After Ryan Suter led the NHL in ice time his three previous seasons with the Wild, the goal this season was to drop the No. 1 defenseman’s ice time to an average of 24-26 minutes a night.
For the start of this season, the Wild coaches stuck to the plan as Suter, who logged 30-plus minutes 23 times last season, 37 times in 2013-14 and 10 times in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, didn’t hit the 30-minute mark until Game 11.
But out of necessity lately, Suter has been used a lot, logging 28 minutes or more per game of the recent four-game trip, including 33 minutes, 11 seconds in Dallas and 32:26 in Boston. He once again is leading the league in ice time per game (27:39, still significantly lower than the 29:25 and 29:04 he averaged the past two seasons).
Head coach Mike Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson, who rotates the blue-liners during games, have had no choice with Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon sick lately, Marco Scandella away on personal leave and now hurt and Matt Dumba and a few others playing at less than 100 percent.
“In a perfect world, we’d like to keep [Suter] down in that 25-26-whatever it is range, but he’s had to step up lately,” Yeo said. “He’s played more minutes, and the impressive thing is that hasn’t thrown off his game.”
There are certain situations where the Wild can back him off, such as Saturday’s win against Nashville when the Wild had a lead from the start and the game was firmly in hand. After Suter logged more than 10 minutes in each of the first and second periods, Wilson trimmed him to 5:58 in the third.
Suter still finished with a season-high three points. He has 13 points in the past 11 games, has three goals this season (one more than in 77 games last season) and leads the Wild with 19 points (eight on the power play) in 19 games, which ranks third among NHL defensemen.
“Last year was just a bad year. I was behind from the start,” said Suter, referring to the loss of his father right before training camp. “This year, I feel my mind’s free and I’m just playing. It’s not just me. When we’re on, all of us are on and we’re a very good team. We just have to do that more consistently.”
Saddened by Richfield
Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, who won the 1991 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award after being a Richfield High School standout, is saddened by Richfield canceling its season because of dwindling numbers.
“I talked to [coach] Dave Shute [Saturday], and he was emotional,” Hendrickson said. “It’s an end of an era and just so sad. Some of my best memories were Richfield hockey. I played with my brother, my dad coached the ’76 team that went to the state tournament with Steve Christoff.
“ … The numbers and interest have slowly faded, and this is a real shame.”
Prosser a ‘gamer’
One reason why the Wild re-signed defenseman Nate Prosser to a two-year contract at a team-friendly $625,000 cap hit is because he’s what Yeo called a “gamer.” He doesn’t complain when he’s out of the lineup, and when needed, he can fill in on the left or right side, provide grit and will stand up for teammates.
Saturday, he fought Nashville’s James Neal, who ran around during the Nov. 5 meeting and delivered the check that sprained Zach Parise’s knee.
Catching a break
The Wild got away with one Saturday. After Prosser’s fight with Neal, he went to the locker room for repair. He returned to the bench so quickly, Wilson mistakenly put him on the ice for a shift even though Prosser should have been serving his major penalty. The referees figured it out at the next stoppage but didn’t assess the Wild a minor penalty.