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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Ryan Suter, the Wild's often unemotional rock of a defenseman who logs gigantic minutes seemingly effortlessly, rejoined the Wild on Friday -- 10 days after losing his dad, Bob, suddenly at the age of 57.
Having not skated since, Suter still jumped right into a scrimmage, then a subsequent practice.
Suter then courageously stood in front of the cameras and microphones and recorders and emotionally talked about his father and best friend, what the last 10 days have been like, the support he and his family have received and how he must move on.
"It’s good to be back around the guys," Suter said. "Obviously we went through a pretty tough thing a week ago and to be back around here, it’s good to get your mind off of it."
Asked how he's doing, Suter's eyes welled: As good as you can. My dad, we were pretty close. So, … ... we were really close. Just a really good guy, a hard-working guy. I’m going to miss him."
Bob Suter, the Wild scout and member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," suffered a heart attack at Capital Ice Arena in Middleton, Wisconsin, the rink he owned with Ryan.
Since, Ryan Suter said the support has been amazing "starting with Craig [Leipold] flying the whole team there, it’s a pretty special thing. For those guys to be there, it was awesome. Every one of them has reached out to me and tried to help. I can’t say enough about the group of guys and the organization."
As for the hockey community in general, Suter said, "Everybody all over has contacted my family at some point, sending letters or flowers or donating money to the memorial fund we set up for my dad where we’re going to try to give back to hockey, whether it’s buying equipment or helping kids pay for their ice fees (Bob Suter Memorial Fund "It's All About the Kids," Capital Ice Arena, 2616 Pleasant View Road, Middleton, WI, 53562). Everybody’s reached out. Everywhere you go people are coming up and telling you stories about how great my dad was. It’s a pretty special feeling to hear the stories because obviously he’s gone and that’s how we have to live on -- through the memories.
"To have over 4,000 people come to the wake was pretty special. They were turning people away. That just shows what kind of guy he was, what kind of impact he had on hockey and on people. A lot of people have come up to me and said he helped make [them] the person that they are today. It’s pretty special to hear that. I hear people that are 40-some years old saying that and then the young kids, you see the young kids how devastated they were. It’s pretty special. But it’s over with and we have to move on and have a really good year for him.
To be on the ice, Suter said, "Ten days off and jumping into a scrimmage is tough, but it’ll get better. As we start playing games, getting closer to that, your mindset changes. That’s kind of the cool thing about hockey. You get to get out on the ice and you don’t really have to think about anything. You can just go out and be in your own little world.
Asked what qualities he got from his dad, Ryan said, "I can talk about his qualities. I’ll let you guys judge the rest (laughing). My dad was a hard-working guy. He wore his blue jeans and work boots to work everyday. He didn’t expect anything from anyone. Everything he got he worked for. He wasn’t ashamed to be in his work boots and to be at the rink from sunup to sundown on the weekends. He loved helping kids. He was just a really good person and good role model."
Suter said, "Leaving [Wisconsin] is tough. It was tough to leave (welling up). ... It was tough leaving to come up here because it was close and I knew he loved coming up here to watch games. It [stinks]. I feel bad for everybody that’s gone through it."
Players were glad to see Suter back.
Said buddy Zach Parise, "I can only imagine what he went through and is going through. It was great for Craig to fly our team out there and show our support for Ryan and his family. It’s just a really sad thing that happened, an unfortunate thing. In here, in our room, we’ll do our best to make sure we’re there for Ryan and for anything that he needs and supporting him."
Parise was amazed how Suter was able to jump back into a scrimmage without skating for 10 days: "I feel like garbage after not skating for two days. I can’t imagine with everything he’s gone through and then on top of that not skaying. After the first 10 minutes, he was back to his old self. I don’t think anybody has to be worried."
I'll be back later with more Wild notes from today's first day of camp. The last group is practicing now, including Ilya Bryzgalov. Darcy Kuemper is getting his physical now.
Good morning from Xcel Energy Center, where Group A and Group B are scrimmaging. Here are the teams.
To open camp, as expected, Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville vs. Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line. Those may very well be the top two lines Oct. 9 vs. Colorado.
