Good early morning to you back in North America. Coming to you from outside my hotel in Helsinki, where I decided for about the first time this trip to leave my hotel room and write outside.
It's beautiful out (actually a tad chilly), but this might be my last chance.
It wasn't until I got down to ice level this morning that the reality set in -- training camp is over and the NHL season officially begins tonight -- this morning for you, at 11 a.m. CT, 12 p.m. ET on Versus when the Wild and Carolina Hurricanes are officially the first two teams to play in the 2010-11 campaign.
In a few hours, one of these two teams will be leading their respective conferences (both if it goes past regulation).
“It’s exciting. I mean, everyone will be watching, that’s for sure," coach Todd Richards said. "It’s not like you can watch another game going on right now.”
This was Richards' last pep talk before today's morning skate ended. Guillaume Latendresse (groin) will definitely play, but defenseman Marek Zidlicky (groin) is a gametime decision. He tried to give it a go this morning, but he left the ice early with training Don Fuller. That doesn't seem to be a good sign, but Zidlicky often has leg issues and usually plays through everything. But this seems fairly debilitating. If he doesn't play, Clayton Stoner will.
As for the forward scratch, Richards will have to decide between rookie Casey Wellman and energy fourth-line right wing Brad Staubitz. Richards said he didn't decide yet, so stay tuned to Twitter close to 11 a.m. and I'll let you know when I know. Forgot to mention to you, if you see a 5-on-3 today or tomorrow, don't be surprised if Richards sends five forwards out -- Koivu, Brunette, Miettinen, Cullen and Havlat. He's been fiddling with that in practice.
The Wild is 5-3-1 in season-openers, a .611 points percentage that is fifth all-time. Believe it or not, Carolina/Hartford is 7-16-7 for a .350 points percentage, third from the bottom. Richards is 0-1 in season openers, Paul Maurice is 3-5-3.
Hopefully you picked up today's paper, but if not, go to www.startribune.com/wild to see our entire NHL and Wild preview, which includes predictions, rosters and a schedule. Here are some links:
Four Wild players in the spotlight who are in the final years of their contracts. Remember, the Wild has $50 million already tied up next year, so it's safe to say at least a few of these guys won't be back.
NHL Preview article, which includes a feature on the up and coming St. Louis Blues and offseason changes.
Wild notebook, leading with Casey Wellman and Justin Falk making the team
Also, remember, it's the NHL season. My Sunday Insider begins this Sunday, so take a look at that. I'll be cleaning out the Finland notebook with some funny stuff.
Like I mentioned above, there's a lot of candy or popcorn, as we say in the business, like rosters, my award predictions, Stanley Cup predictions and team by team predictions, so go take a gander.
Obviously, I'm very excited to get the 2010-11 season underway. Training camp is fun, but long and exhausting, even for the beat writer. Tons of articles and features have appeared, and hopefully you've enjoyed, especially from Finland. Amazing we're leaving tomorrow after the game. Helsinki is a tremendous place, the people have been so nice and hospitable and it's just been fun to document the Wild's goings-on here.
But now it's for real. Points are on the line, and fast starts are essential in the NHL.
“Not that you say any game in the NHL is not important, but this game is really important for three guys on our team," said Richards, referring to the Finns. "And they’re really three key guys on our team, so you’d think it would be really important to the rest of the team.”
Tonight, as I think I wrote earlier this week, the NHL will pay tribute to some Finnish hockey legends that played several games in the NHL. Jari Kurri will drop the ceremonial faceoff between captain Mikko Koivu and I'd assume one of the Finns on Carolina, probably Tuomo Ruutu. Esa Tikkanen, whom I covered in Florida, Jyrki Lumme and Sami Kapanen will also be honored.
For Carolina, Joe Corvo, who's been working his way back from injury, will play on the blue line. Sergei Samsonov (neck) is not here.
Lastly, I keep meaning to show you this picture. Look what's written near the top of the ticket for an IFK-Helsinki game:
OK, this is it. Talk to you after the 2010-11 season opener.