With the sun shining down on Saint Paul, there was a crisp breeze whipping through the air today. But unlike the bitter cold snap that flowed through the State of Hockey last week, today’s forecast was clear with a 100 percent chance of excitement.
For the Lighthouse and the greater State of Hockey, the sunny outlook had little to do with the weather outside. That’s because yesterday the NHL and NHLPA agreed on the framework of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, allowing players back on the ice at Xcel Energy Center. NHL hockey is back (upon the CBA ratification). Well, the first flurry of hockey, anyway.
As the rink crew unfolded the stands in preparation of the pending season on the East end of the arena, 18 Minnesota Wild players practiced for about an hour with power-skating coach Andy Ness. Newcomers Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jake Dowell joined the familiar faces of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Matt Kassian, Darroll Powe, Devin Setoguchi, Stephane Veilleux, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding for a spirited practice session.
It was spirited because you could visibly see the smiles on their faces from the stands. Cullen helped run the practice including: a brisk warm up, several line rushes, skill drills with the forwards and defensemen split into two groups, and a cross-ice, three-on-three scrimmage. Unofficially, according to some Clutterbuck smack talk aimed at red, the green team won the scrimmage, 6-3. It’s good to know the layoff didn’t impact Clutterbuck’s competitiveness.
After the skate, the players were available to speak with the media, which outnumbered players on the ice. WildTV has interviews with Parise, Suter, Brodziak, Bouchard and Backstrom. The PONDcast also caught up with Gilbert, Kassian, Backstrom, Harding and Bouchard about the upcoming season.
Some of the highlights from the interviews include:
- After suffering a season ending concussion last year, Bouchard has felt symptom free for a few weeks. He doesn’t have a timetable regarding his return, but the next step is to see how he responds to contact.
- Parise and Suter were both excited to slip on Wild practice sweaters for the first time, only the second uniforms they’ve ever worn in their NHL careers.
- Parise and Suter were apologetic to the fans for the lockout, and hope that the Wild’s play on the ice will bring them back.
- Unanimously, the players agreed that the mood on the ice and locker room was great. “It was a lot of fun,” Parise said. “Just to be with your team, and not these other guys skating with us at the other rink.”
- Suter was skating as a D-pair with Spurgeon. From the stands, it looked as if Suter was giving pointers to the young blueliner, when in fact, it was Spurgeon who was talking to the veteran about the Wild’s system play.
- Backstrom noted that a lot of the players have been skating together in Minnesota and believes it will be helpful with developing chemistry with a shortened training camp.
Per NHL rules, the Wild coaching staff was not allowed on the ice with the players. However, the team’s brass, including Head Coach Mike Yeo and General Manager Chuck Fletcher, was in attendance. Yeo said that one of the things he’d have to manage and speak with the players about is conditioning in the early going. Ramping up to game speed with a shortened, compacted season is something the Wild bench boss has to monitor. However, he is up for the challenge and is excited to get behind the bench with the team’s new additions. The always-quotable coach talked about not being able to work with the team after the exciting summer signings of Parise and Suter: “It’s like having a toy at Christmas you’re not allowed to play with.”
Well, when the Wild finally take the ice for its first game, it will be like a second Christmas for everyone in the State of Hockey.
The players and hockey operations were not the only ones excited for this day. About two-dozen Wild employees drifted from the team’s offices to watch the session. Stick tap to all the fellow staffers who kept things running behind the scenes with the team’s day-to-day operations.
The (tentative and shifting) line chart from today:
The (interim) defensive pairs:
More players are expected to be filing into Minnesota in the coming days, so stay tuned.