Draws, Dwyer, Defense and Dad
10.8.2010 / 7:16 AM ET
The Wild might not have picked up a point in the first game of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series, but it wasn't because they didn't have the puck. Minnesota went 52-33 in the circle with Mikko Koivu and Matt Cullen combining to go 40-21.
No, it didn't translate into enough goals to win the game, but it still was impressive enough to be a topic after Friday's optional morning skate.
"We have some good centerman that take pride in the faceoff circle," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "I had Mikko last year so I know what Mikko can do and with Kyle (Brodziak) it gives me a good right-left combination. Then we had a (John) Madden and a (Matt) Cullen and you look at where they have been at in their careers so it just adds to our having success in the faceoff circle."
Carolina coach Paul Maurice said the skewed faceoff number is a result of three things: Inexperienced centers taking draws for the Hurricanes, Minnesota's talent and quickness in the circle, and, of course…
"The linesmen seemed to like them, so we'll try to get everybody down in the same spot," Maurice said. "But, they've got some talented people in the middle of the ice."
Maurice was pleased with the adjustment Jussi Jokinen made after the first period. He was 4-4 in the first 20 minutes but 8-1 in the second period. Jokinen, though, won only one of his seven draws in the third period. Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter were not good as they combined to go 18-32, but they did win combine to win three key offensive zone draws over the last minute and a half of the game. Zac Dalpe went 0-7 in his NHL debut.
As promised, I asked Patrick Dwyer this morning about his play in the defensive zone during a penalty kill early in the third period that might have been the defensive play of the game.
Dwyer closed off the backdoor pass to Brent Burns, who was dashing through the left circle toward the net, by getting back in position and his stick in the passing lane. If Dwyer doesn't negate the pass to Burns, the Wild D-man would have had a slam dunk goal into an open net and it would have cut Carolina's lead to 4-3 barely a minute into the third period.
"I don't think you get to appreciate it until after the game, but at the same time it's our job, too," Dwyer told NHL.com of the play. "There are a lot of times during a hockey game where if one guy doesn't do his job it's a goal and the difference in a game. I'm just trying to do my job. It might not reflect at the time how big of a play it was, but now looking back, with them scoring on the power play (late in the third) it would have made it 4-4 so it is a huge play. It's just those small things that I do in my game that I have to do to stay here."
Unless Mr. Miyagi can make it to Helsinki and rub his hands together for healing power, Minnesota defenseman Marek Zidlicky (groin) will not play tonight either. By the way, I didn't come up with the Karate Kid analogy, that was Richards, but he brought up Danielson, not Mr. Miyagi.
"As of this morning he's out tonight," Richards said of Zidlicky. "Maybe something miraculous can happen this afternoon."
That's not likely, which means the Wild D will again be without the guy Richards calls their "best offensive defenseman." Still, when it comes to his blue-liners, Richards is not concerned with the offensive part of the game. What he'd like to see tonight is guys like Cam Barker (2 penalties), Greg Zanon (2 penalties), Brent Burns and Nick Schultz play a smarter game.
Barker was caught not moving his feet in the second period and as a result picked up an interference penalty that eventually led to a Canes goal. Burns and Schultz were caught aggressively forechecking late in the second period and that gave Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer a rush that turned into Sutter's second goal and the game-winner with 1:57 to play in the period.
"You have to give some credit to Carolina because they skate so well, do a good job buzzing on the forecheck, that some of the mistakes were caused by them just skating so well, but Burns and Schultz, in going over it, there are some areas they need to be better at," Richards said. "They don't need to be attaching the rush on a forecheck, which ultimately led to their forecheck. It's an admirable quality that a lot of times when these things go wrong these guys want to be the difference in the game, and you end up trying to do too much, we get away from our game so they go the other way for an opportunity. Sticking to our gameplan is what we have to focus on regardless of what is going on in the game."
It's not just the D-man. Minney's forwards have to do a better job of picking up their players in the defensive zone. Sutter went in basically untouched to score his second goal. The Wild can't let that happen.
"Scoring chances and shots were even, but we lost our guys in the offensive zone a little too easy and their D was really jumping the play and joining the rush so they got a lot of odd-man opportunities by our forecheckers getting beat up the ice," Wild forward Antti Miettinen told NHL.com. "They scored their (3) goals in the second like that and that's a big issue for us tonight."
Miettinen has another big issue, so to speak, tonight as his father will be in the stands at Hartwall Arena to watch his son play a National Hockey League regular season game for the first time. Miettinen's dad went to Tampere on Monday night to watch Antti and the Wild, but he did not come to the game last night.
"He doesn't like big crowds," Miettinen said.
He also doesn't like to travel, which is why Mr. Miettinen hasn't been to North America to watch his son play yet. But, he should get his first look tonight.
"I just hope he enjoys it because I guess he doesn't like flying at all so he's never been to the States to watch me play or see an NHL game," Miettinen said. "He likes hockey and follows the game on the internet so hopefully it's a good experience for him, but I'll try to focus on my job."
Dwyer may have saved game
10.7.2010 / 4:43 PM ET
Patrick Dwyer will be remembered by the Finnish fans Thursday for making a strong play down the right side and getting the puck to the net, resulting in a rebound goal by Brandon Sutter that happened to be the game-winner.
That was some play by Dwyer, but maybe the bigger play, the one that will be forgotten by everyone who watched yet remembered by the Carolina coaching staff is the one he made early in the third period during a penalty kill.
