Pregame skate


Lemaire will pull goalie tonight if game tied late

Friday, April 10th, 2009

It was decided during a coaching staff meeting this morning that if tonight’s game is tied in the final minute, Niklas Backstrom will be pulled for an extra attacker.

Lemaire said he refuses to assume St. Louis and Anaheim, two of the hottest teams in the West, will go 0-2 (for how they make it, how they miss it charts, go to below blog posts or wild page on startribune.com).

So in his mind, there is only one scenario to get the Wild past the first obstacle toward making the playoffs – getting a win in regulation, not overtime, to keep Nashville from getting a point and thus ending the Preds’ season.

Just had a couple chats with Joel Ward and Ryan Jones, who’s college team, Miami (Ohio), is in the Frozen Four Final vs. Boston University.

Ward never got a chance in Minnesota even though two years ago he was one of the most impressive callups of the year. Now he’s turned into a diamond in the rough in Nashville, playing for a half-million buckaroos — or $25,000 over the league minimum. Ward seems to be in the middle of every one of the Predators’ seemingly nightly rallies.

Check out this quote in the Tennessean by Nashville GM David Poile: “It’s a story that every team is hoping to have every year. This is the speech that every NHL manager gives to his scouting staff — ‘Go and find that diamond in the rough, that player that needs to be given a second or third chance with a new organization, somebody that can fit into our team that maybe didn’t fit with another team.’

“I ask that of our scouts every year because it’s the type of thing that in a lot of cases kind of gets you over the hump — finding a new player.”

Talked to Jones, too. Remember, the Wild signed Jones to a Houston contract after Miami’s season ended last year. After Houston finished, Jones had offseason shoulder surgery in Minnesota, then lived here working out with strength coach Kirk Olson until the day he was called into Doug Risebrough’s office and traded along with a second-round pick for Marek Zidlicky on July 1.

Jones says he’s had a rookie year too inconsistent for his liking and that’s something he aims to correct during his future in Nashville. I talked to a league exec today who thinks he’s going to wind up being a Ryan Smyth-type player in this league.

Wild plans to go with the same lineup tonight. Very loose group of guys.

Huge night of hockey on the horizon. Keep one eye on the Wild and your other eyes on the Blues and Ducks, although that’s one too many eyes. I never was no good at math — or english.

Schultz to miss tonight’s Stars game; Draft Lottery to be televised Tuesday at 7 p.m. on VERSUS (little remembered 1998 Lightning/Panthers tidbit from Russo memory bank)

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Defenseman Nick Schultz will miss his third-ever game due to injury tonight when the Wild hosts the Stars. The Wild is calling it a head injury, meaning this is the third member of the Wild’s “core” to be sidelined by a concussion in recent games.

Jacques Lemaire thinks Schultz’s head hit the glass in Detroit, but I hear Schultz doesn’t know when he got it and could have had it for a few days. Apparently, he just started having trouble seeing in the middle of the Red Wings’ game. 

Brent Burns, out for the rest of the season and probably the world championships with a concussion, played with his for more than a month until one final hit sidelined him. And Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has improved the past few days but is not ready to increase his workouts yet, practiced two straight days after getting concussed against the Islanders.

You can bet these players have discovered concussions are nothing to take lightly if it ever happens again.

Derek Boogaard took part in today’s morning skate. He won’t divulge what his injury was, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t his back. He said it’s been a very frustrating month, starting with his five-game suspension after his Calgary hit.

Cal Clutterbuck’s ecstatic to have Boogaard back.

“I’ve been talking to the wall,” Clutterbuck quipped.

Adrian Peterson will do the Let’s Play Hockey tonight, along with friend Rocket Ismail.

Mike Greenlay, who’s got the night off because the game is on VERSUS, will do Stars’ color for Dallas radio because Daryl Reaugh is working the VERSUS booth with Joe Beninati.

