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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Schultz may be concussed; Barker scratched in lieu of 3 rookies; Laptop nightmare memory

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 20, 2010 - 12:19 PM

Afternoon from the X, where I'm writing on my new laptop and watching the Calgary Flames skate below me. My thanks to our incredible technology department, especially Ed Schopf, who got me all up and running in an incredibly expeditious manner.

I played it cool the other night in Calgary, probably because that's not my worst laptop experience in that building. In January 1998, after Kirk Muller tied a game for the Panthers in the third period, Palm Beach Post's Brian Biggane jumped up to look at the replay and wrapped his foot around the phone line that was attached to my dial-up modem.

The plastic piece where the phone line was plugged in ripped off my computer and over the press box at about 1 a.m. ET.

I had to dictate my story to the Sun-Sentinel over the phone, basically winging the dictation because with the Muller goal, the entire game story changed.

OH, and in overtime, a streaker ran onto the ice!!! Poor Biggane. I never let him live this down.

Speaking of the Panthers, a secret Santa gave me a hilarious gift this morning in the locker room. It's a travel coffee mug with the Panthers' logo, pictures of Pavel and Valeri Bure, Counting Crows' Adam Duritz, an evil-smiling Kevin Falness and a few other shall-remain nameless photos. Very funny stuff, so thanks to whoever did that.

The Flames are in town to complete the home-and-home with the Wild, which may see its smallest crowd ever I'd suspect.

With the Vikings having a Monday night outdoor game and the forecast calling for a lot of snow and tough road conditions, it could make for a lot of no-shows.

All things are pointing toward a Nick Schultz concussion. He got elbowed in the head apparently by Calgary's Tom Kostopoulos the other night. I didn't see it because I had my head buried in my (Aaron Sickman's, actually) laptop, but Wild folks thought it was dirty and warranted a suspension. He wasn't suspended and like I said, I never saw it.

I did see Kostopoulos elbow Marek Zidlicky in the game for what I thought should have been a penalty and I did see Kostopoulos intentionally break Cal Clutterbuck's stick on a faceoff that undoubtedly should have been a penalty. Neither was called.

Hopefully Schultz isn't long-term or even a concussion. But they have to be careful. He missed the final three games of the 2008-09 season with a concussion. 

The Wild will go with the same 12 forwards tonight and Nik Backstrom in goal.

With Schultz out, the Wild recalled rookie Marco Scandella from Houston. He was lucky. He got on a non-stop from Winnipeg to Minnesota yesterday and actually beat the Wild home.

It could have been a crazy travel day for Scandella if the Wild didn't get him on that non-stop because the Aeros flew from Winnipeg to Calgary to get back to Houston. And even though just by chance the Aeros and Wild bumped into each other at the Calgary airport, Scandella, due to immigration rules, would not have been allowed to get on the Wild's charter for Minnesota.

He would have had to fly back to Houston, then come back to Minnesota.

Aeros GM Jim Mill said Scandella's been outstanding down there. Scandella will stay with the Wild at least through the holidays, but unless there's a huge hit of injuries, Scandella will likely eventually wind up back in Houston. The Wild wants him to keep playing down there for development reasons; he's getting 20 minutes a night in all situations.

Coach Todd Richards was awesome talking about Jared Spurgeon today. Just great stuff, and that'll be in tomorrow's notebook.

Richards was also very happy with Clayton Stoner's game in Calgary, so tonight, the three rookies will dress with Brent Burns, Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon.

The one guy scratched: Cam Barker. He's back with the team after a quick return home for a personal reason, but the Wild is not happy with his play, Richards said.

He continues to be incredibly erratic. Perfect example: I thought he was real good in Phoenix and LA. I asked Richards about it before the Anaheim game, and he praised Barker's improvement very, very cautiously. I decided to play it safe, too, and not write about Barker in my game notebook in case his game hit the skids in Anaheim.

It did -- in dramatic fashion.

What else? Mill was great today giving a blue-line update on some of the guys down in Houston, like Nate Prosser and Tyler Cuma. So I'll write about that in tomorrow's notebook.

I don't know if I mentioned yet, but a censored version of HBO's 24/7 (three episodes left) is on NHL.com. Remember, the auction to benefit Jukka Nieminen's daughters is running on NHL.com til Dec. 30.

