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Practice Intensity Picks Up With Playoffs Nearing

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

As Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu battled hard in the corner with the puck along the boards, a lady next to me muttered in a thick Minnesotan accent worthy of a role in “Fargo,” “Oh, they’re getting rough.”

Though the phrase was said with a tone of concern only parents have seemed to master, she was completely correct. The fans who took in the Wild’s practice at Braemar Ice Arena Saturday were given an energetic, fast-paced show.

The Wild has one final game in the regular season — Sunday against Nashville — though Head Coach Mike Yeo has already started to focus practice on getting ready for the playoffs next week. The plan, simply, is to make sure the Wild keeps up its game.

“I just want to keep using every moment, even tomorrow’s pregame skate, as an opportunity and just keep getting ready here,” Yeo said.

While the field is complete, the seedings aren’t. Prior to any games tonight, the Wild could face the Blues, the Avalanche or the Ducks in the first round. Yeo noted that if they knew their opponent already, they could start trying to simulate things in practice and be more specific with adjustments, but for now, they’ll have to wait.

“I think it’s real important that we stay strong with the core of our game, but we also have to make some adjustments and prepare to make sure that we’re ready against the opponent that we’re playing,” Yeo said. “This was a good practice, focusing on ourselves. We want to make sure that our game is strong.”

Stoner Expected To Play Sunday

On an encouraging note on the injury front, Clayton Stoner is expected to step back in on the blue line Sunday.

The defenseman has been out of the lineup since sustaining a lower-body injury March 22 against the Red Wings, missing ten games. At the time, Yeo said Stoner was week-to-week and it seemed uncertain if he would be back prior to the playoffs.

“He’s ahead of schedule here, but I think he looks really good,” Yeo said. “We’ll give him a chance to get in and play a game before the playoffs start to get him comfortable and for us to see where he’s at as well.”

Today, Stoner was paired with Nate Prosser, while Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella were reunited. Jon Blum and Christian Folin were paired up, while the top pairing stayed a typical Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon duo.

Yeo noted that Stoner’s grit and physicality will be a nice asset during the playoffs.

“If you can have a guy who is a physical presence along the boards and in front of the net, then that’s a nice element to have,” Yeo said.

Granlund Skates

Another sight for injury-sore eyes at practice today was Mikael Granlund. Though he skated today with the team for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury during March 31’s tilt with the Kings, he will not be in the lineup tomorrow.

“He looked pretty good, didn’t he?” Yeo asked the media scrum.

“He’s trying to accelerate things in a hurry. He wants to get back into the lineup. He looks good, but obviously we’ll be smart with this too.”

Yeo said today was good for Granlund, but the center was limited with little contact. The hope is he’ll get into more battle drills and full contact next week.

Granlund himself said he felt good and it was nice to be back with the team.

On Rupp’s Suspension

Yeo wanted to choose his words carefully when asked about Mike Rupp’s four-game suspension for his hit on TJ Oshie Thrusday night.

To put it succinctly, he thought that it was “a lot.”

The suspension and fine are the first of Rupp’s career.

"You have things you want to be remembered for when you leave the game," Rupp said. "One thing is the respect of your teammates. I think the respect of your teammates will far outweigh any goals, any accomplishments on the ice. There's that and you want to known as a guy that plays the game the right way. I think that even on our call in talking to the League, they made note of saying that a guy that has been in the league as long as I have, in the role that I have, it's unheard of that I haven't had (a suspension). Nothing's been of question with my career. I don't like that there's questions of marking a player or head hunting. That's never been the case for me."

Rupp said the hit was simply one that got away from him and was unfortunate due to his and Oshie's differing sizes. The forward did say he's glad to hear Oshie is doing well and that's what's really important. 

Dowell Earns AHL’s Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award

Yesterday the American Hockey League announced that forward Jake Dowell has been named this season’s winner of the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award. The honor is given the to AHL player who best exemplifies sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey.

Dowell has spent much of the season with the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild and has served as its captain. The release notes that Dowell played and captained Iowa all while dealing with personal tragedy. His father, John, passed away in February after a long battle with Huntington’s disease, a debilitating genetic neurological disorder which also affects his older brother, Luke. The Eau Claire, Wis. native appeared in 54 games for Iowa and one in his current call-up with Minnesota.

Coaches, players and media members in each AHL city voted on the award.

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