WINNIPEG – Darcy Kuemper was sitting at a gate at the Winnipeg airport Saturday afternoon, waiting to board a flight back to the Twin Cities. With goaltender Niklas Backstrom healthy and ready to rejoin the Wild lineup after a concussion, Kuemper was no longer needed to back up starter Josh Harding, and he had been assigned to return to the team’s AHL affiliate in Iowa.
The boarding time was approaching when Kuemper’s phone rang. Harding had been injured in warmups, Backstrom was starting and the Wild needed Kuemper to get back to MTS Centre, stat.
By the time the curtain rose on the second period of the Wild’s 3-2 shootout victory over Winnipeg, Kuemper was sitting in the arena wearing his uniform, pads and a baseball cap—and a bit of a bewildered expression.
With the Wild’s roster at its limit of 23 players, team officials had to quickly file paperwork to receive an emergency goaltender exemption to even allow Kuemper to be in uniform. He sat across from the team’s bench, behind the glass at the edge of the tunnel, just in front of the first row of spectators.
“I just got here and put on my gear as quick as I could,’’ Kuemper said. “You just try to get focused in case you need to go in there. Obviously, you don’t go through your game-day routine, and you’re at the airport 15 minutes before game time. You just come and put your gear on and try to get your game face on as best you can.’’
Kuemper said when he got the call, he was told to get his goalie equipment. It was already checked, so team officials sought help from the staff at Delta airlines. The gear was collected and rushed through customs, and Kuemper was waved through quickly.
The team bus picked up Kuemper and hustled him back to the arena. He was dressed in time to skate out with the team when it took the ice for the second period, and when he took his seat at the edge of the crowd, a few spectators made comments.
Nothing quite like this had ever happened in his career, Kuemper said. “It was definitely strange,’’ he said. “I tip my hat to the Winnipeg airport. I got out of there pretty quick. I was impressed.’’
Mikael Granlund did not play Saturday because of an upper-body injury. When he did not practice Friday, coach Mike Yeo confirmed Granlund was taking a “maintenance day.’’
Saturday, Yeo said, he found out that Granlund was not quite healthy enough to play. He is hopeful that the center will return to practice Sunday to prepare for Monday’s game at St. Louis.
“We’ll see,’’ Yeo said. “[Saturday, the injury] wasn’t a whole lot better. We thought it was best to just keep him off.’’
Cutting it close
The Wild is 9-1-4 in one-goal games this season, including Saturday’s shootout victory. Yeo said the Wild’s success indicates how well the team is dialed in.
“It’s important to play those types of games, on both sides of it, when we have the lead or when we’re chasing,’’ he said. “Everything is ramped up at that time. It’s great for our group when the game is on line to be able to have that focus. When things are at their most intense, that’s when you revert back to your habits. It’s showing our guys have good habits right now.’’
• Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart, a Rochester native, returned to the lineup Saturday after missing 10 games because of a hip injury.