Wes Walz

Hockey’s on the Horizon; Catching up w/ Bruno, Burnzie, Steph, etc…

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Training camp is less than two weeks away, and amazingly, two weeks from tomorrow (Tuesday) will be the Wild’s first exhibition game in St. Louis on just the third day of training camp.

Something tells me that first lineup coach Todd Richards uses won’t be a true indication of the Wild’s actual Opening Night lineup. Just a guess. We might see a whole lot of Jaime Sifers and Jamie Fraser. Heck, the Wild might have to summon Eero Elo from the Finnish wilderness for that Blues tilt.

Yep, hockey’s just around the corner. Went down to watch a bunch of NHLers/Wild players skate this morning in the camp put on by the Octagon player rep agency. The Wild players there this morning included in no particular order Brent Burns, Owen Nolan, John Scott, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Josh Harding and Andrew Brunette. In the coming days, other Wild players expected to skate there include Derek Boogaard (just wasn’t there today), Nick Schultz (in Chicago busy firing the NHLPA Executive Director), Greg Zanon, Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu and others.

Other NHLers there this morning include Florida’s Keith Ballard, Tampa Bay’s Mike Lundin, Pittsburgh’s Alex Goligoski, the Isles’ Tim Jackman, Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien, Pittsburgh’s Wyatt Smith, Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie, Montreal’s Andrew Conboy, Ben Clymer and Erik Rasmussen, among others. Mark Parrish is also skating there, but he was at the doctor today because his wife is pregnant with the couple’s second child. Parrish’s only NHL option right now could be the Islanders, but Parrish might be forced to choose between Europe and retiring.

There were also a bunch of college or high school kids there, including Josh Birkholz (Gophers), Max Gardiner (Minnetonka High, Gophers recruit), Zach Budish (Edina, incoming Gopher), Anders Lee (Edina, Notre Dame recruit), Nick Bjugstad (Blaine, Gophers recruit), Nick Mattson (Indiana, USHL; UND), Travis Boyd (U-17 US team, Gophers recruit), Seth Ambroz (Gophers recruit), Christian Isackson (St.Thomas Academy, Gophers recruit) and Nick Jensen (Green Bay, USHL; St. Cloud State recruit).

Oh!!! And Tampa Bay’s Stephane Veilleux, whose hair color resembles the Gophers’ colors I suppose, was there. I talked with Veilleux for awhile, and he had a fun summer, going to Wimbledon and visiting good chum and former Wild roommate Mikko Koivu in Finland. I’ll write more about Veilleux when the Wild visits Tampa in November, but he wanted me to thank the fans and tell you how much he’ll miss playing here. He said he badly wanted to stay but understands it’s a business.

He confirmed to me what I wrote a few days ago — he turned down a two-year deal from San Jose to take one from Tampa. He said it was an agonizing decision because he said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who used to coach him in Houston, called him two minutes after free agency began. But in the end, Veilleux was told he’d have a chance to play on the second line in Tampa. He feels he owes it to himself to give that a try. He says if you look at his history here, like when he played with Marian Gaborik every training camp during exhibition games, he was able to put up points. But the second the season started, Jacques Lemaire put him back to where the coach felt comfortable with Veilleux — on the checking line.

Veilleux says if he can have the same type of camp he normally had in Minnesota, he feels he can prove to Tampa Bay he can play with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis on the left side of that No. 2 line. If you look at Tampa’s top-six, there’s a definite left-wing slot open, so we’ll see if Veilleux can pull it off. Of course, one would think former linemate Wes Walz, a Tampa Bay assistant, knows Veilleux better than most anybody, and I’m betting coach Rick Tocchet eventually has Veilleux on that checking line where he’s proven he can be effective.

Here’s a smattering of other little tidbits:

– I shot the breeze with a number of NHLers this morning about NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly getting fired. TSN’s Darren Dreger has done a superb job covering this from the outset and he’s in Chicago, so I direct you to tsn.ca/nhl for his coverage. We’ve been hearing a clamoring of discontent for months, and it became clear this summer that Kelly was in trouble when General Counsel Ian Penny had his contract extended without Kelly’s knowledge. But there’s got to be a lot more to this than Kelly allegedly being chummier with the Commissioner’s office than the players would like. This will all come out I’m sure as the Executive Board — guys like Chris Chelios, Shawn Horcoff and Andrew Ference — and 30 player reps communicate the reasons to the membership. But since Kelly’s dismissal and reasons for it didn’t have to go to vote to all 600 or so players, I can tell you there are some very confused and concerned members.

Regardless, the players I talked to are very concerned about what they were calling the “circus” internally at the NHLPA. I’ll have a lot more on this once my daily hockey coverage begins again, but this really should be something all fans pay attention to because it appears as if the union’s gearing up for a fight with the league in the next CBA negotiations.

– Brent Burns looks like his old self. No signs of concussion or shoulder problems, smiling again, chirping opponents like that stinkin’ Pierre-Marc Bouchard and just being a presence every time he skated this morning.

– Andrew Brunette looked very good this morning, and he’s only four months from reconstructive knee surgery. He certainly had no problem schooling some of the high school kids with a couple sick passes in traffic during one shift. Brunette said physically he feels good, but now it’s just a matter of feeling comfortable on the knee and getting over the mental hurdles of stops and starts and turning. “Just knowing I can do it,” Brunette said.

