Rooting on his Wild pals, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph sat in a suite inside Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday night hoping he was watching the beginning of a Stanley Cup run.
“It was a little harder for me when my buddy Bobby Ryan was in Anaheim because I was such a big Ducks fan. Having both teams in the Western Conference was hard,” Rudolph said before Wild winger Jason Zucker started shooting pucks at him as he did a radio show from inside the penalty box Wednesday morning.
“But now that Bobby’s in Ottawa, I’m all in on the Wild. Getting to know Jason, Charlie [Coyle], Dubs [Devan Dubnyk], I pull hard for them and want to see them do the best and obviously I’ve got them going all the way in my Stanley Cup bracket.”
Rudolph and his wife, Jordan, have grown close with Zucker and his wife, Carly, through the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital. In a mission to keep the memory alive of Tucker Helstrom,whom Zucker grew close to before he died last summer at 9 years old, Zucker invited Rudolph and Chad Greenway to a “Team Tucker” event.
They have been friends ever since, and this fall, “Tucker’s Locker” will be included in the “Kyle Rudolph End Zone” being built at the hospital.
“It’s a 3,000-square-foot place where children of all ages — toddlers to teenagers — can escape their rooms and have friends and visitors come down and hang out,” Rudolph said. “We’re extremely excited about it and are so glad Jason’s involved.”
Rudolph has become a big fan of Zucker on the ice.
“I have an extreme admiration for other professional athletes and what they go through in their daily lives in sport, and it’s always interesting to get to know them because we’re so routine-based in our sport and then you see these guys that play a ton more games than us,” Rudolph said. “I played a ton of sports growing up, and hockey was not one of them. My brother, Casey, played, so I watched extremely poor high school hockey a little bit in Cincinnati. But to get to see these guys play at such a high level and get to know them is a lot of fun.”
Zucker, who recently missed three games because of an injury, is healthy and skated on the left side of Martin Hanzal and Coyle.
“Two great players, and Hanz is really settling into the system,” Zucker said. “He’s not having to think about where he’s supposed to be anymore and he’s just playing hockey, so I’m looking forward to developing nice chemistry.”
Back in blue
Kyle Brodziak, who ranked eighth in Wild history with 446 games played, also played 27 playoff games with the Wild, including being part of its 2015 elimination of the Blues.
Wednesday, Brodziak, reunited with Mike Yeo, centered St. Louis’ hard-hitting fourth line against the Wild with Ryan Reaves and Scottie Upshall.
Like Yeo, Brodziak said this isn’t about him vs. his old team.
“This time of year, it’s too important to worry about that kind of stuff,” Brodziak said. “As a group, we have a goal and that’s to go as far as we can and give ourselves a chance to eventually win the Stanley Cup. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Yeo said of his trusted former Wild soldier: “Brodzy’s been phenomenal. For the better part of three months, that line, they’re a physical presence, they’re very involved in the forecheck, opposing defensemen and players know when they’re on the ice, and their execution seems to drop a little bit because they know they’re coming to get them.”
Brodziak, 32, the first player trade by Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher in 2009, led the Blues’ post-morning skate stretch.
“Every guy kind of takes over in a place that has meaning to them,” Brodziak said.
On the morning of Game 1, word leaked that Ken Hitchcock, whom Yeo replaced as Blues coach Feb. 1, will be named Dallas Stars coach Thursday.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” said Yeo, who originally was Hitchcock’s associate with the Blues. “I think it’s awesome. You wish he was in another division, but it’s a great story. I’m happy he’s going there, with his history with that team [winning a Stanley Cup in 1999]. I texted him and reiterated I’m real grateful for my time with him.”
• The Wild recalled Steve Michalek to serve as emergency goaltender. The plan is for Alex Stalock to play two more Iowa games to stay sharp before being recalled before Game 3. Once Iowa’s season ends this weekend, the Wild is expected to recall about 10 Iowa players, including Tyler Graovac, Gustav Olofsson, Mike Reilly and Alex Tuch.
• Wild officials — and Jordan Greenway’s adviser — were surprised by a report that Greenway is returning to Boston University. Greenway told Jonathan Sigal of Boston Hockey Blog that he would return to BU for his junior season. Greenway, a 6-5 winger who was a second-round pick in 2015, won a gold medal with the U.S. junior national team in January.