Some light reading for ya, and I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission.
Wild, 13-2-1 in its past 16, vs. the Ottawa Senators, winners of five straight including three on this road trip, tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold will make their Wild debuts and Sean Bergenheim his home debut.
Jordan Schroeder is the odd guy out tonight (and more on that in a few).
First the news:
Marco Scandella had, what coach Mike Yeo called, a setback and will be out at least a week. I’m hearing he has an oblique issue.
Jared Spurgeon skated today, looked good and Yeo said is a possibility for Thursday’s game at Washington. However, there’s no practice Wednesday, so maybe that’s a stretch.
Ryan Carter (upper body) skated for the first time today. Matt Cooke has been skating for a week. Both skating by themselves and are still a way’s off. Jason Zucker continues to work out off the ice and was in the shooter tutor ripping pucks today.
Also, Matt Dumba and Schroeder are definitely here the rest of the year. The Wild made a paper reassignment and recall yesterday that will allow Christian Folin to be sent to Iowa if it turns out he’s a healthy scratch for an extended period again. Players had to be on Iowa’s roster yesterday in order to play there again this season.
Teams get four non-emergency recalls after the trade deadline and this was one of them.
Devan Dubnyk will make his 21st straight start, setting a Wild record.
As I guessed on last night’s blog, my gut said Schroeder would be the odd guy out. It’s a shame because he has been playing so well, but the fourth line has been solid the past two games and all three are penalty killers partially responsible for the Wild’s 43 for 44 post-All-Star break 16-game run. And if Schroeder comes out, it leads to the most minimal disruption of the other lines.
“It was going to be a tough decision no matter who we took out of the lineup tonight,” Yeo said. “Obviously, you trade for a guy like Stewy, we’re going to put him in and that takes somebody out of the lineup, so it was going to be a tough decision one way or the other. It kind of came down to the fact that Schroeds doesn’t have a penalty-kill role, doesn’t have a power-play role right now. But things could change here in the near future. When it comes to the group, there’s always challenges when you add a couple new players and getting to the chemistry right off the hop.”
On the Vanek-Koivu-Stewart line, Yeo said he will be watching to make sure they have enough speed in tonight’s game. Stewart can skate well, but he is gigantic, so we will see his speed tonight.
Yeo said on that line, “We know with the Granlund line, there’s a lot of chemistry there, we’ve seen the way that the Brodziak line has been playing the last couple games for us. And Nino and Charlie have some real chemistry together. We feel that Bergy can be a real complement to that line in terms of his north-south mentality and being a guy that plays kind of a big game and a hard game along the boards. And he should be a tough guy to play against. We put three skilled players together as far as Thomas and Mikko, we know that both those guys have the ability to create and Stewy is a big body who’s going to go to the net and hopefully go retrieve a lot of pucks and be strong down low in the offensive zone. There’s no magic formula where you can just punch in a program and come out with the perfect combination. We have to try some things and see how it works out.”
I did grab Schroeder and he’s obviously disappointed. He has three goals and four assists in his past 11 games and is plus-8 in that stretch.
“Mike told me to keep my head up,” Schroeder said. “It’s obviously a difficult decision. That’s part of the business, that’s part of the game. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone wants to play and contribute and I thought I’ve been doing a great job of just coming in here and making plays and using my speed. Next time I get in the lineup, I’ll be determined to prove to them that I need to stay in the lineup. That’s all you can do, be ready for the next time you get slotted in. It stinks, but that’s life. Sometimes you’ve got to take a few punches to make it. I’ve been through this before. Just keep my head up and keep working hard.”
Yeo said the one benefit of adding Stewart is “people probably looked at our team and we’ve felt it in games, I’ve seen it many times where teams think they’ve got an edge on us physically and they try to impose that in the game. Our team is tough in a much different sense than most people think. We respond well in those games, our guys continue to go to the hard areas, we win a lot of battles, but we’re not necessarily a physically imposing team in a lot of ways. I think Stewy changes a lot of that identity. I think just adding one player like that, all of a sudden you start to look like a big team. You look at some of the big bodies that we have out there, in this day and age, I think it’s how you play the game that’s most important. And if we play a big game, that could change that identity quickly. It’s going to take a little bit of time to figure it out, but we can’t allow for it to take too much time.”
At some point, Carter, Cooke and Zucker will be back, too. That means more difficult decisions.
“That’s what we have to deal with,” Yeo said. “We have one extra forward right now and arguably sitting a guy that played some really good hockey lately, and that’s not easy. We’ve got a couple guys that are on the mend that are not too far away. Things change quickly. We’ve got three games in four days right now and these types of things play out. We’re not looking too far ahead.”
Jordan Leopold addressed the media for the first time today.
He is very excited.
“This is home to me and this is pretty special,” the former Gopher said. “I got the phone call yesterday from Jarmo [Kekalainen] and didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve always dreamed of it and knew it was possible, but the fact that it becomes reality tonight is something special.”
On putting on the jersey tonight, Leopold said, “It will be pretty nuts, I anticipate there will be quite a lot of friends and family in the crowd. I heard from a lot of people yesterday, I turned my phone off for about 10 minutes and got about 150 texts. Anybody that knows me and has my number has contacted me, but it’s been great. The thing with my daughter writing the letter, it’s been a humbling experience.”
