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From the Rink: More fresh faces as Wild tangles with Blue Jackets

Hockey Day Minnesota 2019 matchup to feature Rask's debut, Belpedio's return to lineup

by Phil Ervin / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Nick Seeler has done this before.

Well, sort of.

Saturday marks the Wild defenseman's first Hockey Day Minnesota as a member of his hometown club. But back in 2010, Seeler smeared his face in eye black and watched his breath on the bench as Eden Prairie took down host Hermantown outdoors.

"It wasn't as cold as it is today in Bemidji -- but it was cold and it was snowing and sleeting and the ice wasn't great, but that kind of made it a little bit more fun and exciting," Seeler told Wild.com after morning skate Saturday ahead of Minnesota's 8 p.m. game against Columbus at Xcel Energy Center. "I remember getting the eye black and kind of having that excitement before the game with your teammates. It was a great experience."

That day included a hat trick from Seeler's teammate and current Iowa Wild forward Kyle Rau, who made his NHL debut on Hockey Day last year (his brother, Chad did the same thing with the Wild in 2012).

Once the state's collective eye shifts toward St. Paul from frigid Bemidji -- where temperatures hovered in the negative 20s Saturday morning while the Wild prepped for the Blue Jackets -- Saturday night, Minnesota will aim for more Hockey Day heroics.

Tweet from @mnwild: It's a great day for hockey in Bemidji. #HDM2019 pres. by @WellsFargo pic.twitter.com/2OUfBxhNML

"I know it means a lot to the state," Seeler said. "I kind of have those memories of playing in high school, and how being able to play here, it's going to be very cool."

The Minnesota Wild is 9-2-1 on Hockey Day Minnesota, outscoring its opponents 38-27. Over 227,000 fans have attended Hockey Day Minnesota games at Xcel Energy Center.

Video: Hockey Day 2019: Rau/Seeler Flashback


New faces 

Recently-acquired forward Victor Rask arrived in the Twin Cities on Friday afternoon and took part in Saturday's morning skate. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound center skated on a line with Zach Parise and Pontus Aberg, who made his own Wild debut Thursday after General Manager Paul Fenton dealt the Ducks Justin Kloos in exchange for Aberg's services.

"It's nice to have a practice, get to know the guys a little better," Rask said. "I know a couple guys before, so that makes it easier."

Indeed, Rask won a 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships gold medal with Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin. He's also friends with fellow Swedes Aberg, Joel Eriksson Ek and even Eric Staal from their days together in Carolina.

Tweet from @mnwild: 🇸 @VictorRask ��r h��r! 😅 the new official language for #mnwild might have to be Swedish now. #MinneSweda pic.twitter.com/HebUma6j2k

Acquired from Carolina in exchange for Nino Niederreiter, Rask missed the Hurricanes' first 20 games after undergoing surgery on his right fourth and fifth fingers, the result of an accident while slicing a sweet potato in his kitchen. He also suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last March.

Rask's best season came in 2015-16, when he tallied 21 goals and 27 assists. Both he and the Wild think he can regain that form in his new home.

"I think [a change of scenery can help] if the coach has been on you and sees only the bad habits in you," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And then you go somewhere else, and you've got your opportunity and a fresh start. You make good first impressions, and things can totally change. You see it so many times -- I have. Where I use a player and then if he got moved or traded, you watch him the next year and he's killing penalties and you go ... I could never believe he could do that. But that's what these fresh starts do."

Said Rask: "Yeah, it's going to be fun to get started here. I've only heard good things about this organization and the fans, so it's going to be a lot of fun."

Called up from Iowa on Friday, defenseman Louie Belpedio is also expected to make his 2018-19 NHL debut. The 5-foot-11, 196-pound Illinois native made his NHL debut April 7 in Minnesota's final game of 2017-18, nabbing a pair of assists to become the first rookie in franchise history to record two points in his debut.

Video: Wild pregame vs Blue Jackets

Belpedio has 10 points in 40 games with Iowa this season.

"It's exciting," said Belpedio, who's helped the Iowa Wild to a 21-13-4 record, good for third in the AHL's Central Division. "I've been working hard down in Iowa. We got a good group there, so it was pretty easy to get better every day."

Here are some photos from Saturday's morning skate: 

Here's how the Wild lineup is projected to look Saturday night:

Jordan Greenway - Eric Staal - Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise - Victor Rask - Pontus Aberg
Marcus Foligno - Joel Eriksson Ek - Luke Kunin

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Greg Pateryn
Nick Seeler - Louis Belpedio

Devan Dubnyk - Alex Stalock


On the Jackets

Columbus did not skate Saturday morning follow a 4-1 loss Friday in Montreal. The defeat stopped a four-game win streak for the Blue Jackets, who currently sit second in the Metropolitan Division.

More on Columbus is available in today's Wild Warmup.

Here's how the Blue Jackets' lines appear poised to shake out:

Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Brandon Dubinsky - Alexander Wennberg - Anthony Duclair
Oliver Bjorkstrand - Riley Nash - Lukas Sedlak

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara
Scott Harrington - David Savard

Sergei Bobrovsky - Joonas Korpisalo


In case you missed it 

Wild.com/hockeyday will be updated throughout the day with stories, top tweets and more from Bemidji.

Wild.com's Dan Myers is on the ground up north covering the weekend's outdoor games and festivities. In the first contest Saturday, Minnetonka's boys team topped Andover 5-2 in a matchup of Class AA's top two teams.

Bemidji native Dillon Eichstädt scored the game-winning, overtime goal outdoors Friday night in Bemidji. Myers was there to chronicle the moment on Day 2 of Hockey Day Minnesota's first-ever three-day schedule.

Wild defenseman Matt Dumba spoke with reporters after Friday's practice, making his first public comments since suffering a ruptured right pectoralis muscle Dec. 15 -- an injury he confirmed was suffered during a fight with Calgary's Mathew Tkachuk.

"It's just what happened," Dumba said. "You have to deal with it and live with it. If you get caught up in what could've been, it leads to just you being sad and depressed during this whole thing. I'm not about to do that. I'll be back eventually, whether it's this year or next."


Watch, listen to or attend tonight's game
Broadcast:
  • Watch on FOX Sports North, FOX Sports App
  • Listen on KFAN 100.3 FM and the rest of the Wild Radio Network
  • You can also listen in the official Wild NHL App

If you're attending tonight's contest, Wild Vision has everything you need to know:

Video: Wild Vision: Jan 19. vs CBJ

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