It has been quite the grind lately and even though the Lighthouse doesn’t suit up, we’re feeling it too.
Between yesterday’s day off and today’s optional practice, these last two days mark the first pair of consecutive non-game days the Wild has had since March 8. Sunday’s 4-3 OT win against the Red Wings capped a stretch of five games in the last seven days, and 10 in 16.
March Madness indeed.
Regardless of what’s happened, and what’s to come, though Head Coach Mike Yeo knows that at this time of year the focus must be on the game that’s directly in front of them.
“Every game is important,” Yeo said. “This time of year, any team that’s going to be successful is not worrying about what happened the game before and they’re not focused on what’s coming the game after. It’s only about this game, so let’s just make sure we’re putting all we have into it.”
That being said, during that Sunday win the Wild skated with a slightly different blue line than it has used lately. With Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner nursing their respective lower-body injuries, the Wild recalled Jonathon Blum. He skated with Marco Scandella in the third pairing, while Nate Prosser moved up alongside Jonas Brodin.
Blum found out about the call-up during the third period of the Iowa Wild’s Saturday tilt with Grand Rapids. After the blueliner skated his first shift of the third he got back to the bench and Iowa Wild Head Coach Kurt Kleinendorst told him he wouldn’t be taking another shift, with no further explanation initially. Rightly so, Blum was a bit perplexed and asked why as Iowa was losing by a goal at the time and he wanted to get back out there.
Once he heard he was getting a call up, his focus changed.
“I just sat on the bench for the last 19 minutes and kind of played cheerleader,” Blum said. “Obviously I didn’t want to get hurt.
“It’s definitely an honor just to be up here, it’s the NHL, it’s the best league in the world. So to be able to get that call and play in this type of atmosphere — there’s ten games left and playoffs are coming, we’re trying to make a strong playoff push — it’s definitely an exciting time of the year.”
Today, Yeo praised Blum’s effort Sunday but cautioned that he wants to make sure it wasn’t a one-time thing.
“We’re going to count on him and he has every ability to go out and do it night after night,” the Bench Boss said. “I like the way that he executes, I like the way he moves the puck. I think we spent a little less time in our own zone because of how he activated, allowing our forwards to use him as an out coming out of the zone or how he went back to retrieve pucks. I think that allowed us to defend less and the ability to get on the attack and get to our game a little bit more.”
Yeo also noted that Blum isn’t some young kid taking on this load — he has experience in the league and has played in meaningful games this time of year.
“When he gets called up, he shows late in the game, in close games, he’s got a sense of composure out there,” Yeo said. “Which is important for a call-up, to make sure they have that right mental make-up, that they’re not going to panic. They’re not going to throw away the puck to allow the other team to pressure.”
For Blum, the message is clear: just be ready.
“Mentally you’ve got to be ready,” Blum said. “Everyday you can’t take for granted up here because there’s so many good guys in this league and you’ve got to play hard every night. Just being up here and being with this team, it’s a good group of guys and it makes it easier for when I get called up.”
Blum isn’t the only defenseman who’s taken on a bit more for the Wild. Prosser, as mentioned before, moved up to the second pairing with Brodin. The Elk River native showed earlier this season that he can be relied upon to play those bigger minutes when Jared Spurgeon was sidelined with a lower-body injury.
For Prosser, as it has been all season, it’s simply about taking the opportunities as they come and running with them.
“A lot of things are out of your control in this game and I just wanted to focus on what I could focus on, that was just working hard in practice and off the ice,” Prosser said. “And waiting for my opportunity to get in games and play some minutes.”
Beyond his increased role on the ice, Prosser has also taken on a bigger role at home with the birth of his second daughter two weeks ago.
“It’s just a crazy life change,” Prosser said. “With one it’s pretty easy. With two now it’s man-on-man defense. She’s got one (referencing his wife) and I’ve got the other. It’s a whole new dynamic in our house and it’s been a fun time.”
The Wild were at home when Prosser’s second daughter was born, which he noted was nice to be able to be around and help out.
“It was good to be around for it, to be around for the birth and not have to be on the road and worry about it,” Prosser said.
Wild Signs Olofsson
Yesterday the Wild signed 2013 second-round draft pick Gustav Olofsson to an entry-level contract.
The 19-year-old just finished the season with the Colorado College Tigers. In his freshman year he netted four goals and four assists in 30 games. The defenseman will report to Iowa later this week on an amateur tryout.
The PONDcast caught up with Olofsson to chat about the signing.
“It’ll be fun,” Olofsson said of taking the next step in his career. “I’m looking forward to the next challenge. It’s a process so to take a step and start to feel more comfortable playing [in Iowa]. And hopefully sooner than later, make the big jump.”
Check out the whole conversation here.