Also, "Russo Radio" this week is Wednesday night at 6, not tomorrow. Also, I'll be guest hosting for Joe Anderson from 6-8 p.m. on Dec. 28 and 30, so we'll talk a lot of hockey on 1500 ESPN this month.

I think that's it for now. Talk to you tonight. Stay warm and stay out of ditches.

O'Sullivan excited about coming to Minnesota; Latendresse to go under knife

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 23, 2010 - 1:44 PM

Greetings. Kent Youngblood here; Russo has the day off. Or at least I thought he did.

Anyway, a few items:

1. Guillaume Latendress will have two surgeries Wednesday. The first will be to repair the torn labrum in his hip. He will also have a bilateral sports hernia repaired.

GM Chuck Fletcher said the team expected he'd return before the end of the season. We'll see if he makes it. Both Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding took months to recover from their hip surgeries. It's interesting now that three of the Twin Cities' four pro sports teams have been affected by hip surgeries: The Vikings (Rice), the Wolves (Jonny Flynn) and now the Wild.

 

2. Patrick O'Sullivan is very excited to be coming back to the franchise that drafted him. "It's weird, that's for sure," he said by phone Tuesday afternoon. "It's a different situation, obviously. Not really the way, maybe, you'd want to come back to somewhere. At the same time, with Carolina, it wasn't working out. I'm excited to go somewhere where I'll have an opportunity."

O'Sullivan had been getting very limited minutes playing on the fourth line in Carolina. Today Wild coach Todd Richards said O'Sullivan was probably going to be skating with the top two lines and will get time with Havlat on the second power play unit.

It's my guess that O'Sullivan -- who is flying in tonight and will play tomorrow against Philadelphia -- will start out with Matt Cullen on the second line.I'll have more from O'Sullivan in tomorrow's paper.

3. Chuck Kobasew returned to practice today. A good sign for sure, but Richards said he would not play Wednesday.

"Russo Radio" tonight at 6 p.m. on 1500 ESPN, so tune in. Russo will be joining Jim Souhan and will be sitting in for longer than usual

 

That's about it. Have a good day.

 

 

Wild aims to find more consistency in game; Injury, personnel updates

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 22, 2010 - 2:38 PM

As you can imagine, tomorrow's Star Tribune is all about the Wild. Above the fold, below the fold, centerpiece, even A1.

So make sure you buy a copy, plus there may be some Vikings news in the middle of the sports section.

Maybe the longest practice of the Wild season this morning down at the X as players put in a "good work day," as Matt Cullen said, in an effort to fix what's been ailing the team lately, and really all season. The team goes into 20-minute lulls, and they're trying to figure out the reasons why. More on that in the paper.

In honor of the team I cover, and to be fair SBN's Bryan Reynolds gave me the idea on Twitter, I watched the beginning and end of practice and went for a 20-minute coffee break in the middle. And as Jess Myers joked on Twitter, there will be a blank three graphs right in the middle of my story in Tuesday's paper.

Oh, Twitter. Such comedy.

As for news, center John Madden and defenseman Marek Zidlicky missed practice with what coach Todd Richards called sore legs. Richards believes both should be able to practice Tuesday. Cal Clutterbuck is playing through a debilitating injury. No need to identify the issue, but he got hit right on the spot today and took a long time to get up off the ice. But he said he'll be OK and is able to play through the injury.

Guillaume Latendresse continues to be out of sight, out of mind. Chuck Kobasew didn't practice and is still a ways off.

Richards indicated that defenseman Clayton Stoner will play Wednesday against the big, bad Philadelphia Flyers. He also said with three games in four days starting Friday, two on the road and commercial travel potentially a problem during the holidays, the team will probably call up an extra defenseman at least before it hits the road for Denver.

He did indicate that the team was kicking around maybe bringing up another forward Tuesday. There are two forwards on waivers, too, as some fans have pointed out to me on Twitter and email today. 

--Anaheim put White Bear Lake's Ryan Carter on waivers (and he's local, so the Wild owes it to Minnesotans everywhere to take a look).  

--And Carolina put former Wild second-round pick Patrick O'Sullivan on waivers.

I doubt the Wild has interest in Carter because it didn't have interest in him when he was on waivers this past summer, but maybe O'Sullivan.

I'm not an O'Sullivan proponent, as you probably know by now. There's a reason why he's bounced around the league like a car on an icy I-94, but he is skilled and Pierre-Marc Bouchard continues to be the most heavily practiced injured player in the history of the NHL. 