Dwyer, who was the forward on the right side, saw Brent Burns cutting through the circle to get to the net. The puck was coming across and Burns looked like he was going to have a sure goal.
Dwyer saw the pass just in time. He turned quickly and got his stick in the passing lane, keeping Burns at bay and negating what likely would have been the goal that cut the 'Canes' lead to 4-3.
Burns did score with 3:21 to play in the game to make it 4-3, but if he gets the one earlier, not even two minutes into the third period, who knows what happens.
"Yeah, that's in the net right there," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said when he was reminded of Dwyer's play. "What we're all talking about is Patty Dwyer making a good delay to get the puck to the net for Sutter's goal, but that (the play on the penalty kill) was clearly a better play than the goal he set up. At the end of camp he's one of those guys that always does the little things, and now he plays with Sutter and after the first game you say they look like they've got chemistry."
Starts are important for Canes, Wild, Skinner and Dalpe
10.7.2010 / 5:57 AM ET
There's no better source here in Finland than Wild center Matt Cullen to talk about how important getting off to a good start for both Carolina and Minnesota.
Cullen was with the Hurricanes last season when they were brutal at the start, winning only two of their first 18 games. It crushed the Canes season by the middle of November. Now he's with the Wild, so throughout the preseason he's heard all about their tough start to last season, when they won only three of their first 12 games, taking them out of the race early.
"Both teams understand that possibly more than anybody in the League," Cullen told NHL.com of how important a good start to the season is. "Both these teams had tough starts last year and could never recover. This League is so tight that you realize how important your start is. Both teams really went to come home 2-0. These are big games for us."
The Wild got here last Friday and have been in the same hotel since, something that never happens during the season in North America. Everything about their preparation here in Finland has been unique, but when he woke up this morning, coach Todd Richards didn't need to be told twice that it was a gameday and these matter.
It's been almost six months since the Wild have played a game with two points on the line.
"It feels like a gameday, it really does," Richards said. "I don't think it matters where you're at. When you get into the routine, into this business, whether it's Stanley Cup Playoffs or first game of the season, it's definitely a gameday and it had that feel to it this morning. It's all mental. It has nothing to do with being in a hotel, in Europe or in Minnesota."
Added Cullen: "It's a new brand of excitement. It's like the first day of school."
It definitely is for Canes forwards Jeff Skinner and Zac Dalpe, who will be making the NHL debuts tonight at Hartwall Arena.
"Yeah, first day of school in Finland," Skinner, 18, told NHL.com.
Skinner will start on the left wing of Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu while Dalpe, 20, will center the fourth line between Patrick O'Sullivan and Tom Kostopoulos.
"You hear a whole bunch of clichés, but it is the dream come true," Dalpe told NHL.com. "You don't play hockey as a young guy for nothing. Everybody wants to make the NHL, so it's my first game and I'm kind of speechless, but Mo (coach Paul Maurice) and all those guys said you're here for a reason, don't play outside the box and just do what you do best. I'm excited to get out there."
Maurice wants Skinner and Dalpe to embrace the nerves.
"They're going to be nervous and they should enjoy that," Maurice said. "They can do a lot of great things in this League. They can win five Stanley Cups, win awards and play 25 years, but they only get one first game in the NHL and it's such a huge threshold that my message was let the nerves fly, don't worry about making a mistake because we'll talk about that five years from now when you're making mistakes. Just go out and play and have fun. It was more of a congratulations."
Both said they don't think they'll have a problem taking a pre-game nap.
"I think I'm just going to try to take it, as much as I can, like any other game," Skinner said. "I know the special occasion of it, the importance of it and the memories that it's going to have, but in the moment now I have to take it as a normal game and prepare for it like I'd prepare for another game. When the trip is over maybe they'll be time to reflect back on it, but right now it's prepare like any other game.
"I think I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be."
Added Dalpe: "I'm a guy that likes to be calm. The nerves don't get too high. I'd be lying if I said I didn't go to bed extra early last night just in case I didn't get some sleep, but I slept well and now we'll see how it goes."
The only two injury updates for tonight's game involve a pair of veteran defenseman.
Carolina's Joe Corvo, who sat out the last two days of practice after tweaking a lower body muscle in St. Petersburg on Monday night, said he's ready to play and Maurice confirmed that he will. Corvo is expected to log a lot of minutes on the Canes back end.
"We monitored it and yesterday we felt it was precautionary (to keep him out)," Maurice said of Corvo. "Joe is a very, very fit man and takes a lot of pride in it over the summer. He has an understanding of when he's ready and he's ready to go."
The news wasn't as positive for Minnesota's Marek Zidlicky, who came off the ice before the rest of his teammates this morning. When we spoke to Richards, he hadn't talked to Zidlicky so he wasn't sure what his status would be. Zidlicky did not practice Wednesday.
"I won't know until I get back and talk with him and (head athletic therapist) Donny (Fuller)," Richards said. "If it's bad he might not play."
Wild injury update: Good and, well, not so good
10.6.2010 / 10:08 AM ET
I'm in a positive mood today so I'm going to start with the good to come out of Todd Richards' post-practice session with the media here.
On Guillaume Latendresse, the Wild winger whose groins have been bothering him, Richards offered a positive report, indicating that Latendresse will play Thursday night against Carolina and either Casey Wellman or Brad Staubitz will sit.
"The report was this morning that his groins are great, his legs are good," Richards said of Latendresse. "He's about 100 percent on one side and 95 percent on the other in terms of strength. So, we got him out there playing with (Kyle) Brodziak and Wellman or Staubitz on the right-hand side."
