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Wild gets back a couple of injured players as it returns to practice

It wasn't a full roster on the ice, but any return to action a positive sign as Minnesota aims to play Tuesday in Los Angeles

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Wild was back on the ice for practice at Xcel Energy Center on Friday.

That sentence alone is a good start for a hockey club that has been sidelined for more than a week as it has tried to slow an outbreak of COVID-19. Slowly, as this week progressed the steady trickle of names being added stopped, and on Thursday, some more good news. Marcus Foligno, the first name added to the Wild's COVID-19 protocol list 11 days ago, was removed. 

The hope is that over the next several days, the names that followed him onto that list will also follow him off, and the Wild will be able to get back into action on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, exactly two weeks since its last game, a 2-1 loss in Colorado on Feb. 2.

Minnesota has had six games postponed in the two weeks between that game in Denver and the scheduled matchup with the Kings on Tuesday at Staples Center. At some point, the NHL is expected to release a revised Wild schedule, which will make an already challenging and compacted slate even more so. 

But after two weeks without playing a single game, Wild General Manager Bill Guerin says the team won't complain about it.

"I'm expecting to play Tuesday in L.A.," said Wild General Manager Bill Guerin. "For the reshuffling, we'll just take what they give us. And, we know it's extremely difficult. I just think right now, it's one of those things that we just really have to take it in stride. It probably won't be perfect, but it won't be that bad either. 

"The good thing is that we've turned the corner and things are looking good for us moving forward, and players are getting healthy. And that's the important thing right now."

Video: Bill Guerin Friday media update

The Wild had 14 skaters and two goaltenders on the ice on Friday, clearly not enough to play in a game right now. But the NHL has provided the team with some time before its next game, and Minnesota will practice four times before hopping on a plane to Southern California on Monday afternoon.

Those four days exceeds the total number of practice days the team had before it's two-week shutdown. 

The hope is that over the course of those days, more and more guys will join the mix, get a couple of skates under their belts and get some puck touches. 

"We didn't do a whole lot but yet we still tried to do hockey stuff. We still did at the start our half-ice breakouts. We did some stick on puck stuff. We ended with a little bit of a battle with a 2-on-2 little mini stick on puck game at the end there," said Wild coach Dean Evason. "We definitely tried to incorporate some hockey. Some of it out I think we were just out there doing skill stuff individually, so we worked on some things we thought we needed to address and we'll continue to do that going forward here over the next four days."

Among the skaters on the ice for the Wild on Friday were Foligno, the first member of the club to be added to the COVID-19 protocol list on Jan. 31. 

Foligno said he had flu-like symptoms for a handful of days, which eventually turned into what he described as a head cold. After about a week, he said he was starting to feel a little better, but then it was simply a waiting game. 

"I felt really guilty. It's kind of like you brought it in here," Foligno said of how he felt as he saw more teammates join him on the COVID list. "You never want to be the first one or just in general get it. It's a guilty feeling, which is weird because you shouldn't feel guilty. But that's just how it is, and when you're the first one everyone kind of sees your name pop up first and then the domino effect throughout the team after that that kind of goes. 

"But whether guys had symptoms or didn't show positive until later after I did, it is what it is, but like I said, we're playing through a pandemic. These things are going to happen. But the positive out of this is that everyone hopefully is healed up pretty soon and we can get our full team back and have a good rest of the season."

And while the Wild would have preferred to avoid COVID at all costs, the two-week lull in the schedule did allow for a couple of injured players to mend their ailments.

Defenseman Matt Dumba skated on Friday and looked good after he sustained what looked like an ugly lower-body injury on Jan. 30 where his leg got tangled with teammate Jordan Greenway and he fell to the ice awkwardly. 

The injury initially looked like it could be significant, but it appears Dumba avoided catastrophe, and if he plays Tuesday night in Los Angeles -- which he said he expects to do -- he will have missed a grand total of just two games. 

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"It was honestly good to have a little time off and rest the ankle and let everything heal up. I feel like I'm ready now," Dumba said. "Any injury, initially you're in so much pain. I heard a pop and you get scared of what it might be. But I got lucky and it wasn't as bad as we thought. We took all the right steps to make sure I'm feeling good today and there's no real issues with it now."

Forward Mats Zuccarello also joined the group for his first practice of the season after having surgery on his right arm back in November.

Zuccarello said he spent several weeks in a cast but was seen on the ice skating a couple of times on his own during the team's training camp in early January. 

He was expected to take the next step in his rehab two weeks ago when the team went on hiatus and saw both TRIA Rink and Xcel Energy Center completely shut down. 

Friday's practice marked the first time Zuccarello participated in a "full" practice, with pucks and shooting in addition to skating. 

"It felt good to be on the ice, it's been a long time, frustrating times, obviously. Which has been for everyone. But it was nice to get out there and feel the puck a little bit," Zuccarello said. "I think every time you're injured, you want to come back as quick as possible, COVID or not, as soon as you get cleared or the green light, you want to get into it as quick as possible. Obviously, it's got nothing to do with the situation, it's just a mindset that everyone has."

Zuccarello said the surgery stemmed from an injury he sustained in his first game as a Dallas Star on Feb. 24, 2019 following a midseason trade from the New York Rangers. 

He missed a month and a half of action, returning during the final week of the regular season to play in one game, then in all 13 playoff games the Stars played in.

Zuccarello signed with the Wild that summer and said he played through pain for the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign, including the team's return to play in the Edmonton bubble last August. 

"It's been real frustrating. You never want to miss out on skating and working out and stuff like that. But sometimes it's necessary to take care of something that's been there for awhile," Zuccarello said. "Obviously, you don't want to go through injuries and stuff like that, so it's frustrating but it's part of the game. 

"I think it more personally [stinks] that you can't do anything. You feel ... not a part of the team and stuff like that, since you're not skating, you're not practicing with them, it's hard to really hang around them. I think it's more frustrating for that point."

Whether Zuccarello plays on Tuesday is up to the coaching staff. He acknowledged that he's not yet 100 percent, but that the only way to get there will be to get back into game shape, a condition that comes only with playing games. 

Evason didn't rule him out either.

"It'll be a communication with him," Evason said. "He did look good today, but going forward we'll communicate with him. If he's ready to go, we'll put him in."

Players that remain on the Wild's COVID-19 protocol list as of the end of practice Friday include forwards Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Johansson, Nico Sturm and Victor Rask, defensemen Jared Spurgeon, Ian Cole, Brad Hunt, Carson Soucy and Jonas Brodin, and goaltender Cam Talbot.

With that many guys still away from the team, how does Guerin expect to get enough back for Tuesday night's game?

"Slowly. Hopefully, we'll be getting guys back incrementally," Guerin said. "It's kinda as they were diagnosed. That's day by day, like there was one or two or three, kind of every day, that's kind of how they're going to come back because it's all on the timing side of it."

If it comes along slower than expected, Evason said the Wild will deal with it accordingly.

"We talked from Day 1 whoever you're playing with it doesn't matter. That you're playing with a teammate, you're playing with a Minnesota Wild player," Evason said. "We don't talk about No.1 line or first pair defense units. Literally everybody is playing with everybody pretty much at the start of the season and now we have an opportunity to see some other people play with other people and in different spots. 

"I think if you turn something like this into a positive situation and your group takes it on like that, we're going to put ourselves in a better spot not only right away but certainly down the road that we'll be in a position where we can be flexible and we can adjust on the fly and the guys have done a good job up to this point and we don't expect them to do anything different going forward."

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