It was a quiet morning at Xcel Energy Center, with just nine skaters and two goalies on the ice for the Wild's optional practice. Most of the team's top players got some more rest on Day 2 of the Wild's unusual four-day break from competition. So did coach Mike Yeo, who also took a break from talking to the media.
Jordan Leopold and Matt Dumba were the lone defensemen who practiced. The seven forwards included fourth-liners Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder and Sean Bergenheim, as well as a trio working their way back from injuries. Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke were able to participate in the three-on-three work that ended practice, while Jason Zucker went to the other end of the ice and worked one-on-one with coaches.
Brodziak, who has missed three games because of an upper-body injury, said he has been cleared to play and expects to get back up to speed quickly. Cooke still has no timetable for a return from the sports hernia surgery he had last month.
"It's unfair to put a timetable on it,'' said Cooke, who has played in 27 games this season but hasn't felt completely healthy since the second game on the schedule. "I'm going to practice (Tuesday) and see how it reacts and move on from there.
"It's frustrating. It's hard. But injuries are a part of it, and you have to be able to deal with it and move on. I've gone my fair share of games without getting hurt. I went almost eight years without missing a game because of injuries. It just so happened it all happened in one year.''
Cooke said the biggest hurdle to clear in recent weeks has been regaining the ability to fully extend his stride. He had a hard time generating the power he needed in his legs, and he didn't want to rejoin the team for practice until he had gotten that back. Cooke also said he had "a few other issues going on'' besides the sports hernia and wanted all of those to clear up before he resumed full practices.
"Each time I'm out there, I'm testing it,'' he said. "You get some bumps, you get in the corners and battle a little bit, different types of reaction plays, the stops and starts you have to do in a game. Every day is going to be a test.
"As soon as I'm ready to play, I'm ready to play. It's all a matter of when you feel well enough to get out there and play and be a factor.''
Leopold was on daddy duty, bringing son Kyle--who is approaching his sixth birthday--to the rink for a little post-practice skating. Kyle, on spring break from school, was outfitted in a Wild helmet with his dad's number 33 on the back and a gold Potulny Hockey jersey. He seemed right at home in the Wild's room, plopping down in dad's locker stall and getting Dumba to untie his skates.
Leopold and Dumba both said the four days off are completely positive for the Wild. A long break like this, when the Wild has been playing at such a consistently high level, could be seen as a possible momentum-stopper. Mr. Russo points out that St. Louis is 1-6-1 this season when it gets three days or more of rest.
Neither Leopold nor Dumba was buying the suggestion that there were any dangers for the Wild, saying they expected the team to get its mental edge back with two high-intensity practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before resuming play Thursday against the New York Rangers at Xcel.
"Rest is a weapon,'' Leopold said. "We're going to use (the break) to get some good rest, to heal our bumps and bruises. We've got a good pace ahead of us coming up. Rest is something that’s key this time of year, and we're lucky to have the break.
"We've got a good vibe going on now, and guys understand when it's game time, it's time to prepare and be ready. We'll have a good couple of days of practice coming up, and we'll take advantage of it.''