Temperatures reached north of 60 degrees in St. Paul on Monday, but it felt like a blizzard besieged the inside of Xcel Energy Center.
The floor of the arena looked like a snowstorm hit after players chewed the ice into oblivion during 20 minutes of conditioning. Afterward, the coaches had to get out the shovels in order to work overtime with youngsters Joel Eriksson Ek and Tyler Graovac.
“I haven’t done those since high school,” defenseman Ryan Suter said of the conditioning drills. “Not in the NHL. It’s good. You have to be in shape and the way it was done, we had fun with it. If you get all mad about it, you don’t get anything out of it.”
After running a hard practice for nearly an hour, coach Bruce Boudreau sounded like a drill sergeant as he urged players during the ensuing skate-a-thon.
“We did that drill in Fort Wayne in 1991,” Boudreau said. “You look for the reaction that I think we got today. That’s the reaction we had as players. It’s hard work. It’s a lot of skating. It was enthusiastic and ended the way I wanted it to end. I was pretty happy with it.”
With a day off Tuesday, Boudreau felt the timing was right. The four-part drill started with “up-and-downs” where players skated the length of the ice eight times. Then, they skated four times around cones before moving on to iron crosses, where inside each faceoff circle, players did “stops and starts” from the dot to each side of the circle.
Finally, players did four sets of “blue line to blue lines,” where they started on their stomachs and backs. The fourth lap was player’s choice, so there’d be, as Boudreau said, “some pretty funky endings,” like belly flops and slides on knees.
Players were hooting and howling.
“Literally I haven’t done that since peewees and bantam,” defenseman Nate Prosser said. “That’s old-school stuff. … He gets guys smiling and makes it fun.”
The skating is often hardest on the goaltenders. “This body’s not built to skate forward,” Devan Dubnyk said. “Nobody expects the goalies to go fast. So as long as [Darcy Kuemper and me are] in different groups and don’t have to race each other, nobody knows how fast or slow we’re really going.”
The Wild will practice Wednesday before heading to Pittsburgh to begin a stretch Thursday of three road games in four nights and 10 games in 17 days. Boudreau said the chances are “slim” that injured Zach Parise or Erik Haula would return on the trip. Both are skating but haven’t practiced.
The Wild, also dealing with injuries to defenseman Marco Scandella and center Zac Dalpe, has lost two in a row, scoring once. After Monday’s practice, the Wild reassigned Christoph Bertschy and Jordan Schroeder to save cap space. One or both could be back because the Wild will need to recall at least two forwards for the road trip.
The upcoming three games come in arenas that usually aren’t kind to the Wild. In the past three years, the Wild has been outscored 16-5 in three losses in Pittsburgh. Since 2011-12, the Wild’s 1-3 in Philadelphia (outscored 14-7) and 1-1-2 in Ottawa.
With so many injuries and minor-leaguers on the third and fourth lines, it has proved quite the challenge for the top two lines, which Monday consisted of Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville.
“They have to fight through it. That’s their job,” Boudreau said. “That’s what makes them a top-six forward. I know it’s tough. I know every other team puts their best defensemen and their best checking lines against these guys. These are some of the best players in the world, and I anticipate that they should be scoring.”