Afternoon from Minnesota. Yes, I’m here, and the Wild just touched down in State College, Pa., for tonight’s exhibition opener against the Buffalo Sabres. Check out yesterday’s blog for tonight’s Wild lines, and I tweeted the Sabres’ lineup at @russostrib.
I’m actually not covering tonight’s game, but it can be heard on KFAN. A reminder: The Wild opens the preseason at home Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche. That lineup will include the Wild unofficial debut of Eric Staal and have guys like Jason Pominville, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Christian Folin and roster hopeful Zac Dalpe. It’ll also be the first chance for Wild fans to look at roster hopeful Joel Eriksson Ek, the Wild’s 2015 first-rounder.
Not sure yet if Devan Dubnyk or Darcy Kuemper will both be dressing and who’s starting.
Bruce Boudreau didn’t say when the first exhibition game would be for the World Cup returnees. My guess is Saturday against Carolina and not Thursday in Winnipeg, but just a guess.
All preseason games can be heard on KFAN. I’m covering the three home exhibition games and the one in Denver.
The three home preseason games can be streamed on the FOX Sports GO app.
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Sorry for the very late blog, but after practice this morning, I had lunch with a player for a future feature. Should be a good one as long as I don’t screw it up! I also chatted with Nino Niederreiter, who has advanced to the World Cup Final with Team Europe.
His thoughts are deeper in this here blog.
Some minor Wild nuggets first:
-- 2016 draft pick Braydyn Chizen, the 6-9 defenseman, was returned to his junior team in Kelowna and Keegan Iverson was released from his tryout. He’s expected to return to Portland.
This puts the training camp at 58, although Gustav Olofsson (knee), Max Fortunus, Sam Anas (concussion), Chase Lang (back), Zack Mitchell (ankle) and Dylan Labbe are injured and haven’t been practicing with the two practice groups. Some have been skating separately with Richard Park.
Dmitry Sokolov (shoulder surgery) has been cleared for contact and he practiced today with the non-game group.
That non-game group was ginormous with the additions of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula fresh off their World Cup experience.
Boudreau changed today’s schedule around so he could be on the ice with those five in their first practice. Originally, the game group was to have a morning skate in Minnesota and the non-game group was to go on after without the coaches. Instead, the game group came to the X for penalty-kill meeting and didn’t take the ice.
Today’s practice had to be an eye opener for the tired five. After not skating since Thursday, the five hit the ice for a long, up-tempo practice today. Tons of skating, tons of pressure because Boudreau wants to simulate game situations in each practice.
Here are snippets from four of the five returnees:
On the World Cup experience: “It was a great experience. Hockey was not fun. Obviously when you don’t win, you don’t play well, it’s not fun. That was disappointing, but the experience was a great experience.”
On what went wrong for Team USA: “I haven’t really dissected it. We just weren’t playing well. We just weren’t able to get going the way we needed to and it ended up costing us bigtime.”
On the rest of the tournament: “I honestly don’t even care. I care about being here and getting focused and ready to have a good start.”
How quickly did he flip the page? “As soon as possible. You go in there with such high expectations of yourself and your team, and to come out and have that showing is extremely disappointing for us. We let a lot of people down, for sure.”
On his first practice: “Very excited to turn the page. First practice, there was a lot going on, but it was good. It was good being out there with guys that you’re familiar with. … … The guys that were away are pretty down right now energy wise. We have time before we have to get ready to go, so we have to refocus and reenergize for Game 1.”
On Boudreau: “He knows the game. He’s a fun guy but pretty demanding. First impression was that.”
“The tournament didn’t go as well as we planned, but … good first day. I think all of us that were gone for awhile were really happy to be back.”
On the tournament: “Nothing we can do about that now, so now we have to get ourselves ready to play games here.”
On his back, Parise said there were “no problems,” and by the end, “I wasn’t even thinking about it, so it went really well.”
On his first practice, Parise said, “Tiring (laughing). A lot of up and down, a lot of stop and starting. It was game like. You had to make plays under pressure and with guys back checking you. If all of our practices continue to be like that, it’s really going to benefit us in games.”
