuggets from today’s practice:
--Ryan Carter and Keith Ballard were put on IR today by the Wild, which also recalled forward Brett Sutter from Iowa of the AHL. Ballard has been out since suffering a concussion and facial fractures after getting hit into the boards by Islanders winger Matt Martin Dec. 9. Carter, according to Yeo, sustained an upper body injury in San Jose against the Sharks and didn’t play Saturday in Phoenix. Yeo said he had hoped Carter would be back at practice today, but was still feeling some discomfort. But Yeo said he didn’t think Carter would be out long; Carter is eligible to come off IR after Wednesday’s game.
--Sutter, meanwhile, is being counted on by Yeo to provide some of the physical play Carter is known for.
--Defenseman Jared Spurgeon was sent home sick today. Spurgeon, who didn’t play Saturday, won’t play in Chicago. But Yeo is hoping he’ll have Spurgeon back, perhaps, Wednesday against Boston.
--But defenseman Marco Scandella is back after serving a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head to Islanders forward Brock Nelson. And his return couldn’t come at a better time, given the one-two punch of Chicago and Boston coming up Tuesday and Wednesday. Yeo joked after practice that he finally has three quarters of his top four defensemen ready to go in Ryan Suter, Scandella and Jonas Brodin. Spurgeon, of course, would be the fourth.
--Mikael Granlund did not practice today. But Yeo said he was a maintenance day and that he expects Granlund to be in the lineup in Chicago.
--Suter was named the NHL’s second star of the week after picking up five assists in three games after returning from the mumps.
That’s about it for now. Russo will be with the team tomorrow in Chicago.
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