Kurtis Foster and John Scott will both play on the blue line. There will only be one forward scratched. Peter Olvecky, who had a solid game in Detroit, will play. A decision will be made on Colton Gillies, whom Lemaire raved about today, and Craig Weller. Both Gillies and Weller stayed on late, but Gillies, who’s got an incredible work ethic, stays on late everyday.

So I’m guessing he’s in.

Congrats to Jim Dowd for a fine career. He officially retired today.

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Wild’s Masterton nominee: Kurtis Foster; Flames to play short two skaters tonight

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

UPDATED

Just ran into “Iron Mike” Keenan, and after we talked Florida real estate, he confirmed to me that Calgary will dress 16 skaters tonight rather than the normal 18.

Robyn Regehr and Adrian Aucoin were injured last night in Dallas. The Flames had to call up two defensemen who will make their NHL debut — John Negrin and Matt Pelech. However, because the Flames are so close to the cap, they had to send down a regular forward, Dustin Boyd (entry level deal, so no waivers), and Warren Peters. 

The Wild may dress seven defensemen tonight, coach Jacques Lemaire said. If they do, it’ll be interesting if Marc-Andre Bergeron plays wing again or if Kurtis Foster does. Foster practiced as a winger on Thursday. At the very least, the Wild could use Foster at the power-play point instead of center Eric Belanger or Kim Johnsson. If Foster plays, which I think he is, a forward will sit — like Craig Weller unless somebody’s hurt and they’re not saying (they had an optional this morning).

Nik Backstrom is in, and I’m pretty sure I saw Anton Khudobin leaving with his equipment. Khudobin has been officially reassigned.

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Terrible night for the Wild last night, but we’ll get to that in a second.

For the first time in 13 years of helping pick Masterton nominees, this is the first time somebody my chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association is picking truly has a shot at potentially winning the award.

I mean, let’s be honest, choosing Marian Gaborik last year for, uh, not getting hurt was probably a throwaway pick.

But if anybody exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, it’s Kurtis Foster. After all, his first words to the doctor after breaking his left femur last year was, “Will I ever play again?” not “Will I ever walk again?”

He then began a 10-month exhaustive rehab to get his NHL career back on track with big goals along the way. The first one was walking down his aisle at his July wedding.

Foster returned to the Wild’s lineup last month. His first home game was exactly one year after his previous home game, March 17, 2008. His injury led to a “rule change” where players must now let up on icings.

His injury has shown others you can return from a broken femur. In fact, last month he called 15-year-old Michigan high schooler Thomas Royea after he heard the sophomore broke his femur in a game. He also called up a University of North Dakota player, Derrick LaPoint, who broke his leg, to offer words of encouragement that it can be done.

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Lemaire to decide on future after season; Huge game for both teams; Luongo in zone; Same Wild lineup; Wild taking flood donations

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

So last month, I was talking with Jarome Iginla about how weird it was that the Calgary Flames were running away with the Northwest considering the Wild didn’t clinch its first division championship until Game 81 last season.

Thank goodness I decided to go with a different notebook lead that night. How things have changed, eh?

Since the Wild handed the Vancouver Canucks their ninth consecutive home loss with an exciting 4-3 overtime win Jan. 31, the Canucks have executed a shocking turnaround, going 19-5-1 since. A win tonight over the Wild, and the Canucks will hop over the Flames for first in the Northwest.

A win tonight over the Wild, and I’ll be able to send back my jury duty questionnaire worry-free because I will have no obligations for later this month if you catch my drift. Do you? Got what I’m saying there? Comprende? 

Not to give you a queasy feeling, but Luongo’s ready. I walked into the arena with my old Florida Panthers’ pal, and he’s in the zone. “Huge game for both teams,” Luey said. “Huge game.”

Also ran into Canucks bruiser Darcy Hordichuk, and he interviewed me rather than vice versa regarding a 6-foot-8 former Michigan Tech (who says the Wild dislikes college kids?) dude named John Scott. Apparently Hordichuk’s thinking he may need to “go” with the towering blue-liner, and by “go,” I mean fight if you catch my drift.

