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Kuemper Seizing Latest Opportunity

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

Though Hockey Day Minnesota 2014 is (sadly) behind us, it didn’t stop the Wild from cracking jokes about Nate Prosser’s overtime heroics Saturday night.

As he entered the locker room after practice, voices called “Hey, give him room. He’s just one guy!” as the media mingled around for interviews.

Prosser may have stolen the show in Saturday night’s 3-2 win over Dallas, but this morning, all attention was quickly focused on the Wild’s goaltending situation as both Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom were absent from practice. Head Coach Mike Yeo noted that Harding wasn’t feeling well this morning and Backstrom was kept off the ice after receiving an injection.

The timing of Backstrom’s procedure was partly due to the fact that Yeo and co., already penciled in Darcy Kuemper as the starting goaltender Tuesday night in Dallas. The Wild recalled Johan Gustafsson this morning and he is expected to back Kuemper up. Defenseman Jonathon Blum was also recalled with the possibility to return to the lineup, according to Yeo.

Tuesday night will mark Kuemper’s fifth-straight start since he was recalled Jan. 2. The netminder has gone 4-1-0 in that time, with a 0.954 save percentage and a 1.36 goals-against average.

“Sometimes your third goalie is called upon to back up or play a game here or there,” Yeo said. “But certainly he’s been thrown into more of a starting role for us and he’s taken that opportunity. Good for him and good for us.”

Yeo also likened Kuemper’s play to the quote “Opportunities multiply as they’re seized,” noting the goalie has been living by those words recently.

“We’re giving him more opportunities because he’s taking advantage of those opportunities,” the bench boss added. “We’re very fortunate to have a guy like that come in and perform at the level that he’s played at, and do it with confidence.”

The young goaltender, who struggled earlier this season in two games with the Wild, said the recent success really stems from working on his game with Iowa — where he currently has a 0.929 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average — and building his confidence.

“When things are going well, the game’s a lot of fun,” Kuemper said. “Obviously I’ve always dreamed about playing in the NHL so now I’m getting a chance to do it and it’s been a blast.”

Last week, Yeo said they need to find a balance between keeping the netminder confident and grounded in his game. According to Kuemper it’s simply a matter of taking things day by day.

“Just take it one game at a time,” Kuemper said. “I think as a team we’ve done a good job of that so far — not looking too far ahead — and focusing on the moment.”

Tomorrow night Kuemper will face Dallas once again — he made 33 of 35 stops Saturday night in a rough and tumble contest that included an errant high stick that sent Jonas Brodin to his knees, dripping blood all over the ice.

WildTV caught up with Brodin after practice today to talk about the matchup and how he’s doing, as the injury looked pretty nasty from the Al Shaver Press Box. Today there wasn’t much to show for it except a small scab.

“I got pretty lucky there,” Brodin said. “I’m feeling pretty good today, a little bit swollen, but it’s not bad.”

Brodin said he expects another hard-hitting game tomorrow night, noting Dallas is a tough place to play.

Tomorrow night, the Wild will once again be minus Zach Parise, but the winger is making strides in practice. Today he was a full participant with contact. Yeo said he looks close and there’s a chance he could be in the lineup Thursday when the Wild hosts Chicago.

“We would like to get him more reps and practice,” Yeo said. “We want to make sure he’s real comfortable and give him the best chance when he comes back.”

In other news, the Alberta Junior Hockey League released its Top 50 All-Time players with two Wild players gracing the list. Wingers Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine were each named for 1994-2003 and 2004-2013 respectively. The list was finalized after several months of online voting and over 5,000 votes cast, according to the official website of the AJHL.

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