And since O'Sullivan is on a two-way deal, there'd be flexibility for any team to take him and then expose him to waivers again later in an effort to get him to the minors. So, what I'm saying, O'Sullivan could be good temporary help for any team that needs offense. 

By the way, even if the Wild has interest in O'Sullivan, there's no guarantee he'd get to them if they put in a claim. Waiver rules go from last to first in terms of claim, so a number of other teams have first dibs.

Today was actually a fun day to be around the rink. I informed the football lovers that Brad Childress was fired while they practiced. I've given a lot of players a lot of news this week, strangely enough -- some sad (Pat Burns), some not.

As you can imagine and many of you probably experienced (I know I did), hearing some of the anecdotes as to what it was like for the players and coaches to drive home after the game Saturday due to the ice storm was pretty humorous. And these are guys who grew up in winter climates, so I felt a little better about how uncomfortable I was driving.

The staches are coming in well for the players as Movember comes close to an end. Remember, Friday is the team's effort at a Guiness World Record with their stached fans, so I'll rehash those details on that in Thursday's paper and blog. Mikko Koivu and Nick Schultz's staches turned blonde to brown overnight mysteriously enough.

Nik Backstrom joked that he thinks Derek Boogaard should get fined for skating over the red line to say hi to him the other night during warmups. Backstrom said he didn't hear from Boogaard said, but, "He was there. I felt it."

After practice, some players signed autographed pucks until their hands fell off. Others were taking part in a food drive.

OK, that's it from here. Kent Youngblood is covering practice Tuesday. Maybe there'll be some news.

Opening Morning (Night) finally a day away; Zidlicky questionable, Latendresse probable

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 6, 2010 - 7:56 AM

Good morning back in the Twin Cities. It's actually 2:34 a.m. your time as I begin this blog, but I figured I'd get a couple things in here as I kill some time before heading to the rink for Carolina and Minnesota practices (11 a.m./1 p.m. Finland time today, with the Wild being the latter).

Here are the links to stories in Wednesday's paper, which I know you read anyway because there's nothing else going on sportswise in the Twin Cities with the Twins and Vikings:

Matt Cullen feature, essentially saying, he's ready to lead and perform. Also on that link is a video I shot yesterday.

Wild notebook leading with the roster moves, particularly the fact that it looks like Casey Wellman and Justin Falk have made the team. Of course, and this is the caveat, this is barring a trade or waiver pickup Wednesday.

 

If you go to my Twitter page and scroll down, I posted some other videos on there in the wee hours of the morning.

Falk and Wellman were all smiles this morning, knowing no news is good news. In sports, they usually come up to you and let you know you made the team. They just tell others they didn't. So Falk and Wellman were very relieved to be ignored wholeheartedly yesterday by management.

Of course, they're young, so they know they better never get comfortable.

As for the team's cap hit, the Wild technically are a little short of the cap because even though Wellman and Falk have $1.35 million and $741,667 cap hits accordingly, these are including potential bonuses and there's a 7.5 percent bonus cushion that allows you to go over the cap.

Wellman's salary is 900K and Falk is 605K, as an fyi.

Again, the Wild should get another $803K of cap relief when it suspends James Sheppard, and I do believe it's when and not if due to getting injured on an ATV days before training camp. Sjeppard is back home now taking a mental break, GM Chuck Fletcher said, but will return to the Twin Cities when the Wild gets back. While suspended, he wouldn't get paid but the Wild would continue to rehab him.

Fletcher won't comment on that. Josh Harding will not go on long-term injury relief yet. Fletcher says there's no rush and if the Wild ever needs to exceed the cap, it can put him on LTIR retroactively and spend up to his $1.2 million. Bouchard will open the season on IR.

Fletcher said the Wild will return home and build some salary-cap room. He's obviously talking about sending Anton Khudobin down to the minors, plus especially at home, I'd think the Wild won't keep too many extras around.

Finally, Opening Night is here, although it's Opening Morning for you. The game is at 11 a.m. Thursday on Versus and WCCO.

Marek Zidlicky didn't practice today. A shift or two after his goal the other night, we didn't see him again. I figured it was just because the Wild was playing eight defensemen and with the game starting to become one-sided, Richards just wanted to sit Zidlicky, who's been hampered by a charley horse. Turns out he has a groin injury. Richards said he's questionable for tomorrow, but Zidlicky said he wants to play and "we'll see."