I talked to Scott a lot this morning about his fighting. He openly says that he’s a “bad fighter,” and it’s something he might need to address this summer by taking boxing lessons. Being a college kid, he never had to fight. He openly admits he hates fighting but knows at 6-8, it’s something he’s going to have to do if he’s going to be a regular in this league.

The Wild will dress the same lineup tonight, meaning Colton Gillies, Peter Olvecky and Kurtis Foster are out.

Coach Jacques Lemaire was asked about all the rumors he may retire after the season. After tossing out a few jokes, Lemaire said, not shockingly, that he, like every season, will take some time off after the season and contemplate his immediate future. He’s got one more year left on his contract. Last year, I thought it was about 80-20 that he’d return. This year, my guesstimate is the opposite.

Although, as I said on KFAN this morning, if Marian Gaborik’s healthy all year, the Wild’s comfortably in the playoffs.

How about New Jersey, folks? I call them the Eastern Conference champions, and whattayaknow, the Devils lose five straight. I guess the win over the Wild was too easy.

Hmmm, I feel like I had other stuff for you, but my mind feels like a cumulus cloud. Off to get my hair cut. If I think of something else, I’ll jump on. Otherwise, talk to you before the game.

MINNESOTA WILD ANNOUNCES DONATION DRIVE FOR FLOOD VICTIMS
WILD WILL ALSO DONATE FROM MSE COMMUNITY GIVING FUND
 
    SAINT PAUL/MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The National Hockey League’s (NHL) Minnesota Wild announced today that the team, in conjunction with the American Red Cross – Twin Cities Area Chapter, will be accepting donations at the Xcel Energy Center during the final four home games this season to benefit the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which is assisting people affected by the current floods and winter storms in our area. Red Cross canisters will be located at Guest Services desks throughout the arena, the Community Relations Booth, as well as on the Club and Suite levels beginning tonight when Minnesota hosts Vancouver, and continuing April 3rd vs. Calgary, April 7th vs. Dallas, and April 10th vs. Nashville.  

Koivu a maybe, with a lot of winks and caveats; Bouchard out with headache

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

This will be the most painful blog I’ve ever written. My finger tips are frozen, and heading toward the numb stage. For sportswriters, this is like a sprained MCL.

But like Mikko Koivu, I’ll just throw a brace on and try to give it a go because games are too important this time of year.

Koivu looked mighty good during today’s morning skate. He said it feels much better than he thought it would feel five days ago. He worked extra long on the ice today, which usually is an indication he wouldn’t play.

And coach Jacques Lemaire said if he’ll play this weekend, it’ll be tomorrow’s game at Edmonton rather than tonight because the team wouldn’t want him to play two games in two days.

But then he admitted Koivu “probably” didn’t know this was the team’s plan. I asked Lemaire if Koivu came to you and said he wants to play, would you change your mind, and he said, “I might,” before laughing.

So it’ll be up to Koivu, the trainers and oh yes, Dr. Sheldon Burns. Team doctors never travel until the playoffs, but whattayaknow, Dr. Burns is on the trip. Nobody’s saying why, but we can assume that the Wild wants to make sure Koivu’s taken care of and treated, and if he’s going to be playing, it’s Dr. Burns who is clearing him.

Koivu, with a ton of winks (maybe he just had something in his eye), said, “What do you think?” when asked if he wanted to play. When I asked if he’d be on the shelf a whole lot longer if it wasn’t this point of year,  he said, “I don’t want to comment on that. You know how it is (with a wink).”

He said his knee feels steady and strong.

If Koivu doesn’t play, Calgary boy Craig Weller will. That’s because Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has one career goal vs. Calgary, is out. He left the ice early with what the team is calling a headache. If Koivu plays, Weller won’t play.

It looked like John Scott’s in and Kurtis Foster is out.

