OTTAWA – Matt Benz answered the phone back in St. Paul and thought former assistant equipment manager Brent Proulx was playing a joke with him.
“The truck’s on fire,” Proulx screamed, according to Benz. “The equipment’s destroyed. We don’t know what’s salvageable, so go to the team store and put a hold on all game-used, signed goalie equipment.
“I ran up there and kept waiting for the call, ‘Ha, joke’s on you.’ ”
That follow-up call never came.
After the Wild practiced in Kanata, Ontario, on Dec. 18, 2009, the back of the Senators’ equipment truck caught fire as trainers transported the Wild’s equipment from a skating rink to the Senators arena.
Wednesday was the Wild’s second trip back to Ottawa since that infamous fire, which was believed to be started by a fallen blowtorch. Josh Harding, Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu, Kyle Brodziak and Clayton Stoner are the only five players that remain from that roster.
The equipment of nine Wild players survived, although it reeked of smoke. Twelve players, including Backstrom and Harding, lost just about or absolutely everything.
Greg Zanon lost everything but his knee brace. Everything of James Sheppard’s melted except his mouth guard. Shane Hnidy lost two left skates but neither of his rights. Only Stoner’s pants survived.
Sticks were disintegrated. Medical supplies were lost. Coaches lost all of their gear.
Back in Minnesota, Benz, now the Wild’s No. 2 equipment manager, frantically gathered equipment because the NHL decided the Wild-Senators game would go on as scheduled the next day.
“I ran to Parade [Ice Garden],” Benz said. “We had a bunch of equipment stored in trash bags. Every 15 minutes, I’d get a call or text from Brent or [equipment manager] Tony [DaCosta] as they worked through the roster saying, ‘This guy needs shin pads and a helmet, this guy needs everything, this guy just needs skates. Slowly but surely, we got through the roster.”
Lance Vogt, an equipment assistant, and then-strength coach Chris Pietrzak-Wegner worked at the arena sizing up helmets and other equipment. Benz drove to some homes, like that of former Wild defenseman Nick Schultz, who left word with his wife to dig up some old skates and shoulder pads for Benz to pick up.
Proulx flew commercially from Ottawa to Minnesota, and by 5 a.m. Dec. 19, Proulx, Benz and Pietrzak-Wegner were on a charter aircraft for Ottawa. By the time players walked into Ottawa’s visiting dressing room for the morning skate, “the room was set up just like it would be every game morning,” Benz said. “Seeing how amazed the guys were that the room was like normal was the coolest thing. It was a pretty good accomplishment that we made it all work.
“The only thing that would have been better is if we won the game.”
Zucker is back
Goalie Niklas Backstrom, who has missed four games because of a concussion, was placed on injured reserve to free a roster spot to add Jason Zucker on Wednesday. Backstrom, who took shots Wednesday and is working out lightly, can come off any time he’s ready to return.
Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild hopes to have a better idea of a time frame after talking to Backstrom.
Zucker, who entered Wednesday’s game with seven points in 27 regular-season games, has scored four goals and four assists in 12 games for AHL Iowa. Yeo said Zucker’s minor league play “warranted” a call-up.
Zucker replaced Torrey Mitchell, who injured his left leg Tuesday in Montreal. Yeo doesn’t think the injury is serious. Defenseman Matt Dumba returned to the lineup and Nate Prosser was scratched.