And, on Marty Havlat, who Richards claimed on Tuesday was 99 percent certain for the season-opener, the news was also good as he was back on the right wing with Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck. Richards liked Wellman with Cullen and Clutterbuck against Ilves Tampere on Monday night, but Havlat belongs on the second line over a rookie.
"Marty is a No. 2 guy, a top-six guy for sure, and you've got Cullen in there and they had good chemistry early on," Richards said. "That was the one game they missed and I know the line had some success and you don't want to mess with that, but it's tough not to put Marty there."
Feeling good, Wild fans?
Well, your mood might take a turn when you hear this:
Defenseman Marek Zidlicky did not practice Wednesday and Richards was cryptic in reporting his status for the season-opener.
"I don't know what his status will be tomorrow," the coach said. "His leg/groin was not good today so we kept him off the ice and we'll have to see if he can recover some and how he feels tomorrow morning."
The good news is I overheard veteran hockey scribe Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune ask Zidlicky how he's feeling, and I saw a smile come across the defenseman's face.
Zidlicky, though, apparently aggravated an injury in the third period Monday night in Tampere.
"In talking with (assistant coach) Rick Wilson, I guess after he scored his goal in the third period last game he came back to the bench and said his groin was a little sore and he didn't play another shift after that," Richards said. "It just hadn't gotten better. It's bothering some, but fingers crossed, he can recover and feels good enough that he can play tomorrow."
We'll find out in the morning, Helsinki time.
Corvo questionable, Tlusty not quite there yet
10.6.2010 / 5:57 AM ET
Carolina defenseman Joe Corvo did not practice for the second straight day after tweaking a lower body muscle in the first period against SKA St. Petersburg on Monday night. Corvo told NHL.com on Tuesday that he would be fine to play Thursday when the season opens against Minnesota, but on Wednesday coach Paul Maurice sounded like Corvo was 50-50.
"It's just kind of an overuse injury and we want to rest him," Maurice said. "We'll try him tomorrow morning and if he says he feels good he plays and if he doesn't we'll hold him another day."
If Corvo can't play, the Canes have able-bodied defenseman here. They have eight here, so they still have a cushion.
Not surprisingly, Maurice also doesn't think Jiri Tlusty will play here in Helsinki. Tlusty had knee surgery in late August, which forced him to start training camp late. He's able to play if Carolina needs him, but with 13 forwards here he will likely be the odd man out.
"He's clean to play and he's coming back and I think he's played well in both his (preseason) games, the question is is he far enough along in his conditioning for us to put him in?" Maurice said. "He's had a good camp and he's ahead of schedule in terms of the rehab on his injury, but I still think he's missed out on some of the training camp and he's not where he's going to be in another two or three weeks.
"The answer is we'll see. We have enough guys."
Gleason: 'Feels like...a tournament'
10.5.2010 / 4:26 PM ET
The games start counting on Thursday, but Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason isn't totally convinced yet. To him, the lead-up to the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere is so vastly different than what he's used to leading up to the opening of the regular season back home that it just feels, well, a little weird.
"It kind of feels like we're heading into a little tournament almost where it doesn't count yet, but obviously we know when the first game comes we'll figure it out real quickly," Gleason told NHL.com. "As of now it feels like we're getting ready for the tournament, but we know deep down inside it's two regular season games that we have to have right off the bat."
I brought up Gleason's point to both coach Paul Maurice and captain Eric Staal, and neither disagreed.
"I think that's fair, because there is also a lot going on around our team," Maurice said.
For instance, he brought up the concept of having two team buses instead of one on this trip. One bus has carried the players while the other has carried the coaches, management, owner, team staff, NHL staff and a camera crew from Fox Sports South that is documenting the Canes trip.
"There are so many bodies around our team and new hotels," Maurice said. "The NHL is so routine that I can tell you what this hockey team will be doing on Feb. 16 depending on the time of day, but now we're all out of schedule. So, there is a little bit of an unusual feel around this that makes it unlike the regular season, but once that puck drops and you recognize the sweater on the other team, it should get you going."
Maurice is definitely dead on accurate about the routine part. Hockey players are such creatures of habit that it's kind of unreal. I've never met a group of people that need to nap more than these guys. I mean, who could sleep this much?
When I joked about that with Staal today, he was laughing because he knows it's true.
"For me, gamedays anywhere are routine, and it'll be the same thing here," he said. "We'll have a pregame skate, a meal after, a short snooze up and then go. That's ritual anywhere and that'll be the same here. We'll be ready to play when the puck drops Thursday."
Hello Wild, where are you?
10.5.2010 / 9:33 AM ET
OK, the headline is a joke. I clearly know where the Wild are as I finally came across them this morning at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. Except, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of them on the ice and that didn't happen.
While en route back from Tampere last night after a 5-1 win, Wild coach Todd Richards decided to cancel practice. Hard to say I blame him considering the schedule this team has been keeping.
Minnesota had six games in nine nights before hopping on a flight to Helsinki last Thursday. They had an off-ice workout Friday, practiced Saturday and Sunday, and held a morning skate here at Hartwall Arena before boarding a bus for a two and a half hour ride to Tampere to play the SM-Liiga team at night.
They earned a day off.
"The feeling on the bus last night after the game, and looking at our past schedule…we felt what's more beneficial, going out on the ice and not knowing what we're going to get because guys are tired or is it just better to give them the day off, let them recover, hopefully get their legs, get some energy back, have a good skate tomorrow and get ready for the games on Thursday and Friday," Richards said. "That's the reason behind it."
