Relocated Monday due to concerts this week, the Wild voyaged to Saint Thomas Ice Arena for practice.
Fresh off the bus, already partially dressed, the Wild quickly changed in small dressing rooms simply lined with benches. Welcome to The Show everyone!
I kid, I kid.
Despite the arena’s shortcomings on player amenities, the building was absolutely freezing — so much so, I longed for my long, wool winter coat and a pair of unsightly, yet very comfortable Ugg-like boots — which provided perfect ice conditions. Matt Cooke lauded it after practice, describing the ice as “crisp.”
Rejoining the team Monday was forward Jason Zucker, who was recalled from the Iowa Wild after his good friend and roommate Charlie Coyle suffered a sprained knee Saturday night.
Zucker, who established himself as a fan favorite last year, didn’t have the strongest camp after suffering an injury early on. As a result, Zucker was sent to Des Moines to start the season, but even at the time Head Coach Mike Yeo noted the young forward could be back with the Wild early on, depending on how things went.
Well, as the Wild prep for Game No. 3, before the Iowa Wild even started its season, Zucker is back and getting a good chance to establish himself in the lineup. Yeo said the forward simply needs to find a way to be effective.
Zucker said the move is bittersweet, since Coyle is such a good friend, but he said it would be bittersweet no matter how he was called up. Regardless, he’s ready to make the most of the opportunity, and not just for the next three to four weeks as Coyle recovers, but for years to come.
“Every game from here onto the end of my career, it’s got to be consistent,” Zucker said. “You’re going to have bad games, it happens, but it’s how you bounce back.”
Zucker spent practice skating with Dany Heatley and Mikael Granlund—who moved to center on the second line in place of Coyle. Granlund and Zucker did skate together last year in Houston for about three months, according to Zucker, so they’ve already established some chemistry.
Granlund spent part of camp and the first two games playing wing with Kyle Brodziak and Cooke, but Yeo said the move to center should be natural, as he’s played it before. The bench boss also noted that he has no reason to believe Granlund won’t go in and give a strong, solid effort, based on what he’s done so far this season, which included a multi-point game in the Season Opener as he picked up a pair of assists. Although he called the move natural, Yeo does expect a small adjustment period for Granlund to simply remember all the responsibilities that come with the position.
With Coyle out for about the next month, Yeo feels it’s an opportunity to prove the Wild’s depth.
“We should be the type of team that can overcome that,” Yeo said of losing Coyle “Now’s our chance to prove that we have more depth. This is something we’ve been talking about, saying our team is better and one of the reasons why is we have more depth. Well now’s our chance to prove it.”
Unfortunately for the Wild, Coyle may not be the only player missing tomorrow’s game. Despite being the second player to step out on the ice this morning, Zach Parise was notably missing from Monday’s practice, as he wasn’t feeling well. He’s expected to travel but there is the possibility for a call-up if he is unable to go tomorrow.
If Parise is in the lineup this is what fans can expect to see:
Parise —Koivu — Pominville
Heatley — Granlund — Zucker
Niederreiter — Brodziak — Cooke
Mitchell —Konopka —Fontaine
If Parise is out, Justin Fontaine will most likely move to the top line as he practiced with Koivu and Pominville today.
Yeo said the d-pairs weren’t set in stone but strongly indicated that Clayton Stoner will be in the lineup. Again here’s a look at what can be expected:
Spurgeon — Scandella
Ballard — Stoner
Stoner did stand out in practice, but mainly because he was wearing entirely different socks — navy blue with white stripes. Apparently the defenseman forgot his green ones for the trip out to Mendota Heights. It happens to the best of us.
Yeo didn’t want to discuss the netminders though both have played well against the Predators in the past.
Josh Harding faced Nashville three times in the 2011-12 season earning a win, loss and a shootout loss. In the win and the shootout loss, Harding gave up two goals and one goal respectively. In the win, which was at Xcel Energy Center, he made 23 saves on 25 shots for a .920 save percentage. In the shootout loss at Nashville, he made 24 saves on 25 shots for a .960 save percentage. Although, the last time he faced Nashville, once again at home, Harding relinquished five goals on 30 shots for a .833 save percentage.
Last season, Niklas Backstrom played in three games against Nashville, dropping only one decision with an overtime win and a shootout win in the other two games. Backstrom gave up just five goals total in those three games, with one goal in each of the wins, ending those games with a .962 and .960 save percentage respectively.
Finally, Mike Rupp took a step up in his recovery, as he got more involved in practice today. Of course, that involvement got a boost with Parise out and Fontaine on the top line, but Yeo said Rupp needs to get in those game situations that a regular role in practice provides — rather than being the odd man out. According to Yeo, the more reps Rupp can get the quicker he’ll move along the recovery process.