The Minnesota Wild will play in its final game before the Olympic break tomorrow, hosting the Nashville Predators at Xcel Energy Center.
“I don’t want to take it until after tomorrow’s game,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo joked about the break after the team’s practice. Well, he was probably serious, but it got a good laugh from the swarm of media in the scrum.
A player who hasn’t been joking around with his play on the ice and has been instrumental in the team’s recent run leading into the break is goaltender Darcy Kuemper. The netminder has helped lift the Wild to seventh place in the Western Conference and earned his seventh win of the season in a 34-save performance last night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was another impressive win for the 23-year-old, rebounding against one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams after giving up consecutive four-goal games.
“It’s been a great opportunity and a blast,” Kuemper said. “It’s been a huge stretch for us in the playoff picture and the wildcard race. We’ve gained some ground and we’ve got to keep that going and finish off strong tomorrow.”
If a goaltender is hot, the maxim is to stick with him until he’s not. Kuemper won’t be reassigned to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, Iowa, during the break. The time off might mess with a young players’ mojo, but Kuemper sees it both ways.
“When you’re on a roll, you want to keep going,” Kuemper acknowledged. “That being said, if you use it the right way it can be a benefit. It’s a chance to refresh and relax the brain take that time so you can be sharp down the stretch here.”
Of course, Kuemper wasn’t expecting to have two weeks off in the middle of the season, so he’s trying to quickly make plans. The netminder said that he wouldn’t mind going somewhere warm, but would likely go home and visit his parents. Upon his return and after the break, he wants to keep proving himself.
“My goal, at the start was to prove I could play at this level,” Kuemper added. “You can’t control when you’ll get that opportunity, but I wanted to be sure I’d be ready when I got it.”
Marco Scandella suffered a sprained knee yesterday when he went down awkwardly after colliding with Tampa’s Tyler Johnson and will not play tomorrow against Nashville. Yeo said that he is hopeful Scandella will be ready to return after the break when the regular-season resumes. With the 23-year-old playing at such a high level before the injury, it’s a tough loss for the Wild, but could be considered a blessing with the timing of the Olympic break.
“The positive is the timing of it,” Yeo said. “Hopefully he doesn’t miss anything (after the break).”
“He’s had a really strong season for us and, obviously, a very valuable piece coming out of that break,” Yeo added. “We’re going to need him.”
Blue Line Changes
With Scandella out, the blue line is down to six defensemen and we saw some different pairings at today’s practice. Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon looked good when they were on the ice together yesterday and were paired together. Jonas Brodin skated with Nate Prosser in the second lefty-righty duo. Clayton Stoner, who was yesterday’s healthy scratch, skated with Keith Ballard. The pair was together for much of the month when Spurgeon was on Injured Reserve. If you missed it earlier today, Wild.com posted a feature story on Ballard and his journey from a small-town rink rat in Baudette to signing with the Wild during the summer.
Wild Acquires Gogol
The Wild acquired right wing Curt Gogol from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Chad Rau. Gogol, 22, has totaled four points (3-1=4) and 149 penalty minutes in 40 games with the Worcester Sharks (AHL) this season, ranking seventh amongst all American Hockey League players in PIM. The number that sticks out immediately is the PIMs. So a quick Google-search wormhole led me to his hockeyfights.com page, which is pretty telling. Gogol has tussled with some pretty tough customers and one could quickly misplace a good amount of time watching his YouTube fight clips, if hockey fights are your thing.
Veiluex Placed on Waivers
The Wild placed Stephane Veilleux on waivers with the purpose of reassigning him to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. If he clears, he’ll be reassigned tomorrow for the Olympic break.
Parise’s Becoming Wild
After yesterday’s win, FOX Sports North aired the fifth episode of Becoming Wild, presented by Toyota, featuring forward Zach Parise. If you missed it or just want to see it again and again and again, you can head over to Wild.com Becoming Wild page and check it out.
The Becoming Wild crew was shooting another webisode yesterday, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. However, I’m told that it’s going to be entertaining, with a couple of younger players learning an Olympic sport…
Speaking of the Olympics
Wild.com will have an Olympics page for all your Wild-related coverage in Sochi. Digital Media Coordinator Kelly Erickson was asking players about their plans to watch the Games and their favorite events, so be on the lookout for that WildTV video next week.
The 10 finalists for the 30th annual Mr. Hockey Award came out today, among them is Wild prospect Avery Peterson. Check out the full list, here.
You might’ve noticed the creative Polar Vortex splash page up on Wild.com right now. Well, it’s not just up there as a beautiful piece of digital art. The Wild will wear its white road sweaters at home and all fans in attendance will get a white T-shirt and we want to you wear it during the contest to make blizzard-like conditions for our southern visitors from Smashville.