ANAHEIM, CALIF. – After spending the past day and a half getting pampered at a five-star resort, eating upscale meals, lounging by the pool and golfing on a spectacular course overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Wild players may want to do themselves a favor and try their absolute best to defeat the mighty Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.
“Otherwise,” defenseman Ryan Suter said, only half-jokingly, “we’ll never do this again.”
With an odd five-day break only two games into an undefeated season, the Wild headed out to the O.C. a few days early in order to break up the monotony of so many practices right after a long training camp.
The Wild stayed off the ice Wednesday so it could have some fun in the sun.
Of course, as Zach Parise said: “It’s not the most ideal time to have this much time off when you’re feeling good about how you’re playing and how you won the first two games [against Colorado]. But that’s what you’re dealt with. If you want to call it team bonding, it was still fun.”
Captain Mikko Koivu said the resort — Newport Beach’s Pelican Hill — was the nicest the Wild has stayed at in his 10-year career and the team activities were the best ever conducted.
“It was amazing the way the team did it. Everything was first class,” Koivu said.
If Koivu felt that way, imagine what rookies Matt Dumba and Christian Folin felt. Dumba just wrapped up his junior career in the Western Hockey League and Folin his college career.
“This ain’t the ‘Dub’ any more,” Dumba joked. “Kind of crazy to go from that to this.”
Veteran Thomas Vanek loved the team bonding aspect. This is his first year with the Wild, so he got to know his teammates.
“Plus,” he said, smiling, “You’re in California, so it’s nice waking up when it’s 80 and palm trees.”
Now though, the Wild has to shower off the sunscreen and scrape off the rust for immediate combat Friday against the Ducks, playing their home opener in a building where they went 29-8-4 last year, and Sunday at the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
“It’s always a challenge when you get a couple of days off, but every team has it at some point,” Koivu said. “We had a good, hard practice [Thursday], a good skate, so I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t be ready. It’s time to get back to work.”
In practice Thursday, coach Mike Yeo kept the first and third lines intact — the Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Charlie Coyle lines.
Justin Fontaine, who missed much of training camp and the first two games with a glute injury, will make his season debut on the second line with Vanek and Koivu, while Matt Cooke will move to the fourth line, perhaps with Ryan Carter at center and Jason Zucker at right wing.
Vanek, who has one assist in two games, will move back to the position he’s most comfortable — left wing. So far, Vanek and Koivu, the Wild’s all-time leading scorer who’s without a point, haven’t clicked.
“It’ll definitely help moving back to the left side, a position I have played 98 percent of my games,” Vanek said. “But I’m still learning Mikko’s game. I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think we had two great games, but I thought both of our games were OK. But nothing compared to how we can play.”
The two helped set up Zucker’s goal to put the Wild up 2-0 Saturday in Denver. Yeo, though, wants Fontaine on the line because Vanek, Koivu and Fontaine are three offensive players who think the game similarly.
Zucker is normally not a right wing. He’ll play that side on the fourth line, but Yeo isn’t sure Zucker’s ready to play regularly there on the second line. If Zucker plays well, though, Yeo said he wouldn’t hesitate to spot him up.
The Ducks and Kings will be a huge tests for the Wild. However, Yeo downplayed that sentiment Thursday while Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau raved about the Wild.
“We really believe that Minnesota is a really good team,” Boudreau said. “They were good in the playoffs. They could have beaten Chicago. As a matter of fact, even though Chicago won in six, I thought Minnesota outplayed them for most of the time. It was just that karma or whatever that Chicago had that let them win that series.
“A good Colorado team, they beat them badly twice. We’re going to use them as a measuring stick to see where we’re at.”