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Mikko Koivu ready to return after nearly two month absence

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The Minnesota Wild still need every point they can get as they fight to hold onto one of the two Western Conference Wild Card spots, but help is on the way.

After missing nearly two months due to an ankle injury, Wild captain Mikko Koivu is ready to play tonight against the Calgary Flames.

“I’m very excited,” Koivu said, per the Wild’s Twitter account. “It’s been a long time. It’s been very frustrating.”

Although Minnesota has managed to get by without him, there’s no question that Koivu is critical to the franchise’s success. In addition to being the Wild’s leader in the locker room, he’s one of their best players offensively and on the draw. He also, as coach Mike Yeo put it, has a lot of intangible qualities that make the Wild a better team when he’s on the ice.

In the long run, Koivu is likely to center the top line, but for now he’s projected to play alongside Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle.

Dupuis: ‘I’m still, in my head, a player’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) Pascal Dupuis headed home to Montreal last December, threw his hockey gear in the garage and waited for his retirement to become real.

The longtime Pittsburgh Penguins forward knew the pangs of regret would come, even as he understood it was the right choice to step away from the game due to lingering concerns about the blood clots that dogged him during the final stages of his 15-year career. The only choice, really, for a married father of four.

Dupuis just assumed his second thoughts would fade over time. Only they didn’t. If anything, they’ve become more acute while watching his teammates put together a stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final without the player simply known as “Duper,” who for so long served as the emotional touchstone in a dressing room filled with divergent personalities.

“Every day I’m thinking about it,” Dupuis said before the Penguins opened up the franchise’s fifth appearance in the Cup Final with a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Monday night.

So Dupuis searched for a compromise, finding one in becoming a special assistant of sorts, one straddling the line between player and coach. He doesn’t have a term for his job description, though he became perhaps one of the world’s most overqualified equipment managers when he found himself replacing the butt end of forward Eric Fehr’s stick during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The hockey bag Dupuis ditched in the family garage didn’t stay zipped for long. He brought his skates back to Pittsburgh, though these days he works out alone on the ice well before his friends file onto the rink. It’s strange, really strange, not to be out there with them. He lifted the Cup in triumph when the Penguins beat Detroit for the franchise’s third championship in 2009. Yet there the Cup was on Sunday afternoon, barely 20 feet away as he spoke to reporters during Media Day, and in the most visceral way hopelessly out of reach.

“You still want it,” said Dupuis, who turned 37 in April. “If one thing, it makes it harder. You know what it feels like, you know what it tastes like and you want it again.”

It’s why Dupuis returned last fall even though for the better part of two years it seemed as if there was a voodoo doll somewhere with his No. 9 jersey on it. The torn ACL in December, 2013. The blood clots that surfaced in November, 2014. The long wait for doctors to OK his return as he worked his way off blood thinners only to sustain a lower-body injury during training camp last September.

Yet he pressed on before chest pains forced him to leave a game in San Jose in early December, and the long West Coast road trip gave him time to think about his future, his mortality and hockey’s role in both. Then came the decision to step away on Dec. 8, making the announcement during a practice day in Colorado. He knew it was time to go.

Just not that far, it turned out. General manager Jim Rutherford promised Dupuis the team would pay him through the remainder of the four-year deal he signed in 2013 even as it placed him on the long-term inactive list. The move paid off immediately. The Penguins used the salary cap relief to acquire defenseman Trevor Daley from Chicago, a deal that coincided with head coach Mike Sullivan’s arrival and began the midseason renaissance that brought the Pittsburgh to the cusp of a championship.

“In some ways, our misfortune with Duper became our good fortune as we went along,” Rutherford said.

Dupuis made it a point to earn his money, even if it wasn’t with a stick in his hands. He re-joined the Penguins on the road as soon as doctors gave him clearance and in some ways things haven’t changed. He kept his stall in the locker room and joked “I still put my underwear on before they go on the ice.” Even if it goes under a meticulously tailored suit.