Good-paced scrimmage so far. 3-1 Group A after one half.
Group B's Ryan Walters, a local kid and invitee, opened the scoring with a bad-angle shot past John Curry.
Parise tied the game a few moments later with a blocker-side wrister from the faceoff dot.
Later, Erik Haula, who like Granlund has been showing off all scrimmage, made a ridiculous back-handed cross-crease pass with the toe of his blade to set up Matt Cooke's backdoor tap-in.
Later, it became 3-1 when Parise beat Niklas Backstrom on a penalty shot after Justin Falk's interference penalty (no power play/penalty kill work yet).
Final, I believe, was 3-2 as Thomas Vanek scored a deflected shot off his buddy Keith Ballard.
However, I was chatting with Don Lucia during the entire second half for an upcoming story, so I may have missed a goal or three.
Players are split amongst three groups. We have had access to Group A so far, so I'll toss up a blog later with some of the comments and day events.
Just a reminder, Saturday's practices from 8:30 a.m.-1 is free and open to the public. The scrimmage starts at 9:25. Single-game tickets go on sale at the box office at 10 a.m.
Remember, the Wild's breakaway 10K/5K/1-Mile run will be going on then, so there will be traffic issues. If you're interested in taking part in that, you can register online today or in-person tomorrow from 7 a.m. – 8 a.m.
Wild fans have the chance to personally welcome the team back for the 2014-2015 hockey season!
Tickets are still available for the Minnesota Wild Face-Off Luncheon – presented by Wells Fargo and hosted by the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. The event gives fans an opportunity to have lunch with a player, meet the rest of the team, coaches and staff, in addition to getting a sneak-preview of the season ahead. New This Year: Minnesota Wild Autograph Booth!
· Tuesday, October 7
· 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
· Roy Wilkins Auditorium
o $50 Individual Tickets
o $500 for a Table of 10
o $825 for a Table of 9 with a Minnesota Wild Player/Coach & Wild Staff Member
· A portion of the proceeds from this event will be donated to the Minnesota Wild Foundation.
Thanks to Josh Harding’s broken foot, Darcy Kuemper got his one-way contract.
On the eve of players taking the ice for the first time, the Wild conceded in its standoff with its young goalie by signing Kuemper to a two-year, $2.5 million contract.
“I’m super excited to continue this journey with the Wild and can’t wait to see and get back on the ice with my teammates,” Kuemper said in a text message.
The move comes a day after veteran Ilya Bryzgalov agreed to a tryout and hours after General Manager Chuck Fletcher met with Harding to try to establish how he got injured in an off-ice incident Sunday involving an altercation with a teammate.
Soon after the meeting, Fletcher made the decision to suspend Harding. During the time he recovers, Harding won’t be paid a prorated portion of his $2.1 million salary and he won’t count against the Wild’s salary cap. The paperwork was filed and all parties were notified late Thursday.
In the meantime, Fletcher said Thursday night that Kuemper’s signing won’t affect Bryzgalov’s tryout. If Kuemper’s not one of the top-2 goalies in training camp, the Wild can sign Bryzgalov and assign Kuemper to Iowa of the American Hockey League without waivers.
If that happened, Kuemper would be paid his $1 million salary there. Bryzgalov also gives the Wild insurance if veteran Niklas Backstrom were to get hurt.
Kuemper, 24, who went 12-8-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage last season, arrives in the Twin Cities on Friday morning. Both Kuemper and Bryzgalov are expected on the ice for the first day of camp.
Bryzgalov, who went 7-1-3 down the stretch last season for the Wild, wanted to return to the Wild all summer. Finally, Harding’s injury forced the Wild to offer him a tryout.
“He did a great job for us last year,” coach Mike Yeo said of Bryzgalov. “I spoke to Bryz [Wednesday] night and he’s really excited to be coming back to our team. I know he really enjoyed this group and playing here. He’s motivated and he’s excited.”
Bryzgalov, 34, may be quirky, but he’s as smart as they come. He was well aware he could be just biding time for the Wild to sign Kuemper.
Fletcher made no promises and Bryzgalov still accepted the tryout. He wants to keep his NHL career alive. Yeo wouldn’t promise Bryzgalov, who has 220 career wins, how many exhibition games he may play, “but he will get an opportunity.”
