Good day cowboys and cowgirls

Posted on January 22nd, 2008 – 2:41 PM
By Michael Russo

Come to think of it, why does it only say, “Slow down cowboy?” This should be an equal-opportunity blog.

The powers-that-be at the Strib are aware of this “Slow Down Cowboy” stuff. It’s a bug when too many people are commenting at the same time apparently.

I’d fix it if I could, but I’m technically inept. I jump for joy when I turn my laptop on successfully.

Good afternoon from beautiful Calgary. I’m in the air for a few hours and all hell breaks loose around the NHL.

First, John Ferguson receives his much-anticipated walking papers from Toronto. It’s announced Sidney Crosby is out six to eight weeks with a sprained ankle. And there’s more Olli Jokinen trade rumors out of Florida.

And, it wouldn’t be a Calgary-Denver trip without Niklas Backstrom suffering a groin injury. He sat out this morning’s extremely optional skate with a sore groin, but he’ll back up Josh Harding tonight against the Flames. Backstrom, who often has groin problems in Calgary and Denver it seems, stayed off the ice to rest. He was running around the arena, so clearly this is not a big issue.

He was sliding from one side of the crease to the other last night, so he’s got reason to be sore. If you saw the game, how about that one sequence where he made three saves in a row, including a miraculous glove stop on Taylor Pyatt?

Very few Wild players were at the rink this morning. Even Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who never takes an optional, stayed back at the hotel. So did Jacques Lemaire for that matter.

Owen Nolan, who hurt his neck in the Aaron Voros fight last week, will return to Calgary’s lineup tonight. So will bruising blue-liner Rhett Warrener, who will replace injured Anders Eriksson.

Mike Keenan was very impressed with the Wild’s game last night, especially the energy the team showed for 60 minutes. He said he knows why the Wild is 7-1-1 in the second of back-to-backs. They’re already “in game-mode,” he said, which means Calgary better be ready tonight, he added.

It’s amazing how much better Mike and I get along now that we’re not dealing with each other on an everyday basis.

I’ll be doing a lot of follow material from last night’s game for my notebook tomorrow. The most interesting thing? Brian Rolston told me that he, Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who all received minimal ice time the other night against Anaheim, met yesterday morning with Jacques Lemaire. They begged for more leeway (i.e. ice time) and Lemaire vowed to stick with them against Vancouver.

They all got substantial minutes, all played well and the Wild won 4-2. Rolston says if Lemaire continues to trust the four of them, the Wild is capable to play that way every night.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to talk to Lemaire about this meeting because he wasn’t at the rink this morning.

I was told by a pretty good source that Wild GM Doug Risebrough has been working the phones a lot lately and has been talking to Florida casually. Risebrough’s not with the Wild right now. But that’s why these Olli Jokinen rumors intrigue me.

Also, Duane Sutter, the Panthers’s director of player development and my favorite player growing up, is on the Minnesota Wild tour right now. He was in Vancouver last night and told me he’d be in Calgary tonight.

Obviously, if Jokinen is up for grabs, several teams would have interest and it would take a heckuva lot to unleash the captain.

Panthers owner Alan Cohen doesn’t want to trade Jokinen, but there’s clearly issues between Jokinen and coach/GM Jacques Martin. It was reported over the weekend that Jokinen has asked to be traded. He completely denies that, although his agent told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Steve Gorten (my successor) that “we don’t want out, but if you want to trade us, we’re not going to make a big deal out of it.”

Steve wrote a good story today on this subject and a strongly-opinioned blog, so I direct you to sun-sentinel.com/sports.

I’ve got to tell you, if I were Risebrough, I’d be in constant contact with Jacques Martin. I know Olli Jokinen very well and have tons of respect for him. This guy turned himself from one of the biggest first-round busts in recent history into a bona fide star, thanks in large part to the tutelage he got from Mike Keenan (I talked to Keenan a little about this and will add quotes soon).

He’s a competitor, wants to win, can score at will, plays injured, is physical and is a great team guy. But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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