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Busy First Day At Training Camp

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

On the first day of Wild training camp, presented by Andersen Windows, groups A and B were scrimmaging. With time winding down and his team trailing by a pair of goals, Thomas Vanek, skating for the Group B team, threw the puck on net. It hit traffic in front and bounced into the top corner of the net. While it wasn’t the prettiest goal Vanek has ever scored, it was a good introduction to the team.

The Wild signed Vanek, who has 277 career goals, as a free agent in the summer to add offensive punch to a team that averaged 2.43 goals per game last season. Today, he was skating on a line with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle. Although it will take the trio some time to get to know each other on the ice, the Wild captain was impressed with what he saw in his newest teammate.

“I thought we got better when it moved on, first time we played together so there’s things that take time to learn a little bit,” Koivu said. “His hockey sense is pretty good. That was the first impression I got, that you got to find the open spot and he’ll find the tape, so it makes it easier on us.”

Since Vanek has played his entire career in the Eastern Conference, Koivu got a glimpse of what playing with the wing would be like.

“You can see the touch he has around the net and making plays,” Koivu said. “He’s even better than I thought. I played against him, so I knew he was good. But I think you get an even better sense when you play with the guy and get a little bit of feeling of what he’s capable of doing.”

The trio was thrown right into a scrimmage, so there’ll be an adjustment period. But all three play a similar style and one can imagine that they’d fit well together.

“I watch a lot of hockey, I’m aware of what kind of players [Coyle and Koivu] are,” Vanek said. “I think the three of us, each of us can protect the puck well. I think we have some size to us. I think we did that, and again it’s just one scrimmage, but I thought we had some good shifts.”

Vanek, who was traded twice last season going from Buffalo to New York to Montreal, said that he believes that joining the Wild and getting used to his teammates will be an easy transition.

“I think the hockey world, there’s a lot of good guys,” Vanek said. “It’s nice, for me it was nice to get to know all the guys the last few weeks and come in here day one and not feel that awkwardness or nervousness, introducing yourself. I kind of got that behind me.”

Leading up to day one of NHL Free Agency, pundits speculated that Vanek would sign in Minnesota (he has lived in the state since his time at the University of Minnesota). However, the 30-year-old said that the number one reason he wanted to join the Wild was because of players like Koivu and Coyle.

“I think players want to go to good teams, so I think a lot of people assumed I wanted to come here because I live here in the offseason, and it’s a bonus, but that’s not the reason I came here,” Vanek said. “The reason I wanted to come here because I like the team; I like the depth; I like the veteran players that we have; I like the young guys. Overall I think it’s a good mix to compete.

“Are we going to be the best team at the end? We don’t know, it’s early, but I think we have the potential to be.”

Scrimmage Highlights

While Koivu, Vanek and Coyle might take some time to gel, it looks like the combination of Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund is ready to hit the ground running. The line was unstoppable during a scrimmage earlier this week and was impressive again today.

Parise scored a pair of goals, the second coming on a penalty shot, to lead the Group A to a 3-2 win. On his first goal, he skated down the right side on a two-on-one with Pominville. He dropped his shoulder as if he was going to set up Pominville for a one-timer, then whipped the puck low past goaltender Niklas Backstrom.

After a strong showing last season, Granlund looks stronger, faster and more confident with the puck. On one rush, he took the puck at the top of the right faceoff circle, pulled it with a toe-drag, then pushed it to his forehand, changing the angle, and rifled the puck off the post.

Here are the notable combinations from today’s scrimmage:

Group A (in Green)

Pominville—Granlund—Parise

Niederreiter—Haula—Cooke

Ballard—Folin

Olofsson—Dumba

(D-pairs were jumbled because of odd numbers)

Group B (in White)

Vanek—Koivu—Coyle

Veilleux—Almond—Bulmer

Brodin—Suter

Falk—Blum

Final Group

The third group, C, took the final ice session of the day. Ilya Bryzgalov, here on a pro tryout, skated in the session. The netminder is excited about the opportunity and looking to help the club any way he can, even if it means just attending camp.

“I’m glad to be here to help the team,” Bryzgalov said. “I love this team. I love the town, the players. I like the whole organization. I’m just glad, I came here to get them through the camp.”

The Lighthouse for one is glad to have the netminder at camp. While he has been known to be quotable, we thoroughly enjoy his overall attitude. He said that he spent the majority of his summer traveling with his family.

“I’m enjoying my family,” Bryzgalov said. “I’m enjoying my time. I’m enjoying life—lots of beautiful things to do in life besides hockey.”

Notable players in Group C included: Kyle Brodziak, Justin Fontaine, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. The group was also loaded with players looking to make an impression out of camp, and consequently the opening day roster like Jordan Schroeder, Jason Zucker, Michael Keranen and Stu Bickel. Skating with the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s American Hockey League affiliate, last season and in attendance with Group C: Raphael Bussieres, Tyler Graovac and Zack Phillips.

Kuemper Talks But Doesn’t Skate

Darcy Kuemper, who signed a two-year deal with Minnesota last night, was not on the ice today, but will return to action tomorrow. Kuemper said that he didn’t want to miss any part of camp, and was happy to come to an agreement with the team.

“It was a longer summer than I expected it to be,” Kuemper said. “Excited to get it done and obviously to be back here now, and now that’s over with just looking forward to the season and build off the success we’ve been having lately.”

Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo joked that Kuemper returned just in time to miss the morning skates. But he’s glad to have the netminder back in the mix.

“I’m very pleased that we got him signed. I’m very happy for him. I’m very happy for us,” Yeo said. “And now it’s time to get to work. It looks like he’s better taking really good care of himself just from what I’ve seen. But again it’s about when the puck drops. Tomorrow we’ll get him on the ice, he’ll partake in a practice and half of a scrimmage and it’ll give us a good chance to see where he’s at.”

Suter Returns

Defenseman Ryan Suter returned to the ice for the first time since the sudden passing of his father, Bob, last week. Wild.com posted a story and the video of Ryan speaking about his dad.

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