Guillaume Latendresse did practice today on the fourth line with Kyle Brodziak. His "groins are great," said Richards, so Latendresse will likely play with Wellman or Brad Staubitz getting the nod on the right side. Falk should be in the lineup. If Zidlicky can't play, Clayton Stoner will.

Lots of interesting stuff at the skate:

-- Wellman was used as a guinea pig on the back board after practice. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw him lying against the wall with paramedics, doctors and trainers around him. But turns out they were just doing a test run if God forbid something happens to one of the players in these two games.

-- Cal Clutterbuck was miked up in practice today for a future show on NHL Network. Apparently a lot will have to be sliced on the cutting room floor. Clutter's got a potty mouth :)

-- Dennis Endras showed today as emergency goalie and he looked quick with good technique. He said his goal is to make the Wild next year.

-- I just saw Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr in the lobby meeting with 2009 sixth-round pick Jere Sallinen. When in Rome, ...

So can the Wild just turn the switch from a below-average training camp at least in terms of wins and losses to above average? They better, as I'll write in Thursday's newspaper. They cannot afford another slow start. Coincidentally, awful starts destroyed the seasons of both Carolina and Minnesota last year.

 That's it for me for now. I'll update blog and Twitter later when we see if Kassian or Bagnall cleared waivers or if the Wild does anything. Rosters must be submitted at 2 p.m.

More good news for Bouchard; Nystrom-Staubitz vs. Schultz; Burns flying; Russo defense predictions

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: September 19, 2010 - 4:30 PM

Good afternoon from the Twin Cities. Late blog for a morning scrimmage, I know, but I was distracted by the Dolphins-Vikings game. Twice the Dolphins coughed up the football immediately after Brett Favre interceptions, and alas, the Vikes still couldn't pull it out.

Purple is 0-2. When's Donovan McNabb available again?

Speaking of the Dolphins, I showed off downtown Minneapolis to the Phins media contingent last night. Fun, fun reunion with some old pals, reminding me how lucky I've been to work in two great sports markets with great colleagues at great papers. Tonight will be another reunion. For 10 years, I covered the Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel with colleagues Brian Biggane from the Palm Beach Post and David J. Neal from the Miami Herald.

We had went toe to toe competitively for a long, long time, yet we managed to put business aside and stay friends. They now cover the Dolphins, so we're doing dinner with the old agent of original Panthers captain Brian Skrudland. Should be a lot of laughs.

Enough about me, but last night put me in a nostalgic mood.

News of the day:

-- Pierre-Marc Bouchard got the go-ahead from a Denver doctor to ramp up the intensity in skates and the fitness room. He skated before today's practices with assistants Dave Barr and Darby Hendrickson and the goal now is to get into game shape. His head felt fine afterward. His legs and lungs were a bit heavy though.

Right now, he'll skate for a few days with the coaches before practice. The next step will be to join the team in practices, then start taking some contact.

There's no timetable as to a return, but Bouchard said his goal is still to be ready by the start of the season.

"He's excited. We're excited," coach Todd Richards said.

More on this in the paper.

 -- Amazingly, with so much going on in town Sunday, 2,500 Wild fans made their way down to the X for this morning's scrimmage. I predicted a white rout, and rout they did -- 5-1 over the green team.

Nick Schultz got things started 13 seconds in off a pass from Twins season-ticket package partner Andrew Brunette. They must have spent the summer diagramming the play from Target Field. It worked to perfection.

Robbie Earl tied it for green from Clayton Stoner, but that would be all she wrote for the greenies.

Jon DiSalvatore from Carson McMillan and Brent Burns; Brunette from Antti Miettinen and Mikko Koivu; Burns from Koivu (great goal) and McMillan from Petr Kalus. Josh Harding got the win, playing the first half for white.

-- Burns was awesome. Great in his own end, and constantly triggered the breakout -- twice resulted in goals, one by DiSalvatore and one by himself. He just is flying out there and seems to have chemistry with his longtime pal and teammate, Schultz. If Burns stays heathy, I'm betting on a big year from No. 8.

In reaction to Bouchard hand-picking Burns for his eventual first contact in training camp, there'll be a funny quote from 'ol Burnzie in tomorrow's paper, too.

