After an optional day for the Minnesota Wild didn’t see too much action at Xcel Energy Center, the ice was packed with players as the club reconvened for a full practice today.
Forwards Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak rejoined the squad for an intense practice that put the team through the paces, working on its systems, offensive and defensive transition, special teams and a short skate to wrap things up.
For Cooke, it’s been a long road to recovery. The forward underwent sports hernia surgery and has been out since Feb. 6, missing 27 games.
“It’s been tough,” Cooke said. “I went such a long time without missing games to injury and I’ve had two different injuries this year and not small ones. It’s been frustrating, but it’s been a lot easier having the team winning.”
Although he’s not been a part of the group in practice, he’s tried to stay engaged while the team is home. However, it’s been difficult because his rehab schedule has him at the rink at different hours and not been able to travel with the club, where players find time to bond. Despite missing his teammates, he’s been enjoying the club’s winning ways.
“It’s a fun time,” Cooke said. “Hopefully I can just come in and compliment the guys in practice and push them, and when it comes time, I can get in the lineup and help.”
The 36-year-old said he’s not going to put a timetable on a return since today was only his first full practice with the team. He “hopes” it will be before the end of the regular season, but isn’t going to pencil in a date because of all the variables with coming back. However, he’s been skating on his own as soon as he was able to and through the recovery process, and said he felt strong on the ice today.
“Realistically, I’ve played 27 games this year. I few more practices anyway,” Cooke said with a smile creeping across his face. “I feel good, but it’s a lot different to feel good and go out and be game ready.”
The intricate aspects of the game, timing, forechecking, hitting and seeing the ice and play develop will take more time to regain than getting his legs back. The wing said that getting up to game speed is going to be a lot more difficult to get back than his lung capacity.
“Conditioning-wise I feel great,” Cooke said. “But the rest of it, the hockey part of it is probably the most important.”
Brodziak has only missed three games, so he’s ready to return. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said he’s expected to be in the lineup on Thursday, when the club hosts the New York Rangers.
“I didn’t miss that much time so it won’t be too hard to get back to where it needs to be,” Brodziak said.
Yeo said that the Wild probably could’ve rushed the forward back into the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Kings, but with four days between the next contest on Thursday, thought it would be best allow him another game off.
Today, Brodziak skated on the fourth line with Ryan Carter and Jordan Schroeder. Cooke was with Sean Bergenheim and Erik Haula. The top three lines remained in tact and Yeo said there’s no reason to mix up the chemistry between those units. The bench boss said that the coaching staff hasn’t made a decision on Thursday’s lineup, but he knows difficult choices are ahead with a healthy club and a number of players ready to contribute.
“It can be a good thing if we handle it the right way,” Yeo said. “It does present some challenges, as far as making sure that guys in the lineup are not worried about every single shift that they’re going to be coming out of the lineup. And guys out of the lineup trying to keep them positive and motivated.”
Not only will Yeo have to balance the lineup on gamedays, he and the staff need to ensure the players get the proper use on practice days, too. This creates a challenge all its own.
“Fewer repetitions,” Yeo said. “Both for the guys who have been in the lineup and the guys we’re trying to get ready to get back in the lineup.
“You have to be more mindful of the drills you’re planning and make sure there’s not a lot of standing around time.”
With a full roster of healthy players, teammates understand some will be asked to sacrifice playing time.
“I think everybody realizes that’s the way it’s going to be for the rest of the year,” Brodziak said. “It’s a good thing for the group to have that many guys and the depth that we have.
“It creates for good competition and should help the team out.”
Dubnyk First Star
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week yesterday. The netminder went 4-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. He’s the first player in team history to be part of the NHL’s Three Stars three times in a single season. With four days between games the netminder, who has started every game for Minnesota since being acquired on Jan. 15, used the time off to spend with family — primarily his one and a half year old son, Nathaniel. When asked what’s more tiring, chasing around his son or playing in back-to-back games he smiled, “It’s close.”
“He keeps you on your toes, especially now he’s repeating everything,” Dubnyk laughed. “So now you’ve got to watch your mouth around him. You don’t want him to start picking up thing.”
The Wild’s final game of the regular season in St. Louis against Central Division rival, Blues, has been moved to 2 p.m. State of Hockey Time. The game will be broadcast on NBC.