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Vets, Youngsters Seek to Make Impression vs. Colorado

Preseason games serve as Boudreau's best litmus test

by Phil Ervin /

Bruce Boudreau didn't hesitate before calling timeout during the waning moments of Monday night's preseason opener against Buffalo at Penn State University's Pegula Ice Arena.

This was a preseason game, yes, but also an opportunity to work on a 4-on-3 power play - something the Wild hadn't touched since opening training camp Friday. Assistant coach John Anderson drew up a simple set play, and some crisscross passing led to a Jason Zucker goal from the doorstep at 19:55 of the third period for a 2-1 victory.

"It was just giving them the way to set up and what we want to do," Boudreau said. "They did it to a 'T,' and they ended up scoring a goal."

It's also an indicator, players say, of the competitive fire Boudreau brings in his first year at the helm. Practice slapstick quickly gives way to a game face he hopes his team will embody.

"We've been working out for a while and he's been pretty happy and giving us good jokes in the locker room," said winger Kurtis Gabriel, "but now you see his fiery side coming out."

Gabriel is one of several youngsters vying for final roster spots. Training camp is their chance to make an impression, especially on a staff that's still familiarizing itself.

Boudreau's first chance to work with Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula came Monday, too, when all five had their first practice since returning from the World Cup. That group likely won't play a preseason game till Thursday in Winnipeg at the earliest.

"You can learn a lot" in preseason games as opposed to practice, Boudreau said. "You see character, what they're willing to do to make the team, what first impressions they want to make."

The next opportunity to jell comes Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center in a 7 p.m. clash with Colorado that can be streamed on FOX Sports Go and heard on KFAN 100.3. 

Like Monday, Tuesday's lineup will feature a mix of established veterans and training-camp prospects. Free-agent signee Eric Staal will make his Wild debut, and youngsters Christian Folin, Zac Dalpe, Gustav Bouramman, Marc Hagel, Zach Palmquist, Joel Eriksson Ek, Brady Bassart and Colton Beck will all get their first game action of this young preseason.

The full lineup will be announced Tuesday. Those who don't play against the Avalanche will practice at Xcel Energy Center in the morning.

Minnesota meets Colorado, a team it's used to facing with plenty on the line, whether it's playoff position or the chance to advance in the postseason. Not quite as much is at stake Tuesday - at least from a team perspective.

But there's no better way to impress a new coach than to execute what he's been preaching since Day 1.

"Honestly, I think those carry more weight than anything," Zucker said of preseason contests. "Practices are important. It's important to work hard and get better every day, but if you're out here working hard and battling in games, that's going to have the most impact."

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