A sweaty Pat Cannone placed his helmet in a stall that had an official No. 42 Minnesota Wild CANNONE nameplate attached, turned around, saw the throng of cameras and digital recorders in his face and reacted with an under the breath, “Woah.”
It’s safe to say there were more reporters covering the Wild’s practice Monday at Xcel Energy Center than Cannone has seen at most practices in six years in the minors and four at Miami of Ohio.
Perhaps giving hope to all professional veterans who have yet to be called up to the big dance, Cannone is expected to make his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche at the ripe age of 30.
That will make him the second-oldest player to make his NHL debut in Wild history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Lubomir Sekeras debuted at age 31 in the Wild’s inaugural game Oct. 6, 2000.
“It’s going to be great,” said Cannone, a Long Island native who is expected to center the fourth line with veteran Chris Stewart and Iowa Wild teammate Kurtis Gabriel. “A lot of emotions running high. I just need to keep those in check and just try to play my game and go from there.
“You play for [this], you work hard for [this]. It was a long time coming, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Cannone’s wife, Natalie, made the drive from Des Moines with him on Sunday night. His parents, Stephen and Joanne, were trying to fly to Minnesota for the game.
“That’s pretty cool,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of the 30-year-old rookie. “Hey listen, I was in the minors so long, anytime you can bring up a young man to give him a shot at the NHL, I think it’s great.”
Cannone’s chance has come because center Erik Haula sustained a lower-body injury Saturday against Arizona. The Wild has not yet announced the results of Haula’s MRI, which he underwent Monday.
Boudreau would only say Haula’s sore and won’t play Tuesday. This is Haula’s second injury this season; he earlier missed seven games because of a foot injury.
Tyler Graovac will take Haula’s spot as third-line center.
Zac Dalpe, who underwent surgery for a torn meniscus last month, played for Iowa on Monday night for the first time since getting hurt with Minnesota on Oct. 29. There’s a chance he’ll be recalled for the upcoming road trip to Montreal and the New York Rangers because at a minimum the Wild would want an extra forward if Haula doesn’t make the trip.
Cannone’s nickname in Iowa is “Pistol Pat.” The reason? Last season playing for Wild assistant coach John Anderson’s Chicago Wolves, Cannone scored a hat trick against Iowa where his third goal, Gabriel said, came after he circled back into his own end on a 3-on-3, skated directly up the middle of the ice uncontested and ripped a slapshot from the top of the circles.
“He was always scoring against us,” Gabriel said.
In fact, Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr recruited Cannone (pronounced, Kuh-no-knee) as a free agent by joking with him that since he scored about half his goals against Iowa last season, he might as well join the Baby Wild.
Cannone, last season’s American Hockey League All-Star Game MVP after scoring a hat trick in the game, signed a one-year deal that pays him a guaranteed $300,000.
“I knew there was a good opportunity to make a jump up here and also wanted to be a part of a turnaround in Des Moines,” Cannone said.
Cannone is tied for second on Iowa with 16 points in 28 games.
“He’s a high-skilled guy. He can score points,” said Anderson, who coached Cannone for three years with Chicago. “Cerebral player who works hard and has quick hands.”
In the meantime, the Wild looks to extend its winning streak to eight games Tuesday. Not only has the Wild lost to the lowly Avalanche twice in the regular season, Colorado went 2-0 against the Wild in the preseason.
“[The Blackhawks] don’t seem to be letting their foot off the gas, so we have to make sure we’re doing the same thing,” said veteran Eric Staal, named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week on Monday. “We need to push to continue to get better because Chicago isn’t losing. If we want to catch them and be first in the division, we have to keep pounding up the points, too.”