A day off gave Guillaume Latendresse (groin, hip flexor) and Martin Havlat (groin, lower leg) another opportunity to rest their injuries. It also gave the team a chance to make some personnel decisions.
Minnesota got down to its 23-man roster on Tuesday by putting Drew Bagnall and Matt Kassian on waivers. If they clear they will be assigned to the AHL's Houston Aeros.
The Wild should be on the ice here Wednesday, and it'll be interesting to see if Havlat and Latendresse practice. Richards sounded much more optimistic about Havlat than he did Latendresse, but we'll see.
Maurice: 'We're going to have to hold the fort'
10.4.2010 / 11:35 AM ET
Carolina coach Paul Maurice would love it if his team tonight could fly out of the locker room and at the drop of the puck start taking it to SKA St. Petersburg, start pounding them.
He warned me Monday morning to expect the opposite.
"I think the first 10 minutes of this game we are going to feel a little surprised with the speed of this game," Maurice said. "You can just feel it in practice. They are trying to go here, my guys are pushing a little bit, but we are not moving as fast as we would like. That's what this game is for, to get it out of our legs, but I think we'll have to hold the fort. I'd love to be wrong. I'd love to drop the puck and go. Mentally that's what we're thinking, but we'll see physically how it goes."
The specter of the unknown is making Maurice proceed with caution.
"We've traveled a few miles, we're at the end of a training camp that we've pushed our team pretty hard in and we're going to hit a big ice surface against an unknown opponent," he said. "While we watch our video and prepare our team, the fact of the matter is we're not 100 percent sure of what to expect or what we'll get."
If SKA's practice Monday morning is any indication, Maurice expects to see a fast team that can handle the puck and keep it for long stretches. The familiar faces that'll be in this game include Alexei Yashin, Maxim Afinogenov, Sergei Brylin, Denis Grebeshkov and Evgeni Nabokov.
"There are some faces there that won't fit for me because the last time I saw them was in an NHL uniform," Maurice said. "Whether it was the Senators, the Islanders, the Sharks -- that's the way they look to you and when they're not wearing the right jersey it looks a little different. They've got some good players, some good speed. They move it and snap it around pretty good."
As for Carolina's lineup, Jiri Tlusty will replace Drayson Bowman as the left wing on the third line. Tlusty had knee surgery in late August and is still rounding into form. He probably won't be in the lineup Thursday when the Hurricanes open the season in Helsinki against Minnesota, so this will give Maurice a chance to see more out of the skilled 22-year-old Czech.
"Progression, just progression," Maurice said of what he wants to see out of Tlusty. "He, more than anybody, is really trying to show where he's at. We've had a chance to assess everybody else and slot them as to where we think they are, but with Jiri we still have more work to do."
Bowman did not skate this morning, but Maurice said he'll be fine for the season-opener in Finland.
Tlusty will be on the left side of Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer. Chad LaRose, Eric Staal and Erik Cole will be Carolina's top line while Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu make up the No. 2 line. The fourth line includes Patrick O'Sullivan, Zac Dalpe and Tom Kostopoulos.
Cam Ward is getting the start in goal and the plan is to pull him halfway through, but Maurice said Ward has the green light to change that plan if he sees fit.
Russians hope to thrill fans
10.4.2010 / 7:39 AM ET
Sergei Zubov wishes he could play tonight. The 40-year-old former defenseman in New York and Dallas is recovering from surgery and hasn't been cleared to play yet for SKA St. Petersburg, but tonight is one night where he wishes he could get out there just because the atmosphere inside the Ice Palace promises to be special, to be different.
"Trust me, it's not even about playing Carolina or an NHL team, it's just playing hockey," Zubov told NHL.com. "I'm 40 years old and I come here to the locker room, go over there to smell the ice, smell the atmosphere and it drives me crazy."
Sergei Brylin will get to play tonight, and for him it'll be like old times. Brylin played in so many playoff games against Carolina during his time with the Devils that he lost count.
"It's exciting for the fans and we play for the fans," Brylin told NHL.com. "I'm pretty sure it's going to be a big event for them and for us, too. We haven't played against an NHL team for 20-something years in Russia. It's still going to be a battle. It's North America against Russia, so it's going to be exciting. It's going to be a great hockey atmosphere."
For Brylin and Zubov, the transition to the KHL is complete, but it wasn't easy.
Both players arrived in St. Petersburg last year after long and successful NHL careers. Brylin won the Stanley Cup three times with the Devils while Zubov won it with the Rangers in '94 and the Stars in '99.
They were used to a certain way of life, certain perks and amenities that do not exist here.
"I'm not going to lie to you, the first couple of months I was struggling," Zubov said. "Struggling not on the ice or in the locker room, but off the ice. It was a big adjustment for myself and my family. But, right now the school is great, my wife has kind of adjusted, but it was pretty difficult because every time you come home it's in your ears."
Brylin has it tough now. He has a two-month old daughter at home, and by home I mean Short Hills, N.J. His wife, 10-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and newborn are still living in the house he had built prior to leaving New Jersey. They'll soon come to live with him in St. Petersburg, where his kids will attend an American school, and they won't leave until the KHL playoffs begin in March, but you can imagine how difficult it is on him right now.
His daughter was born two days before he had to pack up and leave to come here for training camp.
"Hey, what are you going to do. That's life," Brylin said. "Obviously it's not easy. You play so many years in the NHL and you get used to things that are not the same here. But, we all came back to our mother land. It's not like we went to China or anything."
