While three Minnesota Wild prospects – Jonas Brodin, Johan Gustafsson and Johan Larsson – helped Team Sweden win a gold medal at the World Junior Championship inside Pengrowth Saddledome, current Wild players were watching. Or maybe they were relaxing. Or bonding. Or all of the above. Whatever they were doing, they were in Banff, Alberta for two days of practice and some team activities to clear their heads and refocus as the second half of the 2011-2012 season begins tonight in the same building the Swedes won gold. Despite going 1-6-3 over the last 10 games, the Wild sits in position to make a run at a playoff spot.
The Wild will have to deal with the Calgary Flames tonight without the services of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Bouchard missed the two practices in Banff, as well as today's morning skate. That means he's likely out today. The Wild is expected to have Clayton Stoner back after the big defenseman missed five games before being activated from injured reserve yesterday.
Minnesota closed the first half of the season with a 3-0 road loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. Josh Harding got the start in goal and stopped 32 of 34 shots.
The start of 2012 has not gone well for the Flames, who have lost their first three games in the new year, including a 9-0 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Thursday. Leland Irving gave up Boston’s first six before Miikka Kiprusoff came in and allowed three more.
Wild at Flames will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North with a start time at 9:00 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
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During the World Juniors, the best action off the ice was taking place in the stands as vendors sold 50/50 raffle tickets. Some of the pots grew to nearly $100,000 for some games. The 50/50 raffle is conducted at Flames games as well, so get in on the action.
The World Juniors also served as a nice distraction for Flames fans as their team sputtered on the East Coast. Still, they were well aware of what happened and now people are wondering how close this team is to a shakeup. The Flames made a minor move yesterday, acquiring C Blair Jones in exchange for D Brendan Mikkelson.
Calgary will surely be in a foul mood, looking to atone for the Boston debacle, as well as remain in postseason contention. The Flames are now 12th in the conference and are entering the “must-win” zone rather quickly.
Mikko Koivu had a rare scoreless night on Wednesday, but he’s still averaging better than a point per game over the past 22 contests. He has at least one point in 19 of those games and has totaled 22 (8-14=22) in that span.
The Wild has had two days of practice since the Vancouver game, but even more valuable could have been the chance to get their mind of hockey by relaxing in Banff and refocusing on the next game. That comes tonight as the second half of the season begins.
Devin Setoguchi made his return tot he lineup on Wednesday, and had a strong performance, putting five shots on goal. With a game under his belt and two more days of rest, Setoguchi should be primed to make an impact going forward.
"It seemed like it was a breath of fresh air – getting up there and clearing the head. It would have been a long couple days to come here and sit here after that last game and have a couple days in the hotel thinking about it. So to get there and clear the heads and have two real good practices up there, I feel real good about where we’re at right now.”
- Mike Yeo on the benefit of his team traveling to Banff for one night and two days of practice
RW Tim Jackman played his high school hockey at Park Center and later starred at Minnesota State...D Clay Wilson is from Sturgeon Lake and played his high school hockey at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton.
The Wild leads all NHL teams with points against Western Conference opponents with 42 (19-11-4).