Wednesday update: Crickets …

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Had the Xcel Energy Center all to myself late this morning. Fun as that sounds, it’s not too interesting at all. Now, if I had put my skates in the trunk of my car this morning, it would have been faaaaantastic. Alas, I was equipped only with a notebook and a tape recorder. And when you’re told “practice canceled” two minutes after the scheduled start time, that doesn’t do you a whole lotta good.

The team just worked out today. I only saw Foster, Sheppard, Zidlicky, Nolan and Belanger milling around. Everyone else was either gone or in the back, where media no can go.

The team said there is no updates on any injuries, and they’ll get back at it with a full practice tomorrow morning.

By the way, you all will be able to see Friday’s game on TV. The game originally was not on the air, but KSTC Channel 45 has picked up the telecast. A live pre-game show will start at 6:30, followed by the game. This means 80 regular season games will be on TV this season, the most ever.

And while we’re talking broadcasts, Russo Radio will be on at 6 p.m. THURSDAY this week because of tonight’s Twins game.

Monday update: Schultz doubtful vs. Dallas; Kolanos sent down; Weller at D?

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Cold and a bitter wind. Just feels like Opening Day for baseball, eh? Nah – feels more like hockey weather out there. So let’s get on with some hockey talk, shall we?

It doesn’t look too good for Nick Schultz getting into tomorrow’s home game against the Stars. He didn’t practice today, and officially the team is saying he is doubtful with an eye/head injury. Nobody is really too sure what, but something happened to Schultz Sunday against the Red Wings. Coach Jacques Lemaire said he thinks Schultz hit his face on the glass during a hit.

The only other real bit of news from today is that Krys Kolanos was sent back to AHL Houston.

UPDATE: Wild just announced it has signed its second round pick (55th overall) from the 2008 draft, 6-foot-3, 206-pound defenseman Marco Scandella, to an entry level contract beginning with the 2009-10 season. He will head to the Aeros on an amateur tryout for the remainder of this season. Scandella, 19, recorded 37 points and 67 penalty minutes in 58 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season.

So with Schultz out, that leaves Minnesota with six defensemen. That’s plenty for a game, but yu have to wonder if the team might shake something up for tomorrow. Winger Craig Weller has played defense in the past (though not as a pro), and wore a maroon jersey today with all the other defensemen. Probably a long shot, but at this point in the season, why not? Weller, by the way, would have no problem with switching back to his old position.

Kim Johnsson also did not skate today, leaving that open spot for Weller to fill in during practice. But like Nik Backstrom I think Johnsson was just given the day off.

So the season is not over yet. The Wild does still have some life. But you sure can sense that it’s all but done. Mondays are usually pretty busy media-wise around the Xcel Energy Center. And there were a lot of past tense verbs being tossed around when asking questions today. Players and coaches barely batted an eye when answering questions about “what if?” Every so often somebody would catch it and say something like “well, uh, you know, not that it’s over.” Really, though, it’s all there for everyone to see.

“Disappointed,” Lemaire said when asked how he was feeling today.

Yep. That about sums ‘er up.

Side note: I can now tell all my friends I shut down a Hall of Famer. Just before addressing the media today, Lemaire was using his hockey stick to play around with a foam lacrosse ball leftover in one of the side locker rooms from Swarm action this weekend. After shooting a few off the wall, he fired the ball at me and – doink – right off my leg.

“Ah. Good save, there,” was all the congratulations I got from the man who scored 366 NHL goals and has 11 Stanley Cup rings.  But what a proud moment!

Annnnyway. Russo’s back with you tomorrow for all things Stars v. Wild.

Confident Wild, and thousands of Wild fans, invade Detroit; Warning: Clutterbuck to wear mike on NBC

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Coming to you from God’s country — Detroit.

Hey, guess what? My hotel room overlooks the old Tigers Stadium, which is pretty cool. In 1997 or 1998 or maybe 2002, can’t remember, I had a blast there when I went to a Tigers game with a bunch of hockey writers during the Stanley Cup Finals.

You would not believe the excitement and anticipation going on right now in this city for Sunday’s matinee between the Wild and Detroit Red Wings.

It’s strange, but for some reason, sports fans from North Carolina and Connecticut and East Lansing and, most bizarre, Villanova, Pa., have flocked to Detroit because NHL matchups just don’t get bigger than the Wild and Wings. I mean, who knew there were so many Wild fans in Delaware County?

Planes were full. Hotel rooms are like going for $500 a night. Downtown was just a carnival atmosphere with all sorts of neat outdoor activities. It’s awesome that the Wild’s finally gotten onto the map because of this battle for the postseason.

The Wild had an extremely loose, up-tempo practice today. Kim Johnsson said he was really, really good.

This is one confident team right now after last night’s rare 60-minute effort and 4-0 victory over Calgary. Jacques Lemaire talked at length today again about how proud he was that the team finally listened to the coaches and played the counterattack style he’s been begging for.

Now, the Red Wings’ goaltending might be ECHL-worthy, but we all know the Wild does not play well at the Joe. In fact, typically, when the Wild plays at Joe, the puck, well, it’s just a rumor. Wild players never, ever, ever, EVER have it. As the boys said today, in February’s blowout loss here, it seemed Detroit had the puck on its sticks for 50 of the 60 minutes. The Wild was outshot 43-23.

So Sunday will be a very different game than playing a depleted Calgary team, and Lemaire said the Wild will have to be good without the puck. Cal Clutterbuck, the NHL’s hits leader, said it’s imperative the Wild is in the Red Wings’ faces rather than just watching their skilled players like last time here.