A day before, Yeo also said Harding’s injury presented an “unbelievable opportunity” for Kuemper to prove he can be a fulltime NHL goalie.
One thing that is uncertain is how much Bryzgalov has skated this summer considering he was unable to land a job.
“I didn’t get too much into that with him, but if he comes in the first couple days of camp and he’s not at his best, we’re not going to panic because we know what he’s capable of,” Yeo said. “We’ll just have to see how long we think it can take him to get back to his level. That fact that we have a good understanding of him already and what he can do, that certainly helps him.”
Walking with the aid of crutches and a boot on his right foot, Harding arrived Thursday for his meeting with management. Fletcher said Wednesday it was important to get to the bottom of how Harding busted up his foot Sunday.
The injury, one that will sideline Harding for a minimum of two months, threw the Wild’s goaltending depth into a state of flux.
Harding’s only worry is getting his foot better. He declined to comment further, while Fletcher wouldn’t comment on the Harding meeting and subsequent suspension.
Update: Wild announced Harding will not need surgery on a fractured right foot sustained in an off-ice incident Sunday. Out indefinitely.
Update 2: Bryzgalov has accepted a pro tryout with the Wild, according to sources. He is expected to arrive Thursday. Nothing is close with Darcy Kuemper. Things can obviously change with one phone call. However, other than a couple texts, there have been no phone conversations between GM Chuck Fletcher and Kuemper's agent as of 5 p.m.
With the Wild set to start training camp Thursday, coach Mike Yeo and General Manager Chuck Fletcher voiced frustration Wednesday morning over goalie Josh Harding’s sudden ankle injury and the contract dispute the team is having with young goalie Darcy Kuemper.
“All I can tell you is my full attention is on that guy right there,” Yeo said, pointing to veteran Niklas Backstrom on the ice during Wednesday’s informal practice. “He’s the one who is here, he’s the one who put in the work.
“You make plans over the summer. I mean, my staff, we’ve been making plans on who’s practicing, what practices we’re going to have, who’s playing in the exhibition games and this was under the assumption we would have Kuemps and Hards and obviously things have changed dramatically.
“We’ve gone from talking about three goalies to sitting here talking about one (Backstrom). I put on the cool face last year pretending we weren’t frustrated about [our goaltending issues], but we’re not even Day One into camp and we’re already talking about it.”
Added veteran Jason Pominville: "Knock on wood. Hopefully nothing else happens. Hopefully we don't get that 'here we go' feeling again."
Yeo and Fletcher planned to meet with Harding on Wednesday to try to figure out how the off-ice injury occurred (more on that below). Fletcher also hopes to talk with Kuemper’s agent, Jeff Helperl, and has already reached out to Ilya Bryzgalov’s agent about a potential tryout. There are also other options like Tomas Vokoun and Martin Brodeur.
As of now, Fletcher said he doesn’t know how long Harding will be out. But it is very clear this is a long-term injury.
“I’m frustrated and I’m disappointed,” Yeo said. “I’m disappointed for our guys that we’re here before Day One of camp, and we’ve got a lot of guys that put in a lot of work and this is what we’re sitting around talking about. I’d rather us talk about the excitement around our team and the work that these guys put in.
“I think Backy deserves our full attention right now. Things could change obviously as early as today, but right now he’s the guy who’s here, he’s the guy who’s putting in the work. He’s the guy who put in the work over the summer, but again, things could change, but he’s looked good and he’s the guy who is here.”
Things could change because the Wild is working toward trying to re-sign Kuemper, an unsigned 24-year-old restricted free agent who is fighting for a one-way contract.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported earlier this week that Kuemper wants a one-year worth $850,000. Asked if that’s true, Fletcher said Wednesday, “I don’t know. There hasn’t been a lot of communication. I made the last offer and he turned it down. He’s indicated he wants a one-way deal, but I don’t recall if he ever presented anything formally.”
