There will be a brief return to normalcy in the State of Hockey on Sunday, Jan. 3, when the Minnesota Wild open training camp at TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul. That will be overshadowed immediately by the fact the Wild open their regular season just 11 days later.
While a typical training camp in the NHL spans the better part of a month and features a handful of preseason games mixed in, that won’t be the case this time around. Not with the pandemic continuing to alter the landscape of the league.
Instead, players will report to training camp this weekend, go through a crash course in their systems through the week that follows, then hit the ice for games with their legs barely underneath them.
Which explains why Wild coach Dean Evason has built a couple of intrasquad games into his training-camp schedule. These games will be played at the Xcel Energy Center and are designed to simulate a game-day atmosphere so players are a little more prepared for the Jan. 14 season opener against the Los Angeles Kings.
“There will be morning skates and then games at nights,” Evason said of his intrasquad games. “It’ll be five days of practice, then play a game, then a day off, then another game. We’ll have two games for sure, and then if we feel we need another, we’ll pop that in there.”
This format is something the coaching staff has talked about at length over the past several months. It’s similar to how they approached the Return To Play Plan back in the spring ahead of the restart’s qualifying series against the Vancouver Canucks.
“We got our stuff prepared and got our structure prepared and were waiting to see how long training camp would be and if there was exhibition games and stuff like that,” Evason said. “Just kind of have a template and work off of that. It’s going to be like that all season. We have to be prepared for anything that is thrown at us and adjustments we have to make literally on a daily basis. We’re ready to go with training camp now. We’re really looking forward to it.”
As far as Evason is concerned, the name of the game this season is being adaptable. That’s what he plans to preach to his team throughout training camp and into the regular season.
“We have our structure for the 10 days of training camp, and we aren’t looking any further than that,” Evason said. “As soon as that first day is over, then we’ll get ready for practice the second day. It’s day by day. We’re going to have to adjust.”
West Coast travel
It’s clear Wild general manager Bill Guerin isn’t going to use the new West Coast division as an excuse this season. He made himself very clear last week that he still expected the Wild to play at a high level despite the frequent travel.
Not surprisingly, Evason echoed that sentiment, emphasizing that he and his coaching staff aren’t concerned at all.
“You go to sleep an hour earlier or wake up an hour later,” Evason said. “It’s no big deal. The guys will find their routine, and when the puck is dropped, we’re going to play regardless of if we get in an hour earlier or an hour later.”
That said, Evason does plan to monitor workloads a little more closely this season during the condensed 56-game slate. That likely means fewer practices than usual.
“It’s all going to be new,” he said. “We play two games in each city. Do we practice the day before? The players will give us a really good indication of what they prefer to do. Then as we get going in the season, we’ll see how well we do with different situations of when we were on the ice and when we rested. We’ll evaluate daily as we go forward here. Looking forward to those challenges, and I think the players are as well.”
O Captain! My Captain!
The heir to Mikko Koivu’s captaincy is still unclear. Will it be the soft-spoken Jared Spurgeon? How about the very-vocal Marcus Foligno? A case also could be made for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Maybe even Kevin Fiala.
Asked about the timeline, Evason responded, “We should know soon.”
That falls in line with Guerin saying the Wild would announce the team’s next captain at some point before they open training camp. That means the news likely is coming in the next few days.
Neither winger Mats Zuccarello nor goaltender Alex Stalock will be ready for training camp. Everybody else on the Wild roster is expected to report on time.