It was easy to see from the stands at Xcel Energy Center that Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was ready for this day.
Yeo’s watchful eye surveyed the ice as the players went through drills, stopping practice to explain systems and pull players off to the sideboards for individual, teachable moments.
Although Wild players were allowed to take part in informal ice sessions last week, after both the NHL and NHLPA signed off on the Collective Bargaining Agreement last night, today marked the official opening of training camp around the league and the first day the coaching staffs were allowed on the ice with their players.
Less than a week before the NHL’s opening night on Jan. 19—the Wild hosts the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center—Minnesota’s coaching staff has a lot of work to prepare the team for a 48-game schedule.
With only six days to acclimate the new players on his systems, the Wild’s second-year coach knows the importance of putting in the work during practice. The Wild will log extra time in the film room – even going as far as videotaping and analyzing practice – but nothing in the classroom matches executing the X’s and O’s on the ice.
“Whatever aspect we plan to cover during the practice, we’ll go over that on the board, we’ll go over that in a video," Yeo told the media after practice."Ideally they have as many resources as possible to learn things before they hit the ice. But reading it on a piece of paper, even watching it on a video, it’d different than doing it on the ice.
“We want to make sure we’re getting quality reps.”
The Wild didn’t make many changes to its systems in the offseason, so the returning players were able to jump right in and help acclimate the newcomers – including the Wild’s prized offseason acquisitions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Suter has benefited from last week’s informal ice session skating with returning blueliner Jared Spurgeon, who Yeo affectionately dubbed “The Boy Genius.”
“I’ve been with Shea (Webber) for the last seven years,” Suter said of his former defensive partner with the Nashville Predators. “Being with Spurg is an exciting change and hope we can get that chemistry going.
“He’s teaching me right now; he’s really helping with (learning the systems).”
Parise skated on a line with Wild Captain Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley last week and were together again today. Parise stated that it would be important for his line to stay patient with chemistry and not try to do too much, which can have adverse effects. However, the prospect of the trio becoming the most offensively potent line in the team’s history has fans around the State of Hockey salivating.
“I’m really excited,” Parise said. “We’ve got a lot of potential to be a good line. Now it’s up to us to communicate, to learn about each other, where the other guy likes to go on the ice, and to work. We have to work hard and retrieve pucks. We’ll get some attention from the other team’s top checking line and defenseman and it’s up to us to work hard and give ourselves a good chance out there.”
Along with catching the new players up to speed with the systems and finding working line combinations, the biggest concern for the Wild’s bench boss will be monitoring what he called ‘rest versus rust’ in the first week of camp and into the compacted regular season. To help in the shake some of the game rust, the Houston Aeros, the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, will fly into the State of Hockey tomorrow and the two teams will split up for a ‘controlled scrimmage’ Monday night.
“More than anything else, being able to play the game and compete the way you need to,” would be key heading into the season, Yeo said. “I’ve been very pleased with the conditioning of our guys to this point, but you can workout and do the things all the things you need to in the gym and on the ice in terms of skating.
“Having said that, when you get out on the ice and you start bumping and grinding and start fighting for your space, that’s a conditioning level you haven’t seen in a long time, so getting that back will be real important.”
On “Wild Wednesday” Jan. 16, the team will split with the Aeros and play a full-out game, presented by Andersen Windows. Yeo said that he wants the intra-squad scrimmage to be as game-like as possible and Red versus White will be divided so that the Wild’s top lines will play against each other. FOX Sports North and KFAN 100.3 will broadcast the game live.
The Wild closed its first day of camp with a short bag-skate shootout. Skaters in White and Green sweaters were split on the half-boards and went one-on-one with the goalies. If the player missed, his teammates in like-colored jerseys would have to sprint an over-and-back the width of the rink.
After practice, Yeo stayed and fed passes from the corner to Koivu in the slot. After eight months of preparing for the start of the season, it looked like he didn’t want to come off the ice.
“I knew there was a storm a-brewing,” Yeo laughed. “It was a lot of fun to come to the rink today and start getting ready. Just knowing that we finally get to do this for real.”
The lines from today’s practice:
Parise – Koivu – Heatley
Cullen – Granlund – Setoguchi
Bouchard – Brodziak – Clutterbuck
Mitchell – Konopka – Powe
Kassian – Powell – Palmieri – Veilleux
Suter – Spurgeon
Gilbert – Stoner
Falk – Prosser
Kampfer – Dumba