Brylin said when he's done playing he will definitely return to live in New Jersey. Zubov isn't so sure what he's going to do.
"Maybe I should talk to (Dallas GM) Joey (Nieuwendyk)."
Team (and me) get lesson in city history
10.3.2010 / 2:55 PM ET
Following practice today the Hurricanes along with team and NHL personnel (yours truly included) went on a hour-long guided bus tour of St. Petersburg. The players were on one bus while the coaches, executives, team doctors, staff and NHL personnel were on the other. Each bus had its own guide and pretty much stayed together, going on the same route and stopping at the same places.
It gave me a deeper appreciation for this city, its architectural beauty and its history. Some of the vantage points, such as the panoramic view of the city, including Winter Palace and the State Hermitage Museum, from one of its 350 bridges were breathtaking. This is where Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen bought traditional Russian hats (Ushankas), the big furry kind.
Jokinen's was red and he was sporting his when he got back on the bus. The players were cracking jokes at him.
The most spectacular sight I can recall is the Church on Spilt Blood. It's an odd name for a church, but that's where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries (now called terrorists) who threw a bomb at his royal carriage. The church was finished by 1907 and it's marvelous both in its magnificent and colorful mosaics all visible from the outside.
The church was extended to the embankment where Alexander II spilled his blood. His blood has been preserved in a shrine on the floor of the church's extension.
A market located across the street from the church was very interesting, too. Several players purchased Matreshka Dolls, or Nesting Dolls, which are popular in this area. The sales people there were willing to negotiate, but most of the dolls went for $20 and they took American money. If you follow me on Twitter (@drosennhl) you saw that I tweeted a picture of four particular dolls all in a row.
Sidney Crosby in a Team Canada uniform, Crosby in a Penguins uniform, Alex Ovechkin in a Team Russia uniform and Ovechkin in a Capitals uniform. They also had dolls for The Simpsons, Mickey Mouse, Super Man, Spider Man, Batman, Sponge Bob Squarepants, etc. It was quite a scene.
Another sight that required me and many of the players to stare for minutes was St. Isaac's Cathedral and the bronze horseman statue in front of it in the square. St. Isaac's Cathedral has 112 red granite columns and according to our guide has the biggest golden dome in the world.
Along the way we learned some interesting facts, such as:
Did you know that if you spent eight hours a day inside the State Hermitage Museum and spent one minute staring at every exhibit it would take you 11 years to see all the exhibits?
Did you know that St. Petersburg's subway system is the deepest in the world at 70 meters below the ground?
Did you know that St. Petersburg does not have any skyscrapers because the ground is swampy and the Russian rulers didnm't want private houses or officers to tower over the main royalty building, Winter Palace?
Did you know that there are 1,064 rooms and 150 staircases inside the Winter Palace because each emperor would have roughly 6,000 people working for him at once?
Did you know that St. Petersburg has only 50 sunny days per year and the joke in Russia is that they have two seasons: White Winter and Green Winter?
Big ice presents a big problem for Hurricanes
10.3.2010 / 8:45 AM ET
The hype for Monday's game against SKA St. Petersburg tells Carolina coach Paul Maurice that it'll be bigger than just a preseason game. He expected that and appreciates it. He believes the energy inside the Ice Palace, which is expected to be full with 13,500 passionate spectators, should push his team, keep them focused, keep the hungry.
However, there is a component to this game that has Maurice very concerned.
Monday's exhibition game will be played on the larger, international ice sheet, which is approximately 15 feet wider than what we find in North America, and that could pose problems for a team that is A) used to playing on a rink that is 85 feet wide, B) is built strictly on speed, and C) runs a two-man forcheck and defensemen that aggressively pinch.
"(The larger ice) changes everything, but it doesn't change us," Maurice said this morning after putting his team through a brisk, hour-long workout at the Jubilee Sports Arena, SKA's practice facility. "The fact of the matter is we're going to look like we're chasing the puck all over the ice tomorrow night."
Maurice said if the Canes try to play to the rink size it could have a negative affect on their game.
"The biggest difference you'll find is the puck carrier almost always has escape ice (on the larger ice). There is almost always ice that he can go to, which buys other people more time to move," he said. "It's a lot more of a puck possession game, and in the North American game you get it and you've got to move it. You've got to get it into a hole or you're out of the play, so we've talked about that extensively. What adjustments do you want to make in your game? We're really going to try not to make any. We're going to play our game as much as possible."
That doesn't mean the Canes are throwing the game away.
Maurice and the coaches have already studied video on SKA and are quite familiar with some of their opponent's best players, including former NHLers such as Alexei Yashin, Maxim Afinogenov, Sergei Brylin, Sergei Zubov and, of course, Evgeni Nabokov.
"We know almost half their team, and without being disrespectful, it is the high end of that team," Maurice said. "Their high end is good. If you watch Yashin and he's into the game and going he's as good a player as there is in the NHL. You know Afinogenov is going to be flying. They have enough jump out there."
Wild sign Theodore, but he won't be in Helsinki
10.3.2010 / 2:37 AM ET
Jose Theodore would have had a long way to go just to start his season, so after signing the veteran goalie to a reported one-year, $1.1 million contract Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he will report to the team's AHL affiliate in Houston and will remain there until the Wild return from Helsinki.
Anton Khudobin, who has been serving as Niklas Backstrom's back-up ever since Josh Harding ripped up his knee and was lost for the season, will remain his backup for the two games in Helsinki but will change cities with Theodore upon return to North America.
