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Practice Update: Zidlicky Returns

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild
It was a mostly clean-shaven group out on the Xcel Energy Center ice today as the Minnesota Wild prepared to take on the Nashville Predators tomorrow night. With their fresh faces, the players looked like a bunch of grade schoolers at recess, minus the screaming girls and the overbearing playground monitor. Even Owen Nolan passed for someone who wasn't alive for the pre-goalie mask era.

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Some guys are still sporting the upper lip caterpillars including: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, James Sheppard, Kyle Brodziak and Josh Harding. Perhaps they were inspired by the Tribute Video to the Minnesota Mo-Bros and hearing Christina Aguilera reassure them that they are beautiful inside and out, "no matter what they say."

Brodziak said he hadn't decided if he would keep his 'stache. Aside from his drinks sticking to the fur, and the fact that his wife hates it, he said he kind of likes having it.

Shane Hnidy was back at practice after tending to a personal issue yesterday, and Marek Zidlicky returned from a lower body injury. However, Kim Johnsson is still ill, although there is no word of whether or not he acquired H1N1 as Antti Miettinen did last week.

Expect a call up of Jaime Sifers sometime later tonight as insurance.  Personally, I'm excited for Sifers' return. He was outstanding on Saturday night in Denver, and I just don't think you can have enough guys on your team who are willing to spell their name "Jaime."

Speaking of defensemen, Nick Schultz is about as friendly as any player that has set foot in the Wild locker room this side of Darby Hendrickson, but he's a fierce competitor on the ice. Schultz has had his share of battles in practices with teammates this year. He's already gotten into some mini-confrontations with Derek Boogaard and Cal Clutterbuck earlier in the season, and today he had a run-in with Mikko Koivu. When I say "mini-confrontation" I don't mean any punches or facewashes. It more involves the one guy taking exception to a hard hit and responding accordingly with one of his own. And let's be clear, this was not a case of bad blood, but simply two players battling hard during a drill.

There was a large media gathering at practice today. In fact, it was probably the biggest of the season thus far. The story being bantered about among the media horde was "What was Keith Ballard thinking last night?" As you've probably heard and/or seen, Ballard attempted to slam his stick against the goal post, but whacked his own goaltender in the neck.

What was most odd was Ballard's reaction. After hitting Vokoun, he swung his stick again and broke it over the post. What if the broken piece had flown back and hit Vokoun a second time? Then, he skated to the bench and stayed there while half his team was on the ice at one point or another to check on Vokoun. Even Ilya Kovalchuk was over to check on the Panthers netminder.

Then, Ballard pulled a Tiger Woods and avoided comment. It's almost as if he wanted to be told what to say before he said anything. Just a bizarre incident. I shudder at what might have happened to Ballard had Manny Fernandez been in goal. Fernandez would still be chasing him around Philips Arena.

A couple other housecleaning items: Wild video coordinator Travis Brillowski has churned out the Top Five Goals From November for Wild TV. And Cal Clutterbuck will be the featured guest on Kent Hrbek Outdoors, which airs tonight at 6:30.
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