On that letter (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please look at the story in the paper and the past two blogs) written by actually his 10-year-old daughter (not 11), Jordyn, Leopold said, “That letter was written by my daughter back in January. With anybody that has kids, you know they take things upon themselves sometimes. She was writing a little bit persuasively at school and thought it was a good idea to write a persuasive letter. That was something our family shared, ended up putting it on Facebook. Friends and family saw it and some other wives through the years that can relate to it, it definitely has some sentiment. I actually told my wife maybe she should take that off before deadline, but it ended up staying on and going out there. A local friend who is on the radio (Paul Allen) ended up getting it from my wife and made it public just before the deadline. It is what it is, it’s a good story and I’m happy the media spun it the right way because really, in the end, this business is hard on families. It really is. Myself, with the experiences I’ve had over the years, it’s been crazy. But I woke up this morning and Carson Daly is reading the letter on the Today Show, and we’ve been contacted by everyone to get my daughter on TV. We’re quite humble people, the fame or whatever you call it, we don’t want it to get to their heads, but it’s nice. But like I said, there are many teammates that have reached out and said it was a good thing. I think the hockey community sees it that way as well. It has definitely been an interesting 24 hours.”
Asked how Jordyn reacted, Leopold, getting emotional, said, “My daughter is very shy. But my kids picked me up at the airport last night with open arms and it was special. I try not to get emotional, but it is. It’s a good thing.”
On what it will be like tonight, Leopold said, “As most people know, I won a national championship for the hometown team. Those days in this building are very special and they meant a great deal to me and my family. Anyone associated with Minnesota hockey has been excited about this story, and also the fact that my family has always wanted me to come home, and it’s time. Here I am. It’s going to be an emotional first five minutes, I can tell you that. But after that, it’s playing hockey again and doing what I grew up loving to do.”
He said it’s been an emotional 24 hours: “I didn’t think the letter was going to go viral, but it did. It’s something that I never asked for, all the attention but... my daughter doesn’t know what to think. … She’s pretty shy. Like anyone who has kids (knows), your kids can say some pretty funny things and do some pretty funny things.”
Leopold has been traded eight times. On yesterday, he said, “As a player going through it, you kind of joke around any time you get a phone call on deadline day even if it’s your dad or your mom or whatever it may be. Anything is possible. I’ve been traded four times on deadline. It’s never a comfortable feeling, you know it’s in the back of your mind. The good thing is I’ve been able to adapt pretty well to wherever I’ve been moved. That’s probably part of the reason I’ve been traded so many times. I’d like to look at that as a positive. People want you and feel you can fit in and help the team and that’s why I’m here.
“This team is hot right now. I’ve always followed the Wild. It doesn’t matter. They’re my hometown team, I can relate to the people, I want to see success at home and it’s good for the community. To have the opportunity to come back home is quite neat. We’ve just got to keep this thing on a roll. When you win hockey games and put streaks together, you know every night that when you come to the rink you’ve got a good chance of winning. That’s a good feeling.
On how tough this has been for his family living in Columbus, he said, “It’s not one of those things that people really see. The kids do suffer. Our wives definitely live a tough life at times. We aren’t asking for any sympathy. I can tell you that. It comes with the territory and we signed up for this. I chose to have kids at a young age. My career is not going to last forever. There’s more important things than hockey and the kids rank up there.”
On how tough it was in Columbus: “There were some discussions with management. Not a lot. But there was a time when we had 9 D men active on the roster and I was the ninth D man. I knew I was either going to get waived or traded at some point in time. But they were very respectful. I owe it to them for being respectful. They did the right thing and now I get an opportunity at home.”
By the way, Stewart called Leopold yesterday and started singing the Peaches and Herbs song, “Reunited.”
Stewart joked this is the third time he has played with Leopold: “I can’t shake him.”
He said, “I'm just happy this is over with, and I'm here now, excited to be a part of this team. I'm looking forward to the future and having a great run here. It's kind of still surreal. It's been a long 24 hours, but finally got in here last night and got a good night's rest. I think once the puck drops and all that's complete, the easiest thing is just playing hockey.”
On coming to a playoff contender, he said, “It's great. It's a dream come true. Last year, I was on the exact reverse situation. I went from St. Louis to Buffalo, who was dead last at the time. I wasn't too happy about that. So to be in the opposite shoes this time around, it's definitely a good feeling.”
On playing in the West again, he said, “I just think, me personally, it's a lot more physical brand of hockey. The East, I think it's a lot more high-offensive, run-and-gun, and a little bit looser defensively. I think going up against some of the bigger teams in the Western Conference will probably bring a lot more out of me.
“The way the team is set up and knowing the players in the room, I think my job's pretty simple. They've got the high-end skill guys here who can put the puck in the net. I think for me, I've just got to come in and bring that physical and that power element. When you're only worried about one or two or three things a game, it's really easier to play.”
Zach Parise talked about the trades, saying, “It sends a good message to us, that they’ve done it the last couple of years now. They’ve gone out at the deadline and got players. It just means that they believe in us, you know? They believe in what we’re doing. They think that just a little boost can help us even more.”
Asked how they incorporate Stewart into a team that’s running well, Parise said, “It’s never a problem. When you bring in guys, they want to come in and contribute. They know how we’ve been playing lately, and they want to contribute and they want to be a part of it. And these guys are no different than that. They want to help out in any way that they can. So to me, the chemistry thing is never going to be an issue.”