Khudobin will head to Houston while Theodore will meet up with the Wild in Minnesota. Russo also reports that Harding will likely wind up on long-term injured reserve, which frees up $1.2 million off the salary cap, or just enough room to sign Theodore without going over the $59.4 million cap.
"He's a guy that's been a No. 1 goalie in the league, he's been MVP, he's won 240 games in the NHL," Fletcher told Russo. "Any time you add a player like that to your team, you dramatically improve your depth. It should add a guy that can help us win hockey games."
Theodore went 20-0-3 down the stretch with the Capitals last season, but Washington opted not to sign him because the plan is to go with the two 22 year old Euros, Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov.
Welcome to the Jubilee Sports Arena
10.3.2010 / 2:11 AM ET
We have arrived at the Jubilee Sports Arena, the Hurricanes practice rink for today.
The Hurricanes had two busses this morning to take them here. We're roughly 15 minutes away from our hotel. The first bus left at 8:30, and yours truly was not on that one. The second one was at 9:30, and that was the one I caught along with GM Jim Rutherford, defensemen Joe Corvo and Jamie McBain, and a few other team personnel people.
Yes, we were the slackers, but I also consider us the smart ones. I needed that eight hours of sleep in a mean way.
When we arrived our driver literally pulled the bus right up to the door. I'm not kidding. The bus is currently parked behind me as I type out this blog entry in the locker room corridor, and it's maybe 7 feet from the double glass door that opens into the practice facility.
This facility has two hockey sheets and a figure skating rink. One of the hockey sheets is in the process of getting new ice, so the Canes obviously will not be skating there. I walked out onto the ice there and it was like a pond. Canes PR guru Mike Sundheim, who obviously took the early bus, was here to snap a picture of the hand-pulled, manual Zamboni they were using to smooth the surface. I'll try to get that pic posted here.
As for the players, they seem pretty well at home. The locker room is spacious and the coaches have their own offices, too. Carolina will only be using this rink today as Monday they will hold a morning skate at Ice Palace, which I'm told is another 15 minutes away at least, before playing SKA St. Petersburg in an exhibition Monday night.
Some of the players are riding the exercise bike while others are kicking a soccer ball around, playing that elimination game that I've only seen hockey players play. There is a lot of commotion around the rink today as some figure skaters are here and another junior hockey team.
We've got another hour until practice begins. I'll check in later.
Oh, and WAKE UP!!!
Canes make it a red October in St. Petersburg
10.2.2010 / 9:25 AM ET
The plane carrying the Carolina Hurricanes (and me) touched down in St. Petersburg at 12:41 p.m. local time, or 4:41 a.m. on our body clocks. We left Raleigh at 6 p.m. Friday and after a quick layover in Halifax for a crew change and some refueling, the 7-hour flight to St. Petersburg was uneventful and smooth.
Most everybody slept as soon as we took off from Halifax. I tried my best, but I am not sure how much sleep I actually got. At least my eyes were closed, until I realized I was still wearing my contacts.
With the cabin lights off for several hours you could hardly hear a peep in the plane. Of course, that was until I got out of my window seat to head to the bathroom to take out my contacts. I made a but of a rustle, but not enough to wake anyone up.
At around 11 a.m. Russia time, or 3 for us, the flight crew started coming around with breakfast. One of them said good morning to me, and to be honest, I didn't know what to think.
It was either late morning (here) or way too early in the morning (my body clock). But, like any good sports writer, I willingly ate my eggs, sausage and cereal.
Soon after the captain told us we were 50 minutes away from landing, and that's when the plane woke up. The players, all in the back, started to get up and stretch, move around, get the blood flowing.
After sitting for that long, it was necessary.
We got updates at 40 minutes, 30, 20 and finally we landed safely after passing through the overcast sky. It's about 48 degrees Fahrenheit here, roughly 27 degrees cooler than it was when we left Raleigh. The weather is supposed to be good to us.
I have to admit it was odd seeing military personnel sitting on the runway. They were not there to greet us.
Anyway, I'll have a new blog entry up soon about the team's walk through the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, including a long stroll through Palace Square.
Canes are off, Wild already in Helsinki
10.1.2010 / 6:40 PM ET
After a thrilling (for the preseason anyway) 2-1 overtime win over Atlanta, the Hurricanes swiftly got all of their equipment bags packed and loaded on a cart. There was no time to waste because the bus was leaving from RBC Center to Raleigh Durham International Airport, where the plane sat waiting, all gassed up, ready to take to team across the big pond.
The plane was delayed coming in from Newark, but it arrived at 4:45 and we were still on schedule for a 6 o'clock wheels-up.
We (myself and Canes PR machine Mike Sundheim) arrived at the charter terminal at 5:30, or just when Eric Staal was boarding the plane.
On my way to my seat I passed Rod Brind'Amour and Jim Rutherford. I am pretty certain Peter Karmanos was up front as well.
Staff, including NHL and team personnel, are up front while the players are in the back. They were eating some finger foods before takeoff.
Well, it's about that time. The phone has to go off, meaning this blog has to come to an end.
It's off to St. Petersburg. We will chat then.
Thunder Bay -- Finnish capital of Canada?
10.1.2010 / 2:20 PM ET
Chalk this one under the you learn something new everyday category, but Eric Staal told me something this morning that I would have never guessed in a million years.
You can call me a naive American if you want, but as someone who has never been to Thunder Bay, Ont., how in the world would I have known that it boasts the largest Finnish population per capita of any area outside of Scandinavia.
Did you know that? If so, more power to you.
