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Wild Turn To Youngsters Once Again

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

Slightly modifying what Badger Bob Johnson was known for saying, so far, it's been a great day for hockey.

Big Ten Hockey kicked off its inaugural season as Xcel Energy Center played host to the conference’s media day. The arena will also cap the Big Ten season come March as it will also host the conference tournament.

Each coach from the six member schools—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State—along with players met with the media, heralding the same message: this conference is a good thing for hockey, especially given the amount of exposure the schools will receive with the Big Ten Network and other national outlets.

Now if only those of us who are WHCA loyalists could get over it. Although Badgers from all walks of life can all smugly get excited as Wisconsin was pegged the preseason favorite.

Anyways, while everyone in the new conference got acquainted, the Wild skated on the ice below, hours before jetting off to Winnipeg for its second preseason game.

Much like Tuesday the Wild will largely turn to its younger players, despite facing an experienced Jets lineup—which includes former Wild winger Devin Setoguchi. Center Olli Jokinen, wingers Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler along with defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom are all listed to play for Winnipeg tonight as well.

Practice didn’t exactly start the way bench boss Mike Yeo was expecting and he soon laid into them. After looking flat Tuesday and with a tough matchup against an experienced Jets roster, the early mental mistakes weren’t welcomed warmly on game day. Or as Yeo later said, “you can’t have that.”

Yeo said the match up will pose a great test for many of the skaters facing that veteran lineup, but it’s also an opportunity to show just how deserving they might be of a roster spot.

One such player the Wild are sure to monitor once again is Justin Fontaine. The former UMD Bulldog played Tuesday and despite some nerves, Yeo said he showed a strong effort coming out of the zone and helped create some scoring opportunities. But the head coach said he is looking for Fontaine to make decisions a little bit quicker at this level.

Notable debuts tonight include defenseman Steven Kampfer and forward Erik Haula. Haula, a center normally, skated for the Gophers last season and, like Fontaine, Yeo hopes to see some quick decision-making on his part, especially when making the jump from college to the pros.

Both Haula and Kampfer admitted to some pregame nervous excitement, but are looking forward to finally getting in a game. You can check out what they had to say here. Once again, Yeo noted that he isn’t rushing any decisions on any one through camp.

Similar to Tuesday, centermen Kyle Brodziak, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund will once again hold things down up the middle as Coyle and Granlund continue to duke it out for the No. 2 center spot. Tonight Coyle will most likely center Dany Heatley and Fontaine, while Granlund will likely work with Haula and Nino Niederreiter.

Meanwhile Josh Harding will get the nod in net. The netminder sported a new mask to go with his new pads and of course the new white-hot road sweaters.

Fans can follow all the action tonight on Twitter @mnwildLIVE or listen to 100.3 FM The Fan, or both. The game will also stream online on

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