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A Fun Day At The Rink

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild
Marek Zidlicky and Niklas Backstrom were two huge factors in the Wild's back-to-back wins over the weekend.
Smiles and laughter. There hadn’t been a lot of those following Minnesota Wild practices at the Xcel Energy Center in the past couple of weeks.

Even after wins at home, there seemed to be an edginess surrounding the team due to its inability to finagle a win on the road.

It’s amazing how back-to-back wins, including a road win over the defending Stanley Cup champions can suddenly turn a locker room into an episode of Barney and Friends.

Following practice, Petr Sykora, who just last week had been scratched and wasn’t happy about it, told an animated story of his visit to the Mall of America yesterday with his two-year-old son, Nicholas. Sykora flailed his arms wildly in imitating his son on the roller coaster, followed by his imitation of himself as he clutched tightly to an imaginary safety bar and showed a look of terror.

Marek Zidlicky joked with the local media about his Saturday Night Fight with Sidney Crosby.

Of course, there was Cal Clutterbuck, who makes a habit of getting in the locker room and relaxing before taking his gear off, no doubt looking for the next player to joke around with.

With three days before its next game, Head Coach Todd Richards took his foot off the gas, and let his team enjoy a four-on-four scrimmage for the majority of Monday’s practice time. Defense wasn’t a priority in this one, as guys spent most of the time trying to dazzle with slick passes and moves they normally won’t try in a game that’s for keeps. Hoots and hollers erupted when Kyle Brodziak lifted a pretty backhand goal over Anton Khudobin to give the Green Team a sudden death victory.

Wild GameDay

Wild TV: Greg Zanon
Greg talks to Wild TV about playing against a talented forward like Sidney Crosby and enjoying the ride home after a big road victory

“Todd’s coached me before,” said defenseman Greg Zanon, who was an unsung hero in Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh. “With three days off like this, he likes to have a fun day, but he expects work and execution. So we went out there and had a good time, but tomorrow’s going to be a ‘work day’ and we need to be ready to get things accomplished. Wednesday will be about preparation so we can be ready for the game on Thursday.”

Zanon also mentioned that the team is still in “a hole,” but after two wins, we can start talking about who is playing well, rather than who is struggling.

The defenseman with the handlebar mustache is a good place to start. He and defensive partner, Zidlicky shut down Sidney Crosby’s dynamic line on Saturday, and frustrated him in the process. Zidlicky antagonized him enough to goad him into a fight late in the second period, and Zanon led all Wild players with 26:26 of ice time.

“We did what we could,” said Zanon of facing Crosby the majority of the night. “I think we did a pretty good job of getting under his skin. He’s a great player and it was definitely a difficult task. I think playing the body on him is the most important thing because I think he gets frustrated when you get on him.”

Niklas Backstrom also did his job when it came to frustrating opponents, but he’s been doing it all year. Backstrom stopped 34 of 35 shots to continue his stellar start to the season.

“You definitely have to give the credit to Backstrom in this one,” said Richards following the win over the Penguins. “He made some huge saves for us, and where we’re at in the standings right now, that’s what you need.”

Other players seem to have stepped up their games as well. Antti Miettinen has been all over both ends of the rink the last two games, and he finally broke his goal-less streak on Friday with a nice one-time slapper. Eric Belanger, who seemed to be the only Wild player that could find the net early in the season, has two goals in each of the last two games, including a huge game-winner in Pittsburgh with less than a second left in the first.

Martin Havlat, who also set up Belanger’s tally against New York, set up that goal. Havlat hasn’t lit the lamp as often as he’d like, but he’s a playmaker, and he’s making plays as of late. He also looked dominant in the Wild’s Monday scrimmage.

As Zanon said, tomorrow will be a workday as the team finally gets a break after seven games in 11 days. The boys won’t have to get back onto a plane again for another week. Although, the group finally got to enjoy a fun-filled flight on Saturday night.

“It was great,” said Zanon of the flight home. “It was the first time all year we had the chance to let loose on the plane after a hard game like that. Everybody kind of let loose on the plane and relaxed and we had a fun time.”
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