I didn't, but Staal mentioned it to me today when I asked him if when he went to Helsinki with Team Canada three years ago for a tune-up before the World Championships did he venture into a traditional Finnish sauna.
"No, but there are a ton of Finnish people in Thunder Bay and I've got a sauna actually at my lake place, right on the water," Staal told me. "I do that pretty much every night in the summer, have one before I go to bed."
Is it the same thing they have in Finland?
"It's the exact same thing," Staal answered. "Everyone in Thunder Bay has one, I think. They're big there. I know what it's all about, but I'm looking forward to it (in Helsinki), too."
With that I decided I should do some research on Finns in Thunder Bay, and wouldn't you know I found out that there are over 100,000 Canadians with Finnish ancestry with roughly 14,000 of them located in Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay houses the Finnish Labor Temple (a Finnish-Canadian cultural community center) with the Hoito restaurant located on the bottom floor of the building. Two weekly papers for Finnish-Canadians publish out of Thunder Bay.
Did you know that Pamela Anderson, born in British Columbia, is of both Finnish and Russian descent? She should be on this trip with us, too.
09.30.2010 / 4:30 PM ET
Hope this doesn't make anyone jealous, but I got a hold of the itineraries for the Wild and Hurricanes and figured there's no reason to keep them to myself. So, here is an abbreviated look at what the teams will be doing:
Thursday: Preseason game vs. Columbus at 7 p.m. CT; Charter flight to Helsinki departs after the game, around 11.
Friday: Arrive in Helsinki at 4 p.m. local time followed by a short press conference at the airport with Backstrom, Koivu, Miettinen, Fletcher and Richards; Light workout at team hotel; Buffet at team hotel.
Saturday: Practice at 10:30 a.m.; Team building activity (cruise, sauna, dinner) from 2:30-8:30; Players go downtown for players-only event.
Sunday, Oct. 3: Practice at noon followed by a player/staff/media tour of Helsinki and then a players-only dinner.
Monday, Oct. 4: Morning skate at 10:30 a.m.; Bus to Tampere at 2:30; Preseason game at Tampere at 7; Back at team hotel by 12:30 a.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 5: Practice at Hartwall Arena followed by a lunch with fans and a meeting with NHLPA officials, including Donald Fehr.
Wednesday, Oct. 6: Practice at Hartwall Arena at 1 p.m.; Team dinner at 6 p.m. at a local restaurant.
Thursday, Oct. 7: Morning skate at Hartwall Arena; Team lunch; Game vs. Carolina at 7 p.m. local time; Post-game dinner at hotel.
Friday, Oct. 8: Morning skate at Hartwall Arena; Team lunch; Game vs. Carolina at 7 p.m. local time; Charter flight bound for Minneapolis departs at midnight and stops in Iceland for refueling.
Saturday, Oct. 9: Charter flight lands in Minney at 3:30 a.m. CT.
Friday: Preseason game vs. Atlanta at 1:30; Charter flight to St. Petersburg departs after the game, around 6.
Saturday: Arrive in St. Petersburg at 1 p.m. local time; off-ice workout at Jubilee practice facility followed by players-only dinner with NHLPA officials.
Sunday, Oct. 3: Practice at 11 a.m. at Jubilee followed by a player/staff/media bus tour of St. Petersburg and a team-only dinner at a local restaurant.
Monday, Oct. 4: Morning skate at Ice Palace; Team lunch at hotel, Game vs. SKA St. Petersburg at 7 p.m.; Charter departs after the game and arrives in Helsinki at 11:15 local time.
Tuesday, Oct. 5: Practice at Hartwall Arena followed by player-only event at Sauna Island.
Wednesday, Oct. 6: Practice at Hartwall Arena followed by a team lunch with fans and a press conference.
Thursday, Oct. 7: Morning skate at Hartwall Arena; Team lunch at hotel, Game vs. Minnesota at 7 p.m., Post-game dinner at team hotel.
Friday, Oct. 8: Morning skate at Hartwall Arena; team lunch at hotel; Game vs. Minnesota at 7 p.m.; Charter departs from Helsinki at midnight.
Saturday, Oct. 9: Charter flight arrives in Raleigh at approximately 4 a.m. ET.
Backstrom keeping mum on plans
09.28.2010 / 1:10 PM ET
Niklas Backstrom told me that just like the Finnish guys that play for Carolina, his crew, including himself, Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen, are planning on at least one team get together in Helsinki that will showcase the Finnish culture.
"We've got stuff planned, but we haven't told the guys yet, so there are some surprises," Backstrom told NHL.com.
Is it the sauna?
Well, either Backstrom isn't very good at keeping secrets, or the sauna is not the surprise because he said this:
"Of course we're going to take them to some Finnish saunas. We have to take advantage of it. We're going to be there for a week with our team so it's big to come together and do some things together with our team. If you do it the right way you do it together and that will help us in the long run."
So, what does Backstrom really want to do with his teammates when he gets to his hometown?
"I would like to say take them out on a Saturday night, but that can't happen," he said. "I just want to take them around the town and talk about the Finnish history. The ocean is a big part of the life when you live by the coast, so maybe we could go out for a boat ride and see some of the islands that have played a really big part in Finnish history."
Backstrom said that he's been so happy to listen to his teammates get all jacked up about going to Europe to open the season. He was worried that the players, specifically the North Americans, would look at is as a nuisance rather than an experience.
That has not been the case at all.
