With five days until its next game, the Wild turned Monday's practice into a spirited session of pond hockey for pros. The team spent much of the workout playing three-on-three on a compressed rink, with the nets parked just outside the blue lines. There was plenty of laughter and one-upsmanship, along with some complaining about the calls being made by assistant-coach-turned-ref Darryl Sydor.
Team Green celebrated its victory with some chest bumps and a group hug. Coach Mike Yeo said the unusual early-season break mandated a creative approach to practice time this week, one that allows the team to throttle down for a couple of days while keeping it on its toes for Friday's game at Anaheim. The Wild leaves for California on Tuesday afternoon, with Friday's game followed by a Sunday matinee at Los Angeles.
Yeo said there was a lot of "hidden work'' in Monday's practice, along with an off-ice workout. The Wild also made a roster move, putting forward Stu Bickel on waivers to make room for Justin Fontaine. Fontaine said he is fully recovered from a gluteus strain, and Yeo said there was a good chance he would play on the road trip. The coach expects to mix others into the lineup as well to ensure everyone on the roster is getting the playing time they need to be at their best.
"I'm not afraid to make changes,'' Yeo said. "This is a weekend where we have to see guys get in. If they don’t play this weekend, we're looking at three weeks into the season where guys haven’t played a game.
"This is a long season. To sit here and say we're just satisfied with where we are and what we've done, that’s not going to be the case. We've got to keep trying to work to get better. Whoever is in the lineup and wherever they're playing, they have to be ready to go.
"We don’t want guys on our roster sitting around for three weeks without playing a game. These guys, we're going to need them down the road. We've got to make sure we give them a chance to make sure they're ready to have a good season. That doesn't mean we're going to be going game after game just rotating things here, but certainly, we have to eye this weekend as an opportunity for us to make sure guys get into the lineup.''
In other practice news Monday:
--Kuemper was named the NHL's second star of the week after making 46 saves in his back-to-back shutouts of Colorado to open the season. Yeo--who seemed uncomfortable with the praise heaped on his team for its two victories--said he was happy for Kuemper but wanted him and the rest of the team to look forward. The goalie echoed that opinion.
"It's exciting to get mentioned like that,'' he said. "But I was fortunate our team played so well. I just benefited from that. It's exciting, and we'll move forward from that now. ... Just our preparation, we can't let that level drop. We've just got to stay on top of it and start looking forward to the next game.''
--Yeo said he isn't certain what Fontaine's role will be, but he does want to see him increase his scoring this season. "We weren’t playing him in skilled roles a lot of the time (last season), or in more of a scoring role. But that said, I think I'd like to see him take another step in that department this year.''