As for the Flames, they are under the gun. Front page of the Calgary Sun: “TIME TO FIRE KEENAN?”

Just a tad absurd, even for the “Often Fired One.”

The Wild has come to Calgary umpteen times of the years with the Flames in the dumpster. And usually, the Wild is just what the doctor ordered for the sick Flames. I remember a few years ago the Wild came here in late October, and on the front page of one of the papers was a big panic button with the headline, “Is it time to press the panic button?” Flames beat the Wild, and then exploded onto a winning streak.

Obviously, the Wild cannot afford to be their medicine tonight. If so, it’ll be like a death blow. I truly believe the Wild has to win six of eight to make the playoffs — at least. It’s like they’re on a treadmill right now. Even if they win, they’re idle the next few days and wind up right back where they were. A win streak is going to be the only thing that saves this season.

Talked with Olli Jokinen for awhile today. He had a great line. I asked him about finally playing in a hockey market after years in Florida, and also places like L.A., Islanders and Phoenix. He said he went to the airport last night to pick up his family, and these kids came up to him. He thought they were going to ask for an autograph, and instead, they ripped into him for the way the teams been playing and that he hasn’t scored in a couple games.

Back to the House that Russo built

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Well, me and Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin and Billy Smith and Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom and Duane Sutter and … But I’m in there somewhere.

Just came from the Wild’s optional morning skate at the greatest arena in all of pro sports, Nassau Coliseum. Man, what a great building. Cozy, right on top of the ice, liquified cotton candy sticking to the metal stands.

Just a great barn. So, I’m biased. Shoot me.

Funny, but my standard line when people ask me about the Nassau Coliseum — which is a puck shot away from where my mother went to college, Hofstra, by the way, and 10-15 minutes away from where I grew up in Plainview, Old Bethpage, Jericho and Roslyn, essentially – is that it always smells like the circus.

No matter when the circus was here, even if it was six months before, it always smells like the circus.

Guess what? The circus was just here, so it really, really, REALLY smells like the circus today. In fact, the Islanders couldn’t have their morning skate here today because the ice wasn’t set in time. The Wild — about 10 of them and the coaches — were the first to actually step foot on the new ice.

Asked how the ice was, Peter Olvecky said, “Weird.”

They said it was pretty chippy and felt like it was going to crumble under them, so that should be fun tonight.

Cool sight this morning was Colton Gillies skating under the Clark Gillies’ number retirement banner. Clark is a distant cousin of Colton — and the two have actually never met. But Gillies’ first-ever goal — and winning goal — was Dec. 19 against the Islanders at home.

The down-and-out Islanders currently have 17 skaters on their roster, so if they don’t call anybody up today, they’ll be skating shorthanded. Tons and tons of injuries this season for the John Tavares-hoping Isles. The latest, Kurtis McLean, ruptured his Achilles playing soccer warmups with his teammates. Somebody else I know got hurt that way. Hmmmm. Can’t remember who?

Speaking of Marian Gaborik — oh, I do — man, he was good last night. The funniest thing is he’s known for speed and a deadly wrist shot, yet all four of his goals have come from the goalmouth this season.

Kurtis Foster is back out for John Scott. Craig Weller’s out, too.

Niklas Backstrom’s in net. In front of Mario Tremblay, I asked Backstrom if he was playing. He didn’t know yet, so he said, laughing, “Do me a favor. Ask the coach.” Tremblay said, “I’m not the coach, but damn right, you’re playing.” Actually “damn” was another word.

Cal Clutterbuck is two hits from breaking the “NHL record” for hits in a season. He’s got 310. Dustin Brown had 311 last year. Hits have only been kept really since the lockout and a few years before, so I don’t see the game being stopped tonight to honor Clutterbuck.

OK, my aunt and uncle are waiting for me. Later tonight, I will be back coming to you from the Nassau Coliseum rafters, which is even with the greatest retired banners in pro sports.

By the way, remember, Russo Radio on KSTP is on Friday night at 6 this week, not tonight.