CHICAGO – As the NHL has toughened up its enforcement of faceoff rules, Mikko Koivu hasn’t found it particularly hard to adapt. “You just have to learn how to time it, and the second guy has to be careful when he steps in [to the circle],” the Wild center said. “It’s the same for everybody. You just have to adjust.”
The league announced before the season it was cracking down on cheating in the faceoff circle. Officials have been told to be more vigilant about kicking players out for violations, and they are handing out minor penalties when a second player is booted. The Wild has been stung once, taking a penalty in last Saturday’s shootout loss at Carolina when Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart were both ejected from the circle.
Koivu has won 46 of 71 draws in the first three games, including 16 of 22 Thursday at Chicago.
He said preseason games helped him understand what officials were looking for and how to adjust.
“You have to know what they expect you to do and go from there,” Koivu said. “I think as long as you line up the right way, after that, it’s just about timing.”
Koivu said at this point officials “don’t really help you out on the ice” with guidance, wanting players to figure things out on their own. That lack of communication frustrated Chicago coach Joel Quenneville earlier this week, in a 4-3 overtime loss to Toronto. Several Blackhawks were ejected from the faceoff circle in that game, and 11 different players took faceoffs.
“Right now, the officials don’t tell you why,” Quenneville said. “It’s tough on centermen. That’s a work in progress, finding out why you’re getting tossed without an answer.”
Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s director of officiating, told the Canadian Press last month that the stricter enforcement is meant to enhance the safety and integrity of the game. Players taking faceoffs are supposed to keep their feet behind the hash marks, square up with opponents and keep sticks on the ice.
“We just felt we’d let it erode too much, and it was time to shore up the faceoff procedure, especially the marks in the faceoff circles,” Walkom told the CP. “It was becoming unsafe for the linesmen, with [players’] feet behind them.”
With three games already in the books, the Wild finally will have its home opener Saturday vs. Columbus. There will be a free pregame party in the Cleveland Circle parking lot, across West Seventh Street from Xcel Energy Center, and fans can continue to bring water from local lakes, ponds and rinks to add to the Xcel ice.
Up to 3 ounces of water can be brought to the skyway level at Gate 1 before each home game throughout the season. More than 2,400 people from 299 cities around the country have contributed water that is filtered and placed in a Zamboni to be added to the ice.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and forward Rebekkah Brunson will do the “Let’s Play Hockey” chant Saturday.
Anthem singer selected
John deCausmeaker, a Moorhead native who has performed with several local arts organizations, will make his debut Saturday as the Wild’s new national anthem singer. The team conducted a lengthy search for a soloist after longtime anthem singer James Bohn left the position last spring.
DeCausmeaker served in the Navy and Naval Reserve and has sung with the Minnesota Opera, Minnesota Chorale, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Chanhassen Dinner Theatre.