After a day of team building in the warm California sun, the Minnesota Wild reconvened in Orange Country at the Anaheim Ducks’ practice facility before taking on reigning Pacific Division champs tomorrow night.
Yesterday, the club was in Newport Beach for a team off-ice work out followed by a bonding golf excursion. Anyone who’s ever played 18 knows its one of the best way to create a rapport with your buds. The Lighthouse’s invite must’ve gotten lost in the mail (or didn’t want us hacking up the nice fairways and greens), but it was a good way for the team to refocus with so many days off between games.
“We knew that we wouldn’t be able to practice hard for four days,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “The idea was that we’d take a step back yesterday and let the players spend some time together and have some fun.
“Mentally, back off a little and we had a good hard practice today.”
Defensemen Keith Ballard said that they tried to separate the team’s newer members on the links so that they could get to know each other a little better. He also said it’s a good way for guys to just hang out—something that they don’t get to do much of once the season starts.
“It’s fun to get the guys together and spend time that generally when you’re at home you don’t get to do,” Ballard said.
Ballard will make his season debut tomorrow and be paired with Matt Dumba. Also expected to make his season debut is forward Justin Fontaine. Today he was skating on a line with Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek. The trio played together in the preseason against the Pittsburgh Penguins and played pretty well together, getting number of good chances in the road contest. Fontaine then missed a large chunk of training camp and the team's first two games with a lower-body injury. He knows what kind of test the team is in for this weekend against two tough Pacific Division opponents, the Ducks tomorrow and defending Stanley Cup Champion, Los Angeles Kings, on Sunday.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge," Fontaine said. "See where we're at, we've been playing some pretty good hockey. Coming in against two good teams, starting tomorrow. It will be a good test."
Walk The Line
Ballard and Fontaine are expected to be in tomorrow. Yeo didn't say what the rest of the lineup would look like, but Ryan Carter centered the fourth line for a majority of today's practice, with Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke rotating on the wing:
Following a series of flow drills and odd-man rush chances, the team went into a hotly contested power play practice. The club was unable to convert on the man advantage in its home-and-home series sweep of the Colorado Avalanche.
The team continued to utilize 1A and 1B approach with the units. With the Wild’s depth, it's hard to decide which group is A and B, and it looks like this will be the case all season. The first combination was Suter–Spurgeon–Vanek–Koivu with Niederreiter and Fontaine swapping spots along the boards. The other unit consisted of Brodin–Dumba–Granlund–Parise–Pominville.
The club worked on 5-on-3 power plays as well. Judging by today’s practice, it looks like a Parise–Vanek–Koivu–Pominville–Suter unit will get the majority of chances on any two-man advantages the Wild may gain.
Kuemper Climbing Fantasy
The Lighthouse isn’t big into Fantasy Hockey (we prefer the real thing), but NHL.com has been tracking player’s fantasy value this season. After starting the season with back-to-back shutouts and earning the NHL’s Second Star, Darcy Kuemper is No. 1 on the website’s Trending Upward list. Check out the story and complete rankings, here.
Our friends at Minnesota Hockey are once again taking submissions for its Hockey Education Program Essay Contest. The annual tradition encourages players to express their thoughts on what makes youth hockey a fun and positive environment.
This year, registered Minnesota Hockey participants are encouraged to enter the contest by completing the following: “My parents support my love of hockey by…”
The top three essays, as selected by the HEP Committee will be featured during the Fox Sports North broadcast of Hockey Day Minnesota on January 17, 2015. They will also be featured in Let’s Play Hockey magazine and have an opportunity to attend a Minnesota Wild home game this season. The contest winner will be randomly selected among the three finalists and will receive a “dream day” experience on a Minnesota Wild gameday during the 2015-16 season.
Send submissions to:
Attn: HEP Essay Contest
317 Washington Street
Saint Paul, MN 55102