Good evening from a highway in pitch-black Tampere, Finland, where I'm in the back row of the media/front office bus on the way back to Helsinki following the Wild's 5-1 exhibition win over Ilves tonight.
I'm in the back row because I'm trying to keep my keyboard pounding silent because a lot of people are trying to sleep in the front dozen rows.
I need to make this quick because I'm running out of laptop juice and I have lots of work to get done. Believe it or not, no outlets in the "press box" (school desk and chair), so I've got an 1:41 left of battery, which hopefully lasts through the bus ride.
Wild started groggy tonight, got much better, had lots of chances in the first and connected on Cal Clutterbuck's first of three goals. Then the Wild took a couple early second-period power plays and put together an awful second period in which they played pass-the-puck to the Finnish guys as Ilves tied it.
You should have seen the 50-or-so Wild fans during the second intermission. They had such blank faces, they were either jet-lagged or depressed. I'd say both actually.
But just as I was about to do my NHL predictions and pick the Wild 40th in the 30-team league, they stormed out in the third and scored four times. Clutterbuck connected on No. 2, then Marek Zidlicky scored a beautiful goal on a give and go with Mikko Koivu. He passed the puck off the wall to Koivu, stepped in front of his defender, took the puck in the right circle, kicked it from his left skate to his right and buried it. Then Clutterbuck made it 4-1 and Chuck Kobasew 5-1.
Matt Cullen had at least two assists that I saw on Clutterbuck's first two goals, but no stats tonight in the unofficial exhibition game tabbed the NHL Premiere Challenge.
Clutterbuck said this was his first hat trick since his last year at junior with Oshawa. John Tavares probably got three assists on those goals. Clutterbuck said he did get a hat trick a few weeks ago at the Octagon camp in St. Louis Park.
Clutterbuck-Cullen-Casey Wellman buzzed all night, and if the Wild could get a goal scorer out of Clutterbuck, that would be massive for this team that right now has Guillaume Latendresse, who was having a poor camp as it was, hurt. Latendresse (hip flexor) is questionable for Thursday's opener, while Martin Havlat is clearly bothered by sore groins. But he says he has every intention of playing Thursday and just didn't want to aggravate it in a meaningless game going into the opener.
Fun experience up at Ilves. The 7,500-seat barn, which only drew 4,600 for the game due to the $100 tickets, was a cool rink. Oldest arena in Finland, I'm told. The rink was as long as an NHL rink and two meters shorter than an Olympic sized rink. The offensive and defensive zones were tiny and Wild players were really affected by that, especially on the power play.
Every time the defensemen got the puck, a penalty killer was right in his face. It was almost impossible to take a point shot without getting it blocked.
Carolina lost to SKA in St. Petersburg, Russia, tonight 5-3. The Canes pulled Eric Staal from the game because he said the SKA players were going for his knees and the officials were doing nothing to stop it. I assume he meant the officials, and not his players.
Funny moment after the Chuck Kobasew goal. John Madden did a fly-by celebration and then went straight to retrieve the puck. I thought he must have learned something from Chris Pronger in the Stanley Cup Finals or something
Turns out Madden knew he got the assist on the goal and it was his first assist in Finland. Remember, he not only players here with the Blackhawks last year, but he left HIFK after only two weeks during the lockout.
OK, talk to you Tuesday. The Hurricanes arrive in town tonight, so for the first time tomorrow, I'll be able to attend both Minnesota and Carolina practices, kinda like playoff coverage. Should be fun to see Canes GM Jim Rutherford and the Hurricanes.
The Wild's practice is open to its 100 or so fans that made their way over from Minnesota. They also have a luncheon with the fans afterward.
Also, got a lot of questions, but no, I don't see the Wild claiming Michael Grabner off waivers Tuesday.