After a long day of travel yesterday, the Minnesota Wild was back on the ice at the Chicago Blackhawks’ practice facility, Johnny’s Icehouse, just down the road from the United Center, and was met by a friendly face.
Goaltender Josh Harding practiced with the team for the first time since mid-January. He has been practicing in Minnesota, and planned on joining the team in Chicago today, regardless of the injury to Darcy Kuemper.
“It felt great,” Harding said. “I’ve been looking forward to this.”
Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the fall of 2012, and won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy last season, for perseverance and dedication to the sport. He was placed on Injured Reserve on Jan. 2 after feeling ill. It's been especially tough being out, especially after such an impressive start of the season. The 29-year-old was lights out during the first half, posting an 18-7-2 record, .933 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.
“It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with, for sure,” Harding said.
Harding said he hit a rough patch and that things were out of his control. However, he's been feeling much better for a couple of weeks and began practicing at Breamar Ice Arena. After practicing he was in high spirits, joking about taking shots from "not as good as NHL players," and excited to be back on the ice with teammates.
Harding isn't setting any timetables for a return, and for now is taking things day-by-day. He's hoping the technical aspects of his game returns quickly.
"I'm hoping it comes back right away," Harding said. "Obviously I want to be out there battling with the boys."
The netminder had the support of his teammates and coaching staff. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was glad to have him back, but was even more pleased by what he saw out of the goaltender.
"Great to see him out on the ice, but even better, I thought he looked really good," Yeo said. "This is the first step, and we'll try to figure out some plan for him going forward."
For now, Harding is tempering expectations and just wants to help any way that he can.
"If things go great, I'd love to be back in there and battling with the boys," Harding said. "If that's just me being there for the boys and cheering them on, whatever I can do to help out this team. That's what I'm going to do."
Kuemper, Granlund Out
Darcy Kuemper and Mikael Granlund each missed practice today. Kuemper suffered an injury during morning skate Monday in Los Angeles, while Granlund left that evening's contest early with an injury as well.
After practice, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said that he didn't have an update on either player.
Folin Joins Fray
Also joining the team today was its newest member, Christian Folin, who signed as a college free agent on Monday night.
Folin recently wrapped is sophomore season at UMass Lowell, leading the River Hawks defensemen in scoring (4-16=20). After two years of college, the Gothenburg, Sweden native felt he was ready to take the next step.
He was pursued by multiple NHL teams, but chose to sign with the Wild. He has experience in the State of Hockey, playing two seasons in Minnesota with the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), totaling 41 points (12-29=41) in 87 games.
"In the back of my head, I always wanted to go to Minnesota," Folin said. "People in general are really nice. There are a lot of Swedish and Norwegian people, so it feels like home a bit.
"With the cold weather, too."
After playing in junior hockey in Sweden, Folin said that he came to America because he wanted to get a scholarship. He developed with two years in Austin and became an impact player in college. Folin said that the North American style fits his game and he's blossomed in the U.S.
At 6-foot-3, 215-pounds, he is easy to spot out on the ice and moves well with his frame. The righty was paired with Keith Ballard for the line rushes today. Ballard was helping him adjust to drills and talking him through the practice all afternoon.
There will be a learning curve, adjusting to the NHL speed and the Wild's systems, so Yeo will take that into consideration moving forward.
"There is no plan really," Yeo said. "Get him involved. Get him into practice. Get him to start to learn our system and meet the guys and get comfortable here."
As far as the possibility of Folin getting into the lineup, Yeo said that it will depend on the situation for that individual game and what the Wild needs on that given night: "We'll take it day-by-day with our lineup the same way we do with our forward pairings."
It looks like Haula will replace Granlund on the second line. Yeo said that he'd like the center to retain his responsibility with the puck, but bring a little more offensively.
"He's shown the ability to play against the top players," Yeo said. "We're going to ask him to be a little more creative in his game than his previous role.
"He's playing with two skilled guys, so he's got to help get the puck to those guys."
Here's what the forward lines looked like today:
The D-pairs looked like this:
New PP Formations
With Granlund out of the mix, the Wild had to shuffle its power play lines around. On the top unit, Jason Pominville moved to the point with Ryan Suter, while Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Matt Moulson were the forwards.
The second unit practiced with Charlie Coyle, Justin Fontaine and Nino Niederreiter up front, with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin as the defensive pairing.
The Wild worked extensively on the power play today, including some work on 5-on-3.