For the players fighting for the few remaining roster spots at Minnesota Wild training camp, tomorrow night’s game in St. Louis will be like a final exam. But with the completion tougher than advanced calculus, players on the bubble will need more than passing marks to make the club’s opening night roster.
“The grades in that one are going to count a little more than the start of the year,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “We will evaluate everything as a whole, but what we’re looking for is progress.”
Tomorrow the team will travel to the unfriendly confines in St. Louis with a younger lineup. Unlike college, where the students pull all-nighters cramming for finals, Wild hopefuls will try to fight off test anxiety and get a good night’s sleep. Yeo wants to see how they handle the pressure of playing one of the Wild’s most heated Central Division rivals on the road.
“We want to see who can go in, in a tough building, and who can play against a very good hockey team and show that they are able to perform in those conditions,” Yeo said. “We’re going to make sure that the guys we’re looking to make some decisions on will be given some good opportunities.”
Minnesota’s bench boss expects the final decisions on the team’s opening night roster solved by Saturday night, as the team plays its last preseason game against the Blues.
“Our final game you’re going to see very close to, if not, the lineup that we’re going to start game one with,” Yeo said.
For some of the more established players suiting up tomorrow, Yeo said it is a chance for them to get some special teams time, fine tune their game and step up as leaders.
The team also will be making a few call-ups from Iowa for the game tomorrow, which will be announced later today. Here’s a list of the players currently penciled in to make the trip to St. Louis:
Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle, Brett Sutter, Cody Almond, Jason Zucker, Michael Keranen, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Keith Ballard, Matt Dumba, Stu Bickel, Christian Folin and Marco Scandella.
The club’s opening night lineup isn’t the only thing that hangs in the balance with only a handful of practices and the team’s two remaining preseason games remaining. Yeo said that he still hasn’t determined which goaltender will be the team’s opening night starter. Tomorrow Niklas Backstrom will get the start and play the entire game in St. Louis, while Darcy Kuemper is set to get the start on Saturday when the Wild hosts the Blues.
“We’re going to evaluate everyday; I don’t want to say one guy has the edge over the other,” Yeo said. “I’ve been very satisfied with our goaltending. I’m glad those guys have been competing hard.
“Everyone wants the net game one.”
Tao Of Bryz
Although he isn’t expected to get into either of the team’s final two preseason games, Ilya Bryzgalov is showing up everyday with a smile. The netminder is not getting caught up contract talks, or whether or not he’s going to be on the team’s opening night roster. He is just enjoying the ride.
He’s spreading the joy, too. On Monday as the team topped the Pittsburgh Penguins, fans were coming to the glass where Bryzgalov was stationed on the bench and the goaltender posed for selfies with young fans.
“They came here to support us and cheer for us,” Bryzgalov said. “You’ve got to give back something.”
The goaltender also celebrated like a fan when Jason Pominville iced the game with an empty net goal, completing a third-period natural hat trick. He threw his stocking cap out onto the ice with the rest of the Wild faithful.
“I was excited for Pommer,” Bryzgalov said. “It’s not every day you score a hat trick.
“And I celebrated.”
No word on whether or not he took advantage of the Hockey Lodge’s postgame promotion for 15 percent off hats after a Wild hatty.
Forward Justin Fontaine is expected to miss a few weeks, including opening night, with a lower body injury. Yeo said that the injury is something that just needs time to heal with rest.
Tomorrow’s radio broadcast of the game will be on KOOL 107.9 FM. Fans can find the live stream online on Wild.com.
Used Equipment Drive Distribution
On Saturday, Oct. 4, the equipment from the sixth annual Used Hockey Equipment Drive will be distributed for free to hockey associations and individuals at Xcel Energy Center from 9 a.m. to noon.