The first public preview came Thursday, when the Wild’s mammoth new scoreboard — hidden for weeks behind a curtain of black sheeting — was revealed to season-ticket holders at Xcel Energy Center. Friday, the players got their initial look at the massive four-screen video board and its larger-than-life images.
Considering the awe it provoked, it probably was best for them to catch that first glimpse at practice, rather than during Saturday’s preseason home opener against Winnipeg. “It’s unreal,’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We had to wait for guys to get on the ice, because they were all sitting on the bench, enjoying watching themselves in their highlights.’’
Housed in a structure that could shelter a family of five, the high-definition, LED board underwent final tests Friday as two groups of Wild players practiced. Its two main screens measure 19 feet high by 37½ feet wide; the end screens are the same height and 24 feet wide. The arena’s ribbon boards and outdoor video boards also have been replaced with sharper, brighter models, and LED displays have been added to the lighthouse structures at the rink’s corners.
Several players raved about the board after seeing it put through its paces Friday. “It’s pretty neat to see a scoreboard that big,’’ center Kyle Brodziak said. “It will be interesting sitting on the bench, looking up and seeing a replay on a screen that big. I’m sure it will be a little weird.’’
Vets vs. Jets
Yeo has chosen a veteran-heavy lineup for Saturday’s game. He wanted fans to see the Wild’s stars, he said, and he also wants the team’s core players to get the work they need to sharpen their timing, conditioning and ability to anticipate plays.
Defenseman Ryan Suter will play in his first preseason game of the fall, and Brodziak—who had been nursing a sore back—also will get into the lineup for the first time. Niklas Backstrom is slated to play the entire game in goal, backed up by Darcy Kuemper.
In Thursday’s 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh, Yeo said, the Wild failed to cash in on some early scoring chances because it wasn’t used to doing things at top speed. His team also frequently followed good plays with bad ones, a flaw he expects to solve through repetition.
Vanek, Ballard out
Former Gopher Thomas Vanek will have to wait to make his Wild debut on home ice, and defenseman Keith Ballard also will sit out Saturday. Both players were in pain after Thursday’s loss, leading Yeo to hold them out of Friday’s practice and scratch plans to play them against Winnipeg.
Yeo said Vanek “got bumped’’ in Thursday’s game and was too sore to practice; the coach was vague about the injury, but he said it was “basically a bruise.’’ Ballard has lower-body soreness. Both are listed as day-to-day.
“They might have been able to (practice), but we thought it was best for them not to,’’ Yeo said. “We’ve got enough games left where I can give them some more games and give them a chance to get ready.’’
Thinning the ranks
The Wild reduced its roster Friday, sending 10 players to its AHL affiliate in Iowa and assigning two others to their junior teams.
Those bound for Iowa — which began training camp Friday—are forwards Brady Brassart, Raphael Bussieres, Kurtis Gabriel, Zack Mitchell and Ryan Walters; defensemen Corbin Baldwin, Alex Gudbranson and Colton Jobke; and goaltenders John Curry and Johan Gustafsson. Defensemen Dylan Labbe and Hunter Warner will return to their junior teams.
Yeo isn’t inclined to cull many more youngsters just yet. “We have quite a few of those guys (competing for roster spots),’’ he said. “Instead of getting right down to one very large group, I’d rather have two smaller groups, because (players are) getting more repetitions, more time on the ice. ’’