Good afternoon from gorgeous Helsinki. Was just having lunch with two broadcasting mavens, Bob Kurtz and Canes Hall of Fame radio announcer Chuck Kaiton. Let's say the decibel level was high.
We were looking out the window of the restaurant, and suddenly Kaiton goes, "This could be St. Paul." So true. As coach Todd Richards was saying this morning, now he knows why the Wild's Finns love Minnesota so much. Helsinki is Europe's Minnesota, from the weather to the overall look. Our 110-mile drive to Tampere yesterday may as well have been 35-N to Duluth.
This is just a neat place with the friendliest people.
I'm going to try to crank this out so I can begin writing. Just feeling pretty brutal today. Whether it was the three hours of sleep or the change in weather or the travel or the fact that I literally have been inside a bus, a hotel room or a hockey rink for since Friday, I've got a splitting headache, I'm weak and my back is killing me.
The big news today came after practice. Center/winger Casey Wellman and defenseman Justin Falk have made the opening night roster. When waivers come out at 11 a.m. CT, left wing Matt Kassian and defenseman Drew Bagnall will be on there. They'll be reassigned to Houston after the Wild returns to the United States on Saturday (if there's injuries, they could conceivably be recalled).
Clayton Stoner made the roster, and Richards admitted today he is concerned about the state of Stoner's game but is confident he can rediscover the old Stoner and it'll be up to the coaches to help him find it. I think Falk will be the No. 6 opening night and Stoner won't play though.
Richards praised Wellman, who again showed impressive speed and offensive creativity on the line with Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Cullen yesterday. Richards said though he's "99 percent" sure Martin Havlat will be able to play Thursday against Carolina, meaning Havlat likely takes his spot back next to Cullen.
Richards said he is worried where Guillaume Latendresse is. He's only practiced one in the last week or more, and even if he can play against Carolina, Richards said he's leaning toward keeping Clutterbuck on the line because he was so good alongside Cullen against Ilves.
Clutterbuck deserved every goal he got yesterday, but do you see the common trait of camp so far? Players succeed next to Matt Cullen, whom I happen to be writing about tomorrow. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, who absolutely adores Cullen, has traded for him twice and would have loved to have re-signed him this summer if Carolina had it in its budget, was outstanding talking about Cullen today.
And Cullen was real good talking about his hockey life and how Carolina saved his career and shaped him as hockey player and in particular a leader. So, on the first day of camp, I did a story about Cullen as a person and growing up and as a family man from his hometown of Moorhead. Tomorrow's article will be centered around Cullen as a hockey player.
The Hurricanes arrived last night and practiced today. There should be a video up at startribune.com/wild later on today. They lost to SKA St. Petersburg last night in a game coach Paul Maurice pulled Eric Staal and Cam Ward because SKA was apparently going after their knees. Rutherford was great talking about it to me today, and hockey writer Dan Rosen has some incredible stuff from Staal (normally a fairly dry interview) in his account at this link on nhl.com.
Richards had some interesting things to say today, one being how he feels it'll benefit the Wild that they've been in Helsinki since Friday. Carolina just got here, so the three Carolina Finns (Joni Pitkanen, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu) haven't played a game yet in front of friends and family the way Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen and Niklas Backstrom did yesterday. That'll make them much more relaxed Thursday, Richards hopes.
Also, the Wild's all business now, where Carolina's doing their turn at Sauna Island today.
The Wild didn't practice today, which actually caused a bit of a mess because the Wild's 110 fans who flew to Finland for the game were to watch practice and the NHL had a couple things planned that centered around Minnesota's practice, like apparently a Finnish phone app unveiling or something.
But Richards explained that because of the Wild's crazy schedule the last few weeks -- three games in three nights, a trip across the ocean, practices after practices and last night's exhibition game and two bus trips, he felt the legs needed some refreshing before a good practice tomorrow. So the guys had a meeting where the second and third periods were dissected of last night's game. Basically, create an identity. In the second period, they fumbled around with the puck and couldn't create a chance. In the third period, they managed the puck well and got in on suffocating forechecks. Richards said they created seven scoring chances the first two periods yesterday and 14 in the third without any adjustments. It was just mentality, he said.
After the meeting, players worked out and then attended a luncheon with the fans that crossed the ocean. They mingled, signed autographs and took pictures. The U.S. Ambassador to Finland also showed up.
Currently, the players are in a meeting with NHLPA Executive Director In Waiting Donald Fehr. I was just shooting the breeze with a couple players in the lobby, and none of them were willing to sneak in my digital recorder. Fehr will not be available to the media.
OK, that's it:
Also, go to startribune.com/wild and there will be a couple videos for your entertainment, one being a look at the exhibition game and one being a short Clutterbuck postgame interview.
OK, I'm fried. I've got to get off of here. Not reading it over, so sorry if there are typos.