Desperate for another healthy body, the Wild had assistant coach Darby Hendrickson suit up for Monday’s practice in a helmet and full pads.
And that was before franchise cornerstone Zach Parise had another injury setback, forcing him off the rink after 25 minutes of drills.
“It’s an experience every day, that’s for sure,” exasperated coach Bruce Boudreau said.
With five days off between Sunday’s perplexing 5-4 overtime loss to Columbus and this Friday’s game at Winnipeg, Boudreau designed a practice that challenged his players to compete harder and win puck battles.
That’s been a hallmark of Parise’s game, when healthy. He made it through four practices last week unscathed and was tracking toward a season debut Friday.
“I talked to him before practice and he felt great,” Boudreau said. “That’s why he was in a red color [jersey, with linemates Eric Staal and Joel Eriksson Ek] and ready to go. The next thing I know, somebody told me he went off [the ice].”
Early in practice, Boudreau put the players through a physical one-on-one battle drill that spanned the length of the ice. Parise, 33, had all he could do to keep up with 22-year-old defenseman Gustav Olofsson, and moments later, Parise headed to the locker room.
“I don’t know why he went off,” Boudreau said. “Obviously, something didn’t feel right.”
After missing all seven preseason games, Parise had returned to practice last Monday and denied that he is dealing with a back issue, keeping the injury unspecified.
“You feel badly for Zach,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “He’s working hard, and he’s in great shape, and hopefully this is just a short-term setback, if it even is a setback. But I’m sure it’s very frustrating for him. Nobody cares and nobody wants to play hard and play well for this franchise more than Zach.”
If not for Parise’s latest issue, Monday would have gone down as a rare positive day for the Wild on the injury front.
Mikael Granlund, out since the Oct. 5 season opener with a groin injury, looked strong skating, stickhandling and shooting before Monday’s practice.
Asked whether Granlund would miss weekend’s games at Winnipeg and Calgary, Fletcher said, “Not necessarily.”
“I think we thought it was unlikely he could play, but he continues to progress,” Fletcher said. “So we’ll see what the doctors think.”
Marcus Foligno, who missed Saturday’s home opener because of a facial fracture, had a surgical procedure Sunday and is close to returning to practice with a full cage facemask.
“Hopefully he can start skating Wednesday,” Fletcher said. “He’s feeling better and better every day.”
All told, the Wild was missing five of its top nine forwards Saturday — Parise, Granlund, Foligno, Charlie Coyle (broken right fibula) and Nino Niederreiter (high left ankle sprain).
The schedule has been somewhat forgiving, with the Wild playing only two games per week through the season’s first three weeks.
“I guess if you’re going to have a five-day break, now is the time to have it, let guys start catching up on their injuries, get things together,” veteran center Matt Cullen said. “These are those adversity stretches that you face throughout the course of the season.”
Fletcher promoted four forwards from Iowa for last Saturday’s game — Luke Kunin, Landon Ferraro, Zack Mitchell and Christoph Bertschy — and quickly reassigned them to Iowa, preserving salary cap space.
Fletcher said the reinforcements will be back Thursday, giving them one day to practice with the team before the Winnipeg game.
In the meantime, Boudreau turned to Hendrickson, who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2004 but still looks the part at age 45.
“He keeps himself in fabulous shape, and he’ll do anything for the team,” Boudreau said. “When I phoned him [Sunday], he said, ‘Whatever you need me to do, Coach.’ ”
He should keep his equipment handy. At this rate, the Wild might need him to hop over the boards during a game.