– As I’m sure most of you know because the Wild’s roster has shown the change for weeks, but goalie Josh Harding is changing his number to No. 37. Trivia question for the comment section: Who’s the only Wild player to ever wear No. 37? You’ve got to have an encyclopedia Wild mind to get this answer.

The winner gets to start paying for Russo’s Rants. Congratulations. :)

What else? What else? Let me go to my twitter real quick; I tweeted while I was in the chair waiting for my oral surgeon because I knew I would forget some things.

Oh, Owen Nolan’s goatee is one thick straight line down to below his chin. If he was walking toward you at night and you didn’t know whom he was, you’d hide your pet poodle because you’d be afraid he’d kick it.

Didn’t you miss me? That … is … it … for … now.

Lots more puck talk to come, but at a later date.

Veilleux signs with Tampa Bay; practice update

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Left wing Stephane Veilleux’s career in Minnesota has come to an end. The tennis officienado will get to play plenty of it after signing a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent this afternoon.
Veilleux will be reunited with former linemate Wes Walz, an assistant coach with the Lightning.
The 2001 third-round pick by the Wild scored 43 goals and 90 points in 361 games (fifth all-time) over six seasons in Minnesota.


As I stood outside the Minnesota Wild locker room waiting for the players to come off the ice in the first day of the Wild development camp, everyone was wondering where Petr Kalus was. The 22-year-old did not practice during the first day of the Wild’s development camp.

So as every player stepped into the locker room, everyone was waiting to see if Kalus would appear. The short answer was no. But 10 minutes later, I found Kalus in the deep corner of the locker room in street clothes, almost as if he didn’t want to be seen.

Kalus talked to me for a little bit and said he didn’t practice today because he was sick. Still, you could tell he is eager to get back on the ice for the Wild. He said he expects to be participating Tuesday or Wednesday.

I also talked to Tyler Cuma and Nick Leddy about their first experiences back on the ice. For Cuma, he is coming off surgery and says his left knee is finally starting to feel good. Leddy is back on the Xcel Energy Center ice for the first time since his Eden Prairie team won the state title.

Overall the mood was good for the first day of camp. Players seemed to be happy back on the ice and the pace of the practice was not too rough, but at least guys like Cuma and Leddy are playing hockey again. There will be more detail in my Wild Notebook in Tuesday’s Star Tribune.

Also coming out today, it appears fans are happy with the Wild, at least as it relates to their home arena. In a recent survey by ESPN The Magazine, the Wild gives fans the “Best Stadium Experience” in the NHL. According to the magazine, the Xcel Energy Center is the Ultimate Crib in the Ultimate Standings 2009 list. The Wild ranks second overall for Stadium Experience in the field of all 122 major league sports franchises among NHL, NFL, NBA and MLB.

Backstrom finalist for Vezina; Aeros to play Game 7 tonight; Two big NHL Game 6′s tonight; GM search continues

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, rehabbing in Vail from Friday’s hip surgery, is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. The other two finalists are Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’ Steve Mason.

The GM’s vote for the Vezina. The winner will be announced in Las Vegas on June 18.

Here’s the graph on Backstrom from the press release: After nine seasons honing his craft in Europe and two earning increased playing time in the NHL, Backstrom established himself as the Wild’s go-to goalie this season, appearing in 71 games. He ranked among the League’s top five goaltenders in goals against average (2.33, third), save percentage (.923, fourth) and shutouts (eight, third) and his 37 wins were a franchise record in addition to being the NHL’s fifth-highest total. Backstrom established a club record with 149:19 of consecutive shutout goaltending Dec. 31-Jan. 8. 

Backstrom won the 2007 Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for best SV pct. (.929) in the NHL, and teamed with Manny Fernandez to win the 2007 William M. Jennings Trophy, given to the goaltenders for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.

Backstrom joins Jacques Lemaire and Wes Walz as members of the Wild to be designated a finalist for a voted-upon NHL end-of-the-year award. Lemaire won the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s top coach in 2002-03, the same season Walz was a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.

Tonight, in Peoria, the Houston Aeros play Game 7 due to Saturday’s 2-1 Game 6 loss. Here’s the link for some game notes and other AHL playoff notes.

This is the best note: Houston head coach Kevin Constantine has won three Game 7’s as an NHL head coach, all three on the road.

In the NHL, tonight’s Game 6 of the Calgary-Chicago series and Anaheim-San Jose series. The home team has won every game in the Calgary-Chicago series, so there’s a great chance this is going back to Chicago for Game 7. As for Anaheim-San Jose, Game 5 was a great game. It’s always nice to see Joe Thornton, well, try. He finally instilled a little effort and anger into his game, and helped send the series back to Anaheim.

Tuesday night, there will be two Game 7′s: Rangers at Washington, and Carolina at New Jersey.

I can’t see at all how the Rangers win this series now. Boy, Rangers coach John Tortorella put this series in a whole world of hurt for the Blueshirts. As I mentioned on the blog a few days ago before it happened, I would have also considered scratching Sean Avery, but only if they actually lost Game 4.

But he scratched Avery in Game 5. The Rangers didn’t show up, then Tortorella gets himself suspended for Game 6. Plus, Avery returns and is a shell of his former self. As color analyst extraordinaire Ed Olczyk telestrated during one sequence, Avery was so trying to behave, he intentionally was refusing to even check anybody.