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Hunt eager to rejoin the battle for playing time on Wild's blueline

Defenseman scored goal, assisted on another in Minnesota's win over Vancouver on Thursday

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- Finally healthy after a weeks-long battle with his immune system, Wild defenseman Brad Hunt looked like his old self Thursday night in a 4-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks. 

Hunt scored the game's opening goal six minutes in then assisted on the eventual winner later in the first period, showing the kind of offensive prowess that made him a lineup staple earlier in the season. 

For much of the first half of the year, Hunt was such a weapon that Wild coach Bruce Boudreau couldn't afford to take him out of the lineup.

But then a minor surgical procedure to relieve sinus pressure put him on the sidelines for a couple of games. A bout with influenza followed, and all of the sudden, Hunt was nowhere to be seen.

Between Jan. 9 and Feb. 4, Hunt didn't crack the lineup a single time as he tried to get back to full health. With eight defensemen on the roster for much of that time, it would have been easy for Hunt to become discouraged watching others get chance after chance to push him from the lineup, but the uber-positive Hunt just wouldn't allow it.

Video: Locker room postgame vs Vancouver

"You can't really get frustrated. It's one of those things that happens, it's part of life really. I'm not a person who really dwells on things too much. Things happen and can't really do much about it," Hunt said. "Obviously, it sucks when you're not playing, but you just be there for your teammates and the guys did a great job while I was gone."

But this wasn't some 24-hour flu bug, where it's here and gone and he was back in the lineup after missing a game or two.

In the midst of a career season, it was a month-long battle to get healthy. 

Video: Stalock gets postgame helmet vs Vancouver

"That stuff is going to happen in life with everyone. It's one of those things that you can't really control. It is what it is," Hunt insisted. "I'm just glad I'm back playing now."

So is the Wild. 

Playing in his second game since returning to the lineup, Hunt made a big impact on Thursday's win. With Vancouver playing at the tail end of a nine-day, five-game road trip, a fast start was imperative. 

Hunt provided it, a couple seconds after the Wild's first power play expired, when he weaved a wrist shot from the right point through traffic in front and off a body for a 1-0 lead.

Video: VAN@MIN: Hunt rifles home wrist shot from point

The goal was the eighth of the season for Hunt, who has already smashed his previous career high in that department. 

Having Hunt return to form makes a huge difference for the Wild. With Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon holding things down on the top pairing, and Matt Dumba seemingly ready to burst back onto the scene with the ever-steady Jonas Brodin, any offense Hunt can provide would allow Boudreau to more evenly disperse his minutes on the blueline.

As the games pile up down the stretch, that can be invaluable.

"It sure gives you all the pairs able to contribute," Boudreau said. "I thought that was one of our problems last year was that with [Greg] Pateryn and [Nick] Seeler there was no offensive point to their game for most of the year. So it was tough just relying on the four guys to get a lot of points."

With Seeler now in Chicago, claimed earlier this week by the Blackhawks off waivers, there is one less person in the battle for ice time. Carson Soucy did not play Thursday because of illness, and did not travel with the team to Dallas, but when he returns, the competition for playing time is expected to heat up once again.

Video: Boudreau postgame vs Vancouver

"I would think so. I would think they all want to play so it would breed good competition," Boudreau said.

Hunt, who has been in that position nearly his entire career, wouldn't expect anything less. 

"Absolutely. It's accountability too. And everyone knows that. It's a great thing to have when you got that depth," Hunt said. "We have so many great players on our team and I think that's good when you have that healthy competition. And we're all in here standing up for each other. Whether we're playing or we're not playing, we're still here for each other and I think that says a lot." 


Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 4, Canucks 2

Video: Power play propels Wild past Canucks

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