There were some familiar sights, like a bus full of rookies being dropped off at the rink prior to practice. The familiar faces of local beat writers and multimedia personalities were in attendance. And, as usual, the team held a scrimmage on the first day involving veterans and rookies.
After the first hour was spent with the 42 players split up for practice on two separate ice sheets, the teams were brought back out for the scrimmage.
Perhaps it was the lack of hockey being played in the area recently, but this certainly looked like a fast-paced game, and everyone in attendance agreed, including Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire.
In the scrimmage, Team Green picked up a 4-2 win on goals by Nick Schultz, Joey Tetarenko, Brian Rolston and Pascal Dupuis. Dupuis’ goal came on a penalty shot. Rolston’s tally was easily the prettiest of the day, and was set up by a beautiful lead pass inside the offensive zone from Todd White. Rolston smoked the one-timer past Manny Fernandez in what proved to be the game-winner.
Scoring for Team White was Mattias Weinhandl (on a penalty shot) and Wyatt Smith, who batted a puck out of the air just above the head of Josh Harding, but just under the benchmark crossbar.
Jacques Lemaire watched Friday’s action from the stands, and to put it mildly, he was pleased with what he saw. Never before has the Opening Night roster had so few question marks, and that is due mostly to the amount of talent on the ice at Parade Ice Garden today.
“The guys seem really excited to be here,” said Lemaire. “And you could see it because guys were skating hard and there was a lot of talent out there, a lot of speed, a lot of finesse.”
Of course, Lemaire always has an analogy he likes to throw out there when talking about his team, and when talking about how excited the players are for this season, he sure enough had a comparison.
“Sometimes, it’s like the first day of school because you’re so excited to be back,” he said before pausing. “On the second day, you want to stay home.”
“But I think guys are excited to be here and I could see out there that they were into it.”
Lemaire is not worried about players taking it easy just because most of the jobs seem to be taken.
“If a guy shows he can play, we’ll play him,” he said. “So I don’t think guys are comfortable unless you’re someone like Gaborik who has shown over the years what he can do.”
People who know Lemaire know that Wild line combinations are in a constant state of fluidity and the head coach assured today’s gathering of media that it won’t change this year.
“You know me,” he explained. “Since I’ve been here, we change lines all the time, and it won’t be any different. If a line goes well, I won’t change it. Only if it’s going well.”
Each team in today’s scrimmage had four lines of forwards and three sets of defensemen. Team Green had seven defensemen, so there were different pairings sent out.
For Team White: Pavol Demitra centered Marian Gaborik and another Slovakian, Peter Olvecky; Mikko Koivu centered Mark Parrish and Mattias Weinhandl; Wyatt Smith centered Roman Voloshenko and Branko Radivojevic; Jason Morgan centered Danny Irmen and Derek Boogaard.
Defensive pairings were: Kim Johnsson and Kurtis Foster, Erik Reitz and Martin Skoula and Mike Madill and A.J. Thelen.
Manny Fernandez played the duration in goal for Team White.
For Team Green: As expected, Todd White centered Brian Rolston and Pierre-Marc Bouchard; Wes Walz centered Stephane Veilleux and Pascal Dupuis, James Sheppard centered Benoit Pouliot and Cal Clutterbuck; Bryan Lundbohm centered Joey Tetarenko, Joel Ward and Ben Thomson.
Defensive pairings for the most part were: Keith Carney and Brent Burns, Nick Schultz and Petteri Nummelin, and Shawn Belle with Paul Albers and Peter Ratchuk.
Josh Harding started in goal for Team White and split time with Niklas Backstrom.
Big Camp For Burns
A lot of attention will be given to the Wild’s new faces early on this year, and for good reason. But one player who could make a significant impact this year is Brent Burns, who Lemaire says is due to take on a more significant role.
“There are spots out there for guys like him,” said Lemaire. “We need a steady defenseman to play against top lines. We need guys to play the penalty kill.”
The defenseman-turned-forward-turned-defenseman is comfortable in his third year and eager to show he’s ready for an expanded role on the blueline.
“For sure, I want to show them that I feel comfortable out there and they don’t have to worry about me out there against the big, strong guys.”
