James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Boudreau’s already a breath of fresh air for Wild

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The Bruce Boudreau era has begun for the Minnesota Wild.

For the players, the demands will be many. The expectations will be as straightforward as can be. The experience also promises to be a lot of fun.

“Sometimes he doesn’t even know what’s coming out of his mouth when he’s talking,” forward Charlie Coyle said.

The rotund new head coach, well-regarded for his regular-season success, well-known for his profane rants and well-liked for his down-to-earth and self-deprecating manner, formally took over Friday for the first two practices of training camp. The squad split into two groups and, in addition to plenty of time with the white board picking up Boudreau’s defensive scheme, went through a grueling conditioning test during which skaters had to complete several laps around the rink under certain times.

The drills were no joke, but Boudreau made sure to keep the mood light even while barking encouragement to the participants.

“We’re huffing and puffing,” Coyle said, “and he’s still making us laugh.”

NHL training camps began about a week later than usual because of the World Cup of Hockey, and six Wild players were given a break for the first three days in their transition back home from competition: forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter from Team USA, forwards Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula of Team Finland and forward Nino Niederreiter of Team Europe. Only Niederreiter’s team is still alive in the tournament, so he could be delayed further.

The learning process won’t wait, though.

“We want to ramp it up as quick as we can. We want to have a lot of pace in our practice. It’s a real mixture, because we have to teach at the same time. It’s not going to be like a practice in December,” Boudreau said. “At the same time, we don’t want anything slow. We want a lot of moving parts.”

The first exhibition game is on Monday against Buffalo in State College, Pennsylvania, and the season opener is Oct. 13 at St. Louis. That’s less than three weeks away. Hence the hard work on the first day, even though players train year-round these days and don’t typically need to get back into shape.

“Everyone’s just excited to get this thing going and start playing some real hockey,” defenseman Matt Dumba said.

There will be differences in style, for sure.

“I think they’re still trying to figure me out. `What’s this guy like? He seems to be smiling a little too much.’ Or, `He’s joking around with me. Is he really joking or is he sarcastic?”‘ Boudreau said. “I think it takes a little bit of time for guys to get to know me.”

Impressions are there to be made for the players, most of whom have never played for Boudreau before.

“Everyone’s here to get a job and knock people out of their jobs, so everyone came prepared,” Coyle said. “It’s good to see that intensity and that competition right away.”

Niklas Kronwall wonders if knee will ever be pain-free

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Every now and then, there’s an article that pops up that makes you a little worried about the Detroit Red Wings’ record playoff streak.

Maybe the biggest issue is the “D” in Detroit. Far too many important blueliners seem to be dealing with nagging injuries that may never go away.

(Let the bleakness of that thought sink in for a moment.)

Not that long ago, Jonathan Ericsson acknowledged his ongoing hip-related struggles. Fellow Swede and Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall spins a similarly sad story.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be pain-free, but hopefully, I’ll be able to be out there in a position where it doesn’t bite as much,” Kronwall said to the Detroit Free-Press.

“The surgery that was talked about was something that probably wouldn’t be the best idea if I wanted to play again.”

Yikes.

To recap, Kronwall and Ericsson both seem like they’re adjusting to the reality that they’ll rarely – if ever – feel “100 percent.” That’s $10 million in cap space wrapped up in banged-up defensemen … and Mike Green‘s injury history doesn’t inspire much optimism, either.

Combine those issues with all the mileage Henrik Zetterberg has accrued and the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, and you start to wonder how long Detroit can keep this up.

Don’t take this as a burial by any means; betting against the Red Wings is a foolish gamble.

(Just watch Dylan Larkin speed around the ice for a few shifts and it’ll be a lot easier to find positives.)

Still, it’s not the greatest sign when Kronwall and Ericsson aren’t even providing the usual positive spin during the off-season.

Russia squeaks by North America in thriller

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If Russia’s eventual 4-3 win against North America doesn’t stand as the most thrilling game of the World Cup, then we’re in for some special hockey.

The Air Canada Centre was rocking tonight, especially during North America’s bid for a third period comeback.

From that beautiful Connor McDavidAuston Matthews goal to a wave of dangerous chances, the North Americans carried much of this contest. Sergei Bobrovsky kept that under-23 group at bay just enough for Russia’s first win of the round-robin tournament.

Ultimately, it came down to a second-period collapse where Matt Murray allowed four troubling goals before John Gibson took over:

The remarkable thing about this tournament is that, all of a sudden, North America is in a tougher spot after this loss. They face quite a challenge in Sweden on Wednesday while Russia’s next game comes against an up-and-down Finnish squad.

For many hockey fans, it’s difficult to accept the possibility that Team North America may not last much longer.

Thanks a lot, Bob.

Jackpot: Vegas expansion team sells out season tickets

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It still feels a little surreal that there’s really going to be an NHL team in Las Vegas, but Bill Foley & Co. continue to hit some significant milestones.

They’ve already put together a big chunk of their front office, bringing in experienced executives including GM George McPhee.

Of course, money talks, and they’ve been showing promise in that area as well. The [Blank] Knights have already sold out the 16,000 season tickets made available, as the team announced.

“This is a truly historic event for the Las Vegas community, the NHL and all of our fans,” Owner Bill Foley said. “I would like to thank everyone who has supported and continues to support our efforts to make the Las Vegas NHL franchise a success.”

Well, they still have a ways to go to be an on-ice success, but it’s tough to beat up Foley too much for tooting his horn here.

So far, so very good for the NHL in Sin City.

Aside: did the headline get this song in your head?

Video: McDavid to Matthews goal is as great as you’d expect

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Every now and then, we get a break from debating the relative merits of Justin Abdelkader and Dustin Byfuglien and just get to watch something exhilarating.

It didn’t take Team North America very long to provide another pinch-yourself moment, as Connor McDavid roasted Pavel Datsyuk (!) to set up Auston Matthews for a blistering 1-0 goal against Russia.

You can see it in the video above; allow us to recommend watching it over and over again.

Once Toronto Maple Leafs fans got past the initial rush of seeing that goal, they would likely also enjoy noting that this was Matthews’ first goal at the Air Canada Centre.

There’s really a lot to take in, including Matthews and McDavid combining for that tally with Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin on the ice for Russia.

(Some are even making hasty Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux comparisons.)

Perhaps North America will slow down as the World Cup goes on, but either way, this blistering collecting of talent is already providing a beautiful vision of a hopeful hockey future.