UNIONDALE, N.Y. – There are times Justin Fontaine feels a little claustrophobic in a Wild locker room that includes former Gophers Thomas Vanek, Erik Haula, Jordan Leopold, Jordan Schroeder and Keith Ballard.
But the former Minnesota Duluth national champion hopes to get a little breathing room this weekend if his Bulldogs can knock out the Gophers in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Manchester, N.H. The winner Friday plays the winner of Boston University-Yale on Saturday.
“So far UMD has had the upper hand this season, so hopefully that continues,” Fontaine said of the Bulldogs’ 3-1 record against the University of Minnesota. “I’ve got a couple friendly bets going. It’s a tough region. It’s never easy. Pretty much all of us have been in the tournament. Single elimination, so anything can happen.”
Including the injured Ballard, Nate Prosser, Ryan Carter and Jason Zucker, there are 13 former college players on the Wild roster (Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter, Christian Folin and Zach Parise are the others). So during tournament time, it makes for a fun locker room with lots of banter.
“When I grew up there were not a lot of college hockey players in the NHL,” said Leopold, 34, who played four years for the Gophers and won a national title in 2002. “Maybe a couple handfuls, and now there’s quite a few North American-born college hockey players. We take pride in it. College hockey over the years has gained a lot of respect.
“I was one of those American kids who was always going to choose college. It ended up working out where there’s a platform now to go further than just play college.”
Leopold hopes the Gophers, who lost in last year’s championship, game, are starting to peak at the perfect time after winning the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. One player who firmly believes in the chances of his alma mater is Carter, who gave Minnesota State Mankato, a pep talk before its WCHA title last weekend. The Mavericks play Rochester Institute of Technology in the first round on Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
“They’re going into the tournament with the No. 1 seed,” Carter said. “I don’t think they garner enough respect, but they’re putting themselves on the map.”
Brodziak sits out
Durable center Kyle Brodziak missed Tuesday’s game against the Islanders because of an upper-body injury. Brodziak was injured during a fight Monday with Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Coach Mike Yeo said it was minor “tightness” and that Brodziak is expected to be fine by Friday’s game against Calgary.
In six seasons with the Wild, Brodziak has missed only four games due to injury or illness. He was hurt sticking up for Haula and Jared Spurgeon.
Schroeder, scratched the previous eight games, impressed in his first game since March 6 at Carolina. He started on the fourth line, but he was elevated to the third line, penalty kill and played in overtime.
“Every time he was on the ice, he was bringing some momentum to us, he was having some good shifts and he earned more opportunity through the game,” Yeo said.
On Monday, Schroeder, a victim of the number’s game despite seven points and being plus-9 his past 15 games, said the hardest part was “trying to stay positive and working hard to stay sharp and wait for your turn. The NHL is a tough league to make it. I’m glad to be here obviously, but I’m not satisfied with sitting. I want to succeed like everyone else.”
• The Wild signed University of New Hampshire senior forward Grayson Downing to a two-year, entry-level contract. The contract will start next season, and he signed an amateur tryout with Iowa of the AHL for the rest of this season. He tied for 13th in the nation this season with 21 goals and added 15 assists.
• Carter tested his injured shoulder again Tuesday morning but missed his 22nd consecutive game.