With the NHL coming to Las Vegas next season, the hope is that one day the youth programs grow to the point that the Wild’s Jason Zucker isn’t the lone Vegas product in the league.
Perhaps even one or two of the kids in Suite 55 at Wednesday’s Wild win over Winnipeg and Friday’s win over Pittsburgh will be the ones.
The Nevada Storm, a group of 13- and 14-year-olds, is in town until Sunday taking part in the Bantam A portion of the Minneapolis Cup at Parade Ice Garden. It lost to Minneapolis Purple on Friday morning.
The co-coaches? Evan Zucker, 29, and Adam Zucker, 26 — Jason’s two older brothers.
The team, which travels to play about 50 of its 60 games, entered the tournament because it worked perfectly for the kids to attend the Wild’s two-game homestand. Also, Evan and Adam got to spend Thanksgiving at Jason’s new home in Edina.
“Obviously they’re all big fans of Jason, but not many of our kids have seen an NHL game, let alone the Xcel Center and seeing how pumped up they get over Minnesota goals,” said Evan Zucker, who not only is in his sixth year coaching the Storm, he’s also an assistant coach for the Western States Hockey League Las Vegas Storm.
After Wednesday’s game, Jason Zucker invited his brothers’ team and parents into the locker room for a tour. Evan Zucker bought 15 Wild hats at the team store for the kids, and Jason made sure all of his teammates signed the hats.
“It’s always cool to be able to show them a little bit extra,” Jason Zucker said. “A lot of them haven’t even been to a game before, so seeing a locker room like that is cool for them.”
Las Vegas only has two facilities of three ice sheets total, so the Zuckers hope the sport will blossom and new rinks will pop up now that the expansion Golden Knights are coming to town. The new NHL franchise is building a practice facility in Summerlin that will have a junior program.
Zucker, on the fourth line for the past several games, was elevated to the second line in the second period Wednesday and again played with Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund Friday.
“When he skates at full speed, he’s a fast skater,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But when he skates at full speed only half the time, it’s not good enough.”
• Devan Dubnyk has allowed 15 goals in his past 12 games for a 1.26 goals-against average and .959 save percentage. He is 9-6-1 with a 1.58 goals-against average, .948 save percentage and four shutouts — ranking first among qualifying NHL goalies.
• Woodbury’s Jake Guentzel, the son of former Gophers captain and current associate men’s hockey coach Mike Guentzel, recorded his first NHL assist and penalty Friday after scoring twice in his NHL on Monday.
In November, the Wild scored 10 goals in two games against the Penguins and 13 goals in nine other games.
• The Wild beat Pittsburgh in consecutive games for the first time since a four-game win streak Nov. 18, 2008-Jan. 8, 2011.
• Joel Eriksson Ek has scored in each of his two games back with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League.