By Kent Youngblood
Greetings. Youngblood here, again. Russo will return tomorrow.
I showed up at the X early for practice today and what do I see? Jacques, on the ice, with a small group of players, skating the heck out of them.
They were: Aaron Voros, Derek Boogaard, Sean Hill and Matt Foy. And, did I mention that Jacques was skating them hard?
So what’s up? Well, this is further proof that, with a dozen games left in the season and the Wild clinging to a playoff spot, Lemaire has gone into playoff mode a little early. This is usually what he would do during the playoffs: He would keep the regular practice to 20 players so that session could be more efficient. The extras would skate early.
Welcome to the playoffs.
‘’It was to get the guys a little more focused, less distraction,’’ Lemaire said. ‘’Playoff time, you always get two groups, because there are a lot of people on the ice, and it’s tough to manage. So this is the reason we cut it down.’’
What should we think of this? Well, Boogaard is still working on his sore back. But the others, apparently, don’t fit into Lemaire’s short-term plan for the upcoming playoff push. But it’s interesting that Lemaire made a point of running the early, extra session.
‘’I don’t want these guys to feel they’re not a part of the team,’’ Lemaire explained. ‘’and, you know, it’s my job to try to keep them as up as possible. I explained the reasons why to the guys, and … Most of them, they understand. The (other) 20 guys, I want them to focus. I don’t want any distractions. I don’t want too many guys on the ice. Four lines, you’re going quick.’’
Lemaire said he wouldn’t be doing this now if the Wild wasn’t in it’s present situation. ‘’But it’s like the playoffs now,’’ Lemaire said. ‘’It’s live or die.’’
Lemaire was pretty interesting on another subject as well: Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. Lemaire and Brodeur won a cup together in New Jersey in 1995.
Lemaire was asked Wednesday where Brodeur ranked among goaltenders he had seen in his time in the league as a player and coach.
No. 1, Lemaire said.
‘’I’m thinking, you know,’’ Lemaire said. ‘’(Ken) Dryden, he was really good for a short time. And I know, at a time, he couldn’t get ready to play and that’s why he stopped. This guy (Brodeur), he’s been doing it for a long time, and he’ll do it ‘till he’s 40. So he’s got to be the one.’’
Better, even, than Patrick Roy? ‘’Patrick was good at a time,’’ Lemaire said. “You’re talking about (Wayne) Gretzky, (Mario) Lemieux, Bobby Orr. Who is the best player? Every opinion is good.’’
But Lemaire wasn’t near done talking about Brodeur, a big (6-2) goalie who belies a lot of what people think about goaltenders these days. For example, Brodeur wears some of the smallest pads in the game right now and he’s still at the on top of his game. And he is well-known for talking to reporters on game days, something goaltenders don’t often do.
“A lot of times there are a lot of things said (about an athlete) that aren’t really true,’’ Lemaire said. “Especially when you’re talking about a good player, OK? It is always overflowing of how great he is, how good he is, all this and all that. But with this guy, he’s an exception. Everything they say about him is true.’’
Lemaire talked about Brodeur’s competitive nature, how he’s able to play so many games, year in and year out, without wearing down.
“I think his biggest asset is hiw control, his understanding, knowing the game, handling the pressure,’’ Lemaire said.
–Incidentally, Mark Parrish has scored more goals against Brodeur (13) than any other goaltender.
–After practice Eric Balanger talked about how frustrated he is to be unable to help the team at this critical time. An Ilya Kovalchuk slapshot broke his right big toe the other night. Jacques said Tuesday he didn’t think Belanger would make it back by the end of the regular season. Wednesday Belanger said he hoped he’d be back before then, but wasn’t about to set a date.
After the injury – if you’ll recall, Belanger tried to come back for a shift after the initial injury – Kovalchuk came up to Belanger and asked if he’d be OK.
“I said, I don’t think so, buddy,’’ Belanger said. “But it was nice of him.’’
One other note: The AHL has suspended Dane Byers for three games. Byers, if you’ll recall, was the fellow who bounced Benoit Pouliot’s head off the ice a few days ago.
Thats it. Have a good day.