"It's nice to hear them come up with their own ideas (of what to do)," Backstrom said. "Andrew Brunette is a guy that is excited about it and asking things. I think the whole team is really excited and looking forward. It's been really nice to see how they have reacted instead of talking about the long travel."
Wild to hold free open practice in Helsinki
09.28.2010 / 9:30 AM ET
The Wild announced today that their practice on Oct. 3 at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki will be free and open to the public. The doors will open at 11 a.m. local time in Helsinki and the team is expected to hit the ice by noon. Fans are asked to be in their seats at approximately 11:45 a.m.
Minnesota travels to Tampere the following day for an exhibition game before opening the 2010-11 regular season against Carolina on Oct. 7 and 8 at Hartwall Arena.
Maurice staying away from Sauna Island
09.24.2010 / 1:30 PM ET
Calling it "Tuomo Ruutu's deal," Carolina coach Paul Maurice told me during a 15-minute phone conversation Wednesday night that the Hurricanes' coaches will not be going with the players to Sauna Island upon the team's arrival in Helsinki.
"We're going to make that a players-only event just from a visual factor," Maurice said. "We don't want to scare any of our players. The coaches don't ever need to be seen in a bathing suit because then the players all start thinking about their futures and what happens to them when they get old, and we're trying to get them to enjoy their youth."
Maurice said the coaches haven't yet discussed if they're going grant themselves a similar Finnish sauna experience, "but we know if we do it won't be at the same place as the players. I'm sure it'll be a good time…for them."
Ruutu, by the way, told me that he's tried to explain to his non-Finnish teammates what the sauna experience is all about, but he's found it to be difficult. That's why he's so excited to bring them there so they can experience it firsthand.
"They made a calculation over the past summer and there are about 5.5 million people living in Finland they calculated that there are about 3 million saunas, so it gives you that idea that we really like our saunas," he told me. "It's such a big part of Finnish culture and it's tough to explain to people that never experienced it. These are not electric saunas, they are smoke saunas and you heat it with big logs about seven hours before you go in there. You really smell the smoke. It's not even that long ago that all the kids in Finland were born in a sauna. It's been a big part of Finnish culture forever."
Maurice did say that I could go with the players to Sauna Island so I could report back to him and his staff, but I told him I'm not sure the players need to see me in my bathing suit either.
"If you want you can do your reporting job fully clothed," he said.
People usually appreciate that.
Carolina players planning trip to...
09.22.2010 / 3:55 PM ET
Some teams use a night out on the town as a bonding experience while others stay in the hotel and play video games. Seeing that the Carolina Hurricanes are going to be in Helsinki to start the season, they're planning to have one of those team bonding experiences at a traditional Finnish sauna.
Hey, when in Rome (err Finland)…
"It's a really big thing in Finland," Canes forward and Finland native Jussi Jokinen told NHL.com. "I think we're going to one of those sauna islands off of Helsinki. I've never been there, but I think Tuomo (Ruutu) has been and he's told me a lot about it. There are different saunas there and other fun stuff to do."
A sauna island? What?
"It's close to Helsinki, one of those small islands close to Helsinki," Jokinen said. "It's not going to be too far away."
OK, but what?
"Tuomo is going to be our city guide," Jokinen said. "He's from there, or near there."
So, we'll have to ask Ruutu when we talk to him about the definition of a sauna island, but for now we did a quick Google search of the words "Helsinki sauna island" and found that low and behold there is actually an island off of the capital city called…
I know. What are the odds?
It's apparently a small island just a short ferry ride from Market Square in downtown and according to www.meethelsinki.fi, a site that advertises as the city's official meeting planner's destination on the internet, "Sauna Island offers the delights of a traditional Finnish smoke sauna in a unique archipelago setting. Experience the velvety soft heat of a smoke sauna, relax in a wood-heated pool, and swim in the refreshing sea."
If that's where the Canes are indeed going, it doesn't sound too shabby. Maybe they'll want a reporter to document their trip?
Canes' Pitkanen looking for tickets
09.21.2010 / 2:50 PM ET
I figured I'd drop the puck on this blog about the Helsinki portion of the Compuware NHL Premiere with some thoughts from, who else, a Finn.
Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen told me during a phone interview on Tuesday that he thinks he's already secured 30 tickets for each game against Minnesota at Hartwall Arena, but "all the time somebody calls me and wants to come see a game. I don't know how many more tickets I can get."
Pitkanen's hometown of Oulu is roughly six hours north of Helsinki, but he'll have quite the caravan of family and friends coming down to see him play. He hasn't played a real game in Finland since he played for Karpat Oulu of the SM-Liiga in 2002-03.
"Not many players have an opportunity to play in Europe, in your home country," Pitkanen said. "I think it'll give me memories for the rest of my life. It should be a lot of fun."
Pitkanen specifically hopes he can take the North American players on his team to a traditional Finnish sauna.
"Oh yeah, they're really asking me a lot about it," Pitkanen said.
According to Wikipedia, Finnish saunas originated somewhere around the 16th century and they remain a popular cultural phenomenon across the country. There are roughly 2 million saunas in Finland, or one per household. There is even a sauna in the Parliament House, located in Helsinki.
"Almost every house in Finland has a sauna," Pitkanen added. "It's a normal routine. People go into it three or four times a week. It's the one thing I'm missing here. Here there aren't many places that have a sauna, so hopefully we have an opportunity to go to a sauna there so everybody can experience it.
"I think everybody is really excited to go there and see what kind of country Finland is," he added. "They're asking me a lot about Finland. I think people now will get to know how really nice of a country Finland is and how big hockey is over there."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl