Growing up in Finland, brothers Mikael and Markus Granlund had a spirited sibling rivalry, be it on the ice or in a fun summer round of bocce ball. If you watched Mikael’s Becoming Wild episode this season, you saw the brothers fiercely competing in a simple game of posts. Tonight, that competition will carry over to the highest level of the sport, with the brothers meeting for the second time in the National Hockey League, as Mikael’s Wild hosts Markus’ Calgary Flames at Xcel Energy Center.
In the BW episode, Markus won and Mikael had the chore of picking the pucks off the ice. However, in their first NHL meeting on March 3, 2014 last season, Mikael had bragging rights, leading Minnesota to a 3-2 victory with two assists.
“We’re only one year [apart],” Mikael said. “We played against each other a lot growing up and just doing everything together; there has always been that little rivalry.”
Markus has been shuttled back and forth between Calgary and its American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford this season. Although there is a friendly competition, brotherly love wins in the end. Big brother keeps a watchful eye on his younger kin.
“I think he’s been good this year even though he’s been up and down,” Mikael said. “He’s doing his job there and I’m doing mine here, but I’m happy he’s up again.
“That’s a big part of the business here, you’re up and down — especially as a young player you just need to battle through it.”
In handling the balance of family and competitors, Mikael just needs to look a few stalls down as an example. Wild captain Mikko Koivu faced his older brother, Saku, for years in the NHL. Koivu didn’t much like to talk about playing against his brother, though the conversations with media members always drifted in that direction.
“I kind of feel the same,” Mikael said about opining on his brother’s career. “He has his own thing there and I don’t want to feel like I’m putting any pressure on him. We’re doing our own things and just playing hockey.
“He knows why he’s there and what he needs to do, so I think it’s better just to let him be and do his own thing.”
Although older, Mikael said his brother has a slight size advantage, but both play skilled offensive games.
“He’s one year younger and a little bit taller, but we play similar games,” Granlund said. “He’s a little bit more of a shooter, but he’s a skilled player.”
Marcus was drafted by the Flames in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, which coincidentally, was hosted in Minnesota the year after the Wild picked Mikael.
“It was cool,” Mikael said. “That was fun; a memorable thing for the whole family.”
The family will make more memories tonight with both teams fighting for a spot in the postseason.
Back-to-Back Playoff Implications
Tonight the Wild kicks off a five-game homestand with a back-to-back against two Pacific Division clubs fighting for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The upstart Flames are looking to dethrone the Los Angeles Kings, tomorrow night’s opponent, but trail in the Pacific by a single point. Calgary is three points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the final wild card spot and trails Minnesota by four.
“They’re not here by accident right now,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “I know that’s a feel-good story for a lot of people, but that’s a good hockey team. You look at what they’ve done this year, how they’ve done it too — I think they have a lot more skill than people give them credit for. They’re one of the higher scoring teams in the league and very dangerous.”
This is the third back-to-back matchup for the Wild in the month of March. However, the first and only two-game set at home. Earlier this week, the Wild went on the road and took games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders on consecutive nights.
“It’s similar to what we asked on the road,” Yeo said. “Quite often that first game is different, in so many ways obviously, than playing the second part of a back-to-back. But quite often equally as challenging in that sometimes you’ve got one eye on that second game. We cannot afford that right now. We have to make sure we’re ready to go all into this game.
“Tomorrow, that will be there for us when we arrive there, but we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to get through this one first.”
The Wild will keep the same lineup it used in Long Island on Tuesday, which means Ryan Carter will have at least one more day before coming back from an upper-body injury suffered on Feb. 9. He’s missed 22 games and Yeo said he didn’t want to put the forward in with back-to-back contests.
“Part of it is the job that the guys in the lineup have been doing,” Yeo said. “I don’t think having one more day is going to hurt him and I wasn’t real keen about throwing him into back-to-back games coming off the time that he’s missed.”
Yeo added that defenseman Nate Prosser (lower body) skated this morning and said he’s progressing. The team’s bench boss doesn’t have a timeline for his return to regular practice, but added that he felt much better today.