Asked if Harding’s injury puts more pressure on signing Kuemper immediately, Fletcher said, “The situation itself doesn’t change he dynamic. You want to get it done because he’s a good, young goalie, he’s somebody we think has potential to be a good player, but anytime you get into a situation where you’re missing camp, it’s just not healthy. The goal is always to get a contract done. Whether Josh is healthy or not healthy doesn’t really have any impact. You always want to get it done, but you’ve got to do what’s right. We’ll just keep working through it and hopefully get it done.
“The longer it goes the more concern you get just because anytime players miss camp, they tend to have to catch up, particularly in the case of a goaltender, you really need to get back in the flow of things, get your timing. That’s my concern right now. The longer it goes, the more difficult it is for any goaltender to be on top of his game.”
Yeo also addressed the Kuemper situation for the first time, saying, “I’m very frustrated about that to be honest with you. We’re doing what we can here. I understand that there’s both sides to this, but I’m looking at it from our team standpoint, and there’s a very good opportunity there for someone like Kuemps to come in and really prove that he can be a fulltime NHL goalie.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity for him. Not only am I looking at it from a competitive standpoint for our team, I’m looking at the development of this player. I’ve been around long enough to know that if players miss time in training camp, if they miss training camp, then they’re playing catchup the whole season. I think even more so for a young player, I think even more so for a goaltender. It’s going to be a difficult thing.
“I know Chuck and his staff, they’re doing what they can here. But at the same time, you have to remember we’re making decisions not based on just one guy. There’s a trickledown effect that people have to be where they need to be [in a salary structure]. Otherwise you end up losing good players. We have a bunch of good players that we want to keep. Chuck is doing everything he can. I understand there’s a business side of it, but just from my standpoint, I’m frustrated and a little bit disappointed for the guys we have here right now that we’re going through this.”
Yeo also wanted Kuemper to know that he couldn’t care less if he’s on a one-way contract or a two-way contract, whether he requires waivers to get to the minors (he doesn’t) or not. If he’s one of the two best goalies on the team at the end of camp, in Yeo’s mind, he’s on the team regardless of contract.
“I’m not in the negotiations. I don’t know what the numbers are that we’re talking about, but I know one thing that Chuck always gives me and my staff the freedom to take the best players,” Yeo said. “If Kuemper is a good player, he’s going to be here regardless of what his contract situation is. The contract doesn’t mean anything to me.”
As for Harding, Yeo and Fletcher said they plan to meet today.
Details are murky right now, but there was apparently some kind of incident or altercation with a teammate.
“I still don’t know all the details and most likely whatever the details are, I’m not sure I’ll discuss them publicly,” Fletcher said. “Whatever happened we have to figure out. Clearly, it’s bad for Josh, it’s bad for our team. We just have to figure out what happened. But I’m not sure I want to get into a whole public expose of what happened. We’ve got to speak to the players and figure out what happened.”
Harding is in the final year of a contract worth $2.1 million. The Wild once suspended forward James Sheppard for an off-ice ATV accident days before camp that resulted in season-ruining knee surgery. Asked if the Wild conceivably could do the same thing with Harding, Fletcher said, “I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. I just want to hear what happened and figure it out. The bottom line is Josh was arguably our No. 1 goalie going into camp with how he played last year and he was feeling healthy. The bottom line is right now he’s not available to us and that diminishes our depth at that position and it hurts our team. That’s the bottom line right now. However it happened, it’s important to get the answers, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to change the situation. We’ve got to certainly figure out what happened, but now we have to figure out the best way to proceed going forward. That has to be the priority. Our division got better and we have a lot of work ahead of us and this is not the ideal way to start your season.”
Backstrom and John Curry were the Wild goalies in its final informal skate today. Players report for fitness testing and physicals Thursday with the first on-ice session Friday.
Defenseman Ryan Suter is back with the team but didn’t skate today.
Early in camp, players will be split amongst three groups so they can get more reps and conditioning in practice, as opposed to afterward. In the first three days of camp, each group will take part in two scrimmages.
Saturday’s practices from 8:30 a.m.-1 are open to the public and free. The scrimmage starts at 9:25 a.m. The first exhibition game is next Monday in Winnipeg. Regulars are expected to play four or five exhibition games of the six. Day 5 of camp starts the special teams work.
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