ST. PAUL, Minn. The gang's all here for the Minnesota Wild.
Well, almost. But with the arrivals of Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley to Wednesday's skate at Xcel Energy Center, nearly the entire Wild roster was able to skate together three days after the NHL lockout came to an unofficial end. The only player missing from Wednesday's hour-long skate was Zenon Konopka, who is expected to arrive Thursday.
While the collective bargaining agreement still awaits ratification, the Wild players and the rest of the NHL are forced to get together in these unofficial skates that haven't included head coaches.
Now that Koivu and Heatley two of Minnesota's top-line forwards are back, the excitement among Wild players continues to build.
"I got here pretty early today," Heatley said. "Just seeing the faces walk through the door, obviously the old guys that were here before and a bunch of new faces, it was a lot of excitement in there. I think you can tell. Good pace out there, a lot of jump. We're raring to go."
Most of the Wild players arrived Monday and took part in the team's first unofficial practice since news broke Sunday morning that the NHL and the players' association agreed to terms to end the lockout. With players scattered around the world during the lockout, however, it's taken a few days for everyone to file in.
Koivu, Minnesota's captain last season, was back home in his native Finland. He spent part of the lockout skating in Minnesota but returned home last month. On Wednesday, he centered the Wild's new-look top line that includes him, Heatley and Zach Parise, who was signed this offseason.
"Obviously it's different than playing in a game, but I think it's good you get to know the guys a little bit more," Koivu said of the team's chemistry. "We had good skates. It's different than playing in a game, but we're fortunate there were a lot of guys in here and you could skate five times a week. I think that's a plus."
Heatley led the Wild in scoring last year with a team-high 24 goals and 29 assists. Koivu was right behind him with 44 points (12 goals, 32 assists) in just 55 games. Now their line includes Parise, who scored 31 goals and added 38 assists for New Jersey last season.
That trio got their first taste Wednesday of what playing on the top line together will be like.
"Mikko's very easy to play with. Playing with Zach just one practice, he's very easy to figure out and very easy to play with," Heatley said. "It's going to be good for everybody. We added a lot of depth this year up front and one the blue line. We're anxious to get going. I can't wait for the puck to drop."
Late in Wednesday's skate, Heatley was taken down by another new teammate, defenseman Ryan Suter. Both played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin but never together. Suter spent his previous seven seasons in Nashville before signing with the Wild in July.
"Suts, he said he was paying me back for years ago at Wisconsin," Heatley joked. "That's fine. We're even now."
Added Suter: "Every summer, we used to skate in Madison there. He'd embarrass me, so I figured I'd try to get him. I got lucky there."
It's a sign that camaraderie is already in place for the Wild despite the additions of new players such as Parise and Suter and top prospect Mikael Granlund. The ability to quickly develop chemistry could pay dividends, given the brief training camp leading up to the shortened season.
"I think that we've done a pretty good job. We're probably one of the only teams right now that actually has their full team here," Parise said. "I think we've thrown together some good practices and tried to get ourselves the best prepared we can for next week."
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