Speaking of Clutterbuck, I have a really funny story for tomorrow. But Clutterbuck, the master of all trash talkers, will be miked tomorrow on NBC. Let’s just say, NBC better have alternative programming to switch to if that seven-second delay is inoperable for some reason.

For the story, Clutterbuck gave me his five best (and clean) trash talks of the season and which players were the recipients. It was a riot.

OK, everybody that should be healthy is healthy, meaning the unhealthy guys are still unhealthy (got it?)

I must write now because I hear some green felt calling my name.

“All in.”

By the way, here is the studio set Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury will be in:


Thursday update

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Russo here, back on the clock, just living the dream.

Living … the … dream.

I have a buddy, who for years, anytime I ask him how he’s doing, he sarcastically says, “Living the dream.”

It cracks me up everytime. If you knew “DB Downer,” as I call him, you’d find the humor in it, too.

Not much to give you today. There were still remnants of packing popcorn all around the bowels of the arena this morning stemming from the April Fool’s joke from yesterday played on Eric Belanger. His car was filled to the brim. Have you ever handled packing popcorn? That stuff just doesn’t disappear thanks to static electicity.  

Knowing Belanger, something tells me he didn’t find the humor in the joke. He’s a bit of a sourpuss at times, which is why he was the one gotten.

Everybody that was expected to practice today did, meaning the Killer B’s — Burns, Bouchard and Boogaard — didn’t skate — as expected. By the way, I chased down Boogaard today just to say hello, and he turtled. :)

Anton Khudobin was recalled again on emergency conditions because of the tweak in Nik Backstrom’s lower body. But he flew in last night, and Backstrom and Josh Harding both practiced today, meaning everything seems OK with Backstrom.

However, I’d suspect Khudobin will stay here through the weekend now just in case Backstrom aggravates anything.

St. Louis’ T.J. Oshie was named NHL Rookie of the Month for March just a few seconds ago, so congrats to the Minnesotan.

The Wild’s idle tonight as Calgary comes to town tomorrow. The Wild will be looking for help from Detroit (which hosts St. Louis), San Jose (which visits Edmonton) and Vancouver (which hosts Anaheim).

That’s the position the Wild’s put itself in by being the classic win one/lose one franchise.

Hey, but good news, after tonight, the Wild’s got a game in hand on the Blues, Oilers and Ducks!!!

I’ll probably be back on later. Right now, I must write.

Wednesday update

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Every last member of the Minnesota Wild was on the ice today – including the injured Derek Boogaard, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns. But before you go thinking this was some sort of April Fool’s Day joke, it was only because today was team picture day. Not that it wasn’t without some follies. John Scott’s jersey was about three sizes too big. And Burns wore just his jersey, breezers and skates. He looked pretty funny with bare legs skating to the photo risers.

Wearing the road whites, players gathered with coaches, management and staff to say cheese for about 40 seconds (and laugh through some fake flatulence) then scattered to continue on with their Wednesdays – which was an off day for most. Just seven players returned to the ice for practice, which was run by Mario Tremblay. Coach Jacques Lemaire was the quickest to leave (I never even saw him downstairs) followed by Owen Nolan. He was plotting with Tom Reid (welcome back!) on where to catch some European Soccer matches this afternoon in St. Paul.

Eric Belanger stuck around the longest, but not by choice. Someone got him good today by filling his black Mercedes with Styrofoam packing peanuts. And when I say filled – I mean filled.  He was not a happy camper, and was supposedly looking around for security tapes to catch the culprit(s).

Tremblay also tried an April Fool’s Day joke by filling his hand with some sort of goop and attempted to shake hands with people after practice. Young Colton Gillies was the only one who fell for it.

As you’ll read more about in tomorrow’s paper, this is clearly a group that is not letting last night’s loss get them too bad. Sure, they’re not happy with the overtime loss. But what good does it do to sulk? Though it has the deck stacked against it, the team is not out of the playoff race officially.

Next up, however, is a game Friday with Calgary (the Flames will no doubt be out for blood as they attempt to reclaim the Northwest Division lead) then a trip to defending champion Detroit. Easy? Hardly.

Russo’s back with you for that stretch, beginning with practice tomorrow morning.

Friday update: Koivu will travel

Friday, March 27th, 2009

UPDATED AT 2:45 p.m. OK – just back from Wild practice and based on the last two hours here’s what I know:

James Sheppard has a nice cut under his right eye from his fight in New York. John Scott is kicking some tail in the players’ NCAA basketball pool. And Mikko Koivu will travel with the team to Alberta.

Hmmm. Maybe I should have listed that last one first …. :)

Yes, Koivu practiced today fully with the team. He was pretty happy afterwards, about as upbeat as I’ve ever seen him. He will travel to Western Canada today and depending how he feels tomorrow morning, a decision then will be made whether or not he plays. Clearly this is a positive sign for a Wild team that needs all the help it can get. With teams all around it in the standings pulling out surprising victories (like Columbus shellacking Calgary and Nashville beating San Jose last night) Minnesota, too, needs to be one of those teams.

Considering the Wild has won three times in history at the Saddledome, any success at all will be considered an upset. An upset, though, is exactly what this team needs.

As far as practices go, today’s did seem a little more robust than normal. Guys definitely had a hop in their step. Perhaps seeing coach Jacques Lemaire use the line of Nolan-Koivu-Gaborik had a little something to do with that. Imagine the possibilities …. Will that line stay intact for tomorrow?

Russo has landed in Calgary (or at least he’s somewhere he can send/receive e-mail) and will have you covered through the weekend. He’ll also be on the airwaves at 6p.m. tonight for a special Friday edition of Russo Radio – don’t miss it!
One last final note (nothing surprising here) Brent Burns and Derek Boogaard will not make the trip.