-- I always say to people, Schultz reminds me a lot of Rob Niedermayer, whom I covered for awhile in Florida. As nice as can be, as mild-mannered as there is, but for some reason, there's something about these guys in scrimmages that always ticks the absolute you know what out of opposing "teammates."

For the last few years, Schultz has gone head-to-head with Petr Kalus, but they're now teammates in training camp, so Kalus is taking out his normal Schultz aggression on Nate Prosser, who by the way is having none of it. Prosser stood up to the intense Czech in both the last two days, which impressed me bigtime.

Today, Schultz got Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz to focus much of their energy on him after Schultz checked Nystrom, who did much of his own hard checking today on opponents, too. Nystrom and Staubitz went after Schultz a couple times, and later, Schultz became incensed when Guillaume Latendresse took a run at him a few seconds after he gave up the puck. But afterward, Schultz put it all behind him and said it was just competitive people being competitive. So did the other two, too.

-- The players got more and more crabbier as the scrimmage went on. Staubitz, taking exception to a hard hit from roster hopeful Justin Falk, dropped the gloves with the big defenseman. Remember, Staubitz, acquired for a draft pick from San Jose on the day of the NHL Awards ceremony (I remember because I was in Vegas), has had 20 fights in 82 NHL games.

Staubitz is a tough, good skating cookie, and he's only played forward for two years after spending his entire junior and minor-league career at defense. The one great strength of the Wild this year should be those third and fourth lines with good skating, hard-working guys like Nystrom, Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, John Madden and as of now Chuck Kobasew.

I'll write more about Staubitz and Nystrom in Monday's paper. Incidentally, I'm digging the new room. Lots of good quotes in there, including the four new guys -- Matt Cullen, John Madden, Nystrom and today, I learned, Staubitz.

-- I think Falk's got a shot to crack the roster. Marco Scandella, after two days, looks to me like he'll need some time developing in the minors with Darryl Sydor. Like Tyler Cuma last year against Rick Nash in Columbus, Scandella's head was spinning trying to deal with Koivu, Brunette and Miettinen today.

Scandella not only was suspended last year in juniors, but he then got a appendicitis. So he's missed some hockey, and because he doesn't need waivers, I bet he goes down for some development with Cuma as long as the Wild remains healthy on the back end. So, Clayton Stoner's got No. 6. No. 7 to me will be either Falk, Prosser, who looks good and even though he's inexperienced at the NHL level, remember, he's 24, or Drew Bagnall.

And since the Wild will at least take eight D to Finland, maybe two of those three stick until the Wild at least returns to the States. I spent today really watching the young D. I'll spend tomorrow or Tuesday really looking at the young forwards vying for spots.

-- Koivu, Brunette and Miettinen line hasn't lost chemistry since April, and the Cullen, Latendresse, Marty Havlat looked very promising today. I think coach Todd Richards should just leave this line assembled for awhile to let the chemistry transpire.

-- It's taken one scrimmage for Brett Bulmer to show he's a pain in the butt to play against. The 2010 second-round pick might be Kristian Huselius skinny, but the guy's got guts and got into a chirping match with Cal Clutterbuck after one collision, which was undeniably rated NC-17. Very good sign for the youngster that will soon return to his junior team, Kelowna. Remember, Bulmer was the only 2010 top draft pick that was in Traverse City. No Granlund, Larsson or Zucker. Heck, no Haula, and the Wild still won the title, which is a good sign for the future. It seems at the very least the Wild's filling what was a barren cupboard of young talent.

-- Marek Zidlicky missed his second day today with a strained hammy, which allowed tryout Colton Jobke to play. Good opportunity, and he held his own and showed he's a very smart defenseman. At 18, he'll soon return to Kelowna also, but this is a free look at the undrafted free agent. Technically, the Wild can sign any of these tryout kids, from Jobke to Josh Caron to Brandon Buck to Jared Spurgeon, and they wouldn't count toward the Wild's 50-man reserve list. Their contracts would slide. All you'd have to pay is their signing bonus, and then if you like them, you don't have to waste a draft pick on them next June. For a team trying to add more and more young talent, I bet this is very much in the cards for some of these kids.

OK, I should write for the paper. Richards wasn't overly in love with today's scrimmage, which he felt lacked structure. He was considering scrapping tomorrow's scrimmage and practicing instead. We'll see. Talk to you Monday.

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