Burns took his offseason seriously this year, staying in Minnesota for the bulk of the summer, and introducing cycling into his offseason training regimen, which also included intense workouts with Wild Strength and Conditioning Coach, Kirk Olson.
“Kirky is one of the best trainers around. The biking has really helped me in my legs; I can feel them getting much stronger. Everybody has stuff they do in the summer like Bouchard golfs and Willie Mitchell used to always fish. I like cycling and it helps with hockey.”
Both Burns and Lemaire feel that the acquisition of Keith Carney could be great for the young Dmen including Burns, Nick Schultz and Kurtis Foster.
“He’s got a lot of experience, and I haven’t talked to him a lot, but he seems like a great team guy,” said Lemaire. “It’s good to have someone like that to provide that veteran presence.”
“It almost doesn’t look like he’s working hard out there, he’s just so smart. He’s patient and that comes with experience and watching him do that really helps.”
| Marian Gaborik took a stray puck to the upper body on Friday, but shook it off quickly. |
The Wild nearly saw what it felt like to be the Minnesota Twins watching Francisco Liriano slump off the mound after throwing a third inning pitch to Bobby Kielty. Marian Gaborik, while tagging up in the offensive zone, was tagged in the chest by a dump-in slapper of the stick of Martin Skoula.
Gaborik went down as teammates rushed to his side to make sure he wasn’t hit in the face. The sighs of relief were audible skated off to the bench and was fine.
Lemaire said he wasn’t worried. “He’s strong this year,” he joked. “And he’s got a lot of padding.”
Gaborik assured the media after practice that he was fine.
"It happens, you know?" he said.
Three players did not suit up for camp on Friday, including Clayton Stoner (shoulder), Riley Emmerson (back) and Matt Foy (hernia surgery). Gaborik was unaffected by the shot off his chest. Danny Irmen was heavily iced on his leg following the skate. Irmen suffered a severe charley horse in a game at this past week’s Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
In Enemy Territory
| Tony Quesada is back in Minnesota, the state he shocked last March. |
Tony Quesada was thrilled to be in enemy territory on Friday. Minnesota Gopher fans remember Quesada for putting forth one of the most memorable performances in NCAA history last March, when he led the Holy Cross Crusaders to a miracle upset of the Gophers in the first round of the NCAA tournament with a sparkling 35 save performance.
This past offseason, Quesada signed on with the Houston Aeros, but was just recently invited to the Wild’s training camp as the fourth goalie, joining Manny Fernandez, Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom.
“My whole family from my mom’s side is from Minnesota,” said Quesada. “I always dreamed of playing for the Gophers, and when that didn’t work out, I made the best of the situation.”
Quesada suited up for the practice, but was in the stands during the team scrimmage. Ironically, another face in the stands was a surprise visitor, Don Lucia, the head coach of the Gopher team that Quesada eliminated.
“I’m trying to keep a low profile,” said Quesada, who could very well team with another Gopher, Danny Irmen, if both end up on the Houston Aeros roster. “I’ve got to make some more friends around here before I can approach (the Gophers).”
One of those friends could be former Fighting Sioux and current Houston Aero, Bryan Lundbohm. Needless to say, Quesada and his Crusader teammates became overnight celebrities in Grand Forks the night of the upset heard round the hockey world.
“The North Dakota fans were great to us, because we obviously helped them out,” he said laughing. “When we got back to Holy Cross, we sold about 300 jerseys to fans in North Dakota who are going to where them to the next Gopher-Sioux game.”
Kim Johnsson is getting a new start with a new team this year. So maybe now, the former Flyer will start having his name pronounced correctly. Since he was acquired, he has been referred to as Kim “Yawn-son.” In actuality, his last name is pronounced “Yoonson.”
Apparently, he’s used to hearing his name pronounced as “Johnson” as in, “Erik Johnson.” When asked to say his name for a radio voiceover, that’s how he pronounced it.
“Sometimes, it’s just easier to say ‘Johnson’,” he said. “But it is, ‘Yoonson.’”
Danny Irmen and Schultz have both agreed to contribute player blogs to Wild.com during training camp.