“He still works out hard, he gives us insight,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said. “He’s on the plane. He’s on the buses. He’s still loose just like he was when we played.”

Maybe that’s because he isn’t quite ready to turn the page completely. The engine that led the former undrafted free agent to 190 career goals, many of them as the speedy sidekick to Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby, doesn’t idle easily.

“It’s not like I’m going to dinner with the coaches yet,” he said. “I haven’t stepped over that fence yet. I’m still, in my head, a player.”

Even if, in practice, he is not. That part will be hard to shake, particularly as he sees his former peers make their way back from similar problems. Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos returned to the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals just eight weeks removed from his own blood clot issues. Seeing Stamkos on the ice – on the same night the Penguins grinded out a 2-1 win to advance to the Cup Final – was both promising but also bittersweet. Medicine is advancing. In the near future, blood clots may not be the career-altering diagnosis they are now.

Those advances, however, won’t come in time for Dupuis. For now, he’s attempting to be content growing his lavishly thick playoff beard and be one of the guys hoping to extend his long goodbye for a couple more weeks.

“It’s hard to come to the rink,” Dupuis said, “but the bigger picture here is me helping this team win.”

Ulf Samuelsson leaves Rangers, takes Carolina’s AHL gig

Ulf Samuelsson, Alain Vigneault
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The ‘Canes made a fairly big coaching splash on Tuesday, announcing they hired New York Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson to become the new bench boss in AHL Charlotte.

“Ulf has built a very strong coaching resume during a decade behind the bench in the AHL, NHL and Swedish league,” Carolina GM Ron Francis said in a release. “He has a proven history of helping to develop young players and understands the organizational culture that we are building here.”

Samuelsson, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups with Francis in Pittsburgh during the 90s, has spent the last three seasons as Alain Vigneault’s right-hand man in New York, helping the Rangers advance to the Stanley Cup Final in ’14 and the Eastern Conference Final last season.

Prior to joining the Rangers, he spent two seasons as head coach for Modo of the Swedish Hockey League.

Samuelsson will replace Mark Morris in Charlotte, after Morris accepted the head coaching gig at St. Lawrence University. Morris had only been on the job for one year, having inherited the position from former ‘Cane Jeff Daniels.

Report: Marleau won’t face supplemental discipline for hit on Rust

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It sounds like Patrick Marleau won’t be suspended for his hit on Penguins forward Bryan Rust (top) in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After the game, Marleau told reporters that he was pretty confident he wouldn’t be suspended and it sounds like he’s right.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t see things the same way.

“It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

Marleau was given a two-minute penalty for an illegal hit to the head on the play.

Rust played a single shift after taking the hit, but he went to the locker room after that and didn’t return. Sullivan said he’s day-to-day. It’s unclear if Rust will practice with the team on Tuesday.

Former Flyer Rick MacLeish passes away at age 66

MacLeish
Flyers.nhl.com
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Former Philadelphia Flyers forward Rick MacLeish passed away on Monday night. He was 66-years-old. The organization confirmed the news early Tuesday morning. MacLeish was battling meningitis as well as kidney and liver problems, per Philly.com.

“With the passing of Rick MacLeish, the Flyers have lost one of their legends,” Flyers President Paul Holmgren said in a release. “A good father, grandfather, teammate and friend, Rick will be missed by all who were fortunate to come and know him over the years. His happy and friendly demeanor was front and center everywhere Rick went. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with Rick’s wife, Charlene, his daughters, Danielle and Brianna along with his grandchildren. May he rest in peace.”

MacLeish first put on a Flyers jersey during the 1970-71 season. He would go on to score 349 goals and 759 points in 846 NHL games with Philadelphia, Hartford, Pittsburgh and Detroit. MacLeish also scored what is considered to be the most important goal in Flyers history when he netted the opening goal in Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Final against Boston. The Flyers would clinch their first Stanley Cup that night.

He won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Flyers and was named an NHL All-Star three times in his career.