On the new coaches: “It’s great. I’ve been here for three hours. Great vibes in the room and really good pace to practice. I’m really looking forward to playing with these guys.”
On his first experience with Eric Staal on his line: “Big guy, can skate. I hope, but I think it’s going to go really well. I think we’re going to be able to push each other and make each other better players.”
On Boudreau: “He’s vocal, teaching a lot. All the guys were out there teaching a lot. Really good staff.”
On what happened to Team USA: “I don’t know. Once we lost that first game, and I think in hindsight everyone has to really look at how good Europe really is – I know we took a lot of heat for losing to them right away, but we said they were a good hockey team and now they find themselves in the finals. I don’t have an answer for what went wrong, what didn’t go well. We put ourselves in a spot where we had to beat Canada. … Pretty tough task to beat this team that in a group hasn’t lost in five international tournaments. Unfortunate the way it went. Lot of fun. We had a great time, just the hockey didn’t go as we had hoped it would.”
OK moving to wing: “If I’m a winger, I’m a winger. I’m excited both ways. Doesn’t matter to me.”
He said it’s disappointing being knocked out of the World Cup, but “Now we’re here. Good to get started here. We have a good team and good group of guys. Exciting to be here. Everybody’s ready to start.”
On the new coaching staff: “A lot of new when that happens. The best way to look at it now is you get to know each other as a team here and get a couple practices in and getting to know the systems. Usually it takes awhile to feel comfortable again. New coaching staff, players, it’ll take awhile. … Everyone seems to be very excited. With new, what comes with that is you are excited, you don’t really know what to expect, so every day is new.”
He took a shot off the right foot in the final World Cup game for Finland. He said x-rays checked out well, and although he’s a little sore, skating-wise, everything’s fine and he’s good to go.
Was excited to have the five guys back.
“I wanted to make sure we can play under pressure. Everything we did today, there was pressure against you, whether forecheck, neutral zone, whatever. When pressure’s on you, you have to move the puck fast, and we wanted to move pucks quick.”
On Parise and Staal: “I think they’re going to be good. I’m really looking forward to seeing them as a line in games and see where it goes.”
As I mentioned, I talked this afternoon on the phone with El Nino, who has been playing on a line with young Oilers stud Leon Draisaitl and Tobias Rieder, a young Coyotes forward I really grew an appreciation for last season.
He’s in the Final against Canada with Team Europe. Games are Tuesday, Thursday and if necessary, Saturday.
Niederreiter said, “It’s weird to know the Wild’s getting ready and started with training camp and all the boys are there and I’m not there right this second. But at the same time it’s been a fun journey. We’re the underdog going into the tournament and nobody really expected us to be here. Even in the first [pre-tournament] games, you’re like, this could be … bad. Now all of a sudden we’re in the Finals. It’s been great. The good thing, there’s literally no pressure for us, right? You really just go out there and play and see what happens.”
On if it’s bittersweet because he can’t show Boudreau and the coaches what he’s made out of, Niederreiter said, “There’s been some change in our lineup, so as a player, you always want to showcase yourself and put yourself in the best position you can be. It’s been a lot of fun being here and I’m glad we’re in the Final and playing in a big stage like this, but at the same time, it would be also good to get some opportunity and get some looks on different lines. It’s definitely something that’s going to be missed, but at the end of the day, those are things you can’t control as a player.”
Since nobody predicted Europe to in this spot, can they prove people wrong again? Niederreiter said, “That’s the goal. That’s something we have to do. Canada, in Sochi, they had a tough time beating Latvia. In Vancouver, they had a tough time beating Switzerland. They have to lose some day, right, so why not us? We are a good group. Just have to play smart. A lot of people didn’t give us a lot of credit because we’re eight different countries in one room put together, but there’s great players in that room and there’s a reason why a lot of us are here. They definitely underestimated us a little bit.”
On his 2-on-0 pass against the U.S. to Draisaitl for a back-breaking goal, Niederreiter laughed: “I’ve never experienced anything like that going 2-on-0 from your own blue line. You don’t even see that in practice.”