It was a sign of the future (as well as a sign of the current labor strife in the NHL) of the Minnesota Wild Saturday and Sunday as they hosted two scrimmages for their American Hockey League affiliate the Houston Aeros as the culmination of a 3-day camp. Normally, this would all have been conducted in Houston, but because of the 'lockout' the camp kicked off in Minnesota. Perhaps as a way for the Wild to try to put out a tiny olive branch for fans annoyed at the cancellation of pre-season play, the team held two, free scrimmages with the hope of showing that even though the NHL may not be playing this season that there still is some important hockey to be had for the organization. Most of it will be played in Houston. Aeros' General Manager (and assistant Wild GM) Jim Mill has to be ecstatic over the huge influx of young talent to bolster the roster. And with the labor issues in the NHL being what they are it means Mill will have full access to this young crop of talent without having to worry too much about (insert player here) being called up to the Wild. I remember distinctly the last lockout back in 2004-05. It was a time where I really did embrace many of the other levels of hockey I had never really explored before (major junior and AHL especially). For Minnesota's younger players like Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns it was an invaluable time to really establish their game in a way that gave them prime ice time without the pressure of trying to do so under the NHL spotlight. Had the lockout not occurred, maybe they would've taken even longer to discover their NHL potential. As NHL fans like myself deal with the struggle of another battle between the NHL and NHLPA, the lockout could be a blessing in disguise as Minnesota would benefit from having its collection of young talent get a full season under their belts before they're put under the more intense light of playing in 'the show.'
Angst and malaise was evident as there was only a modest crowd of a few thousand to watch the scrimmages compared to the nearly 8,000 strong contingents that watched the prospect scrimmages this summer when people were still mainly talking about Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and not a potential lockout. The Wild's misfortune of being unable to fully capitalize on their giant free agent splash is Houston's gain and if anything the Aeros' scrimmages proved that the young stars are going to carry a prominent role on the organization's primary developmental affiliate. The Wild themselves are now promoting the Aeros' heavily as it seems they are planning on no soon end to the labor dispute, going as far as placing a banner ad for an Aeros game being hosted at the Xcel Energy Center against the Rockford Ice Hogs on November 18th.
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Team Green 2, Team Red 0
Fans were treated to the Jason Zucker show in the first scrimmage on Saturday. The former Denver University star showcased some of his tremendous speed when he used it to speed around defenders to move in for two goals to pace Team Green to a 2-0 victory. The first goal, Zucker was set up by a nice move by Zach Phillips to enter the offensive zone as he passed it over to Mikael Granlund who passed it back to the slot where Zucker buried an easy one on John Curry who was caught out of position. The 2nd goal was more about Zucker's speed as he motored right around Corbin Baldwin for a break away to beat Curry right underneath the crossbar with a wicked backhand. Team Red just could not put enough pressure on Matt Hackett. In the post-scrimmage shootout, Team Green again earned a 7-6 victory on the strength of Zucker's sweet tally. You can see the highlights of that scrimmage here. Wild.com also offered their thoughts on the scrimmage here.
Team Green 5, Team Red 2
Sunday's scrimmage gave fans a little more offense to salivate over as Mikael Granlund showcased his tremendous hands on an early power play tally. Jason Zucker would thread a cross-ice pass over to Steven Kampfer who stepped into a slapper that was stopped by Hackett, but Granlund was there to bury the rebound to give Team Green an early 1-0 lead. Team Red answered right back as Tyler Cuma set up Kris Foucault who blazed a quick slap shot by Hackett to tie it up at one goal apiece. Team Green would re-take the lead on a fluky goal as Zach Phillips flipped a puck on goal from just beyond the blueline and Hackett inexplicably gave up a juicy rebound that was pounced upon by former UMD star Justin Fontaine. Team Red's woes continued a few minutes later as Colton Jobke flung a heavy wrist shot that went wide but caromed off the boards right to Jarod Palmer who wasted no time in lifting a shot by Hackett. Team Green would strike again on a beauty of a tic-tac-toe play as Brian Connelly distributed the puck over to Jason Zucker who then delivered a perfect door step pass to Charlie Coyle camped out near the top of the crease who tapped it home to make it 4-1. Team Red would cut the Team Green lead to two, when Marco Scandella stepped into a slap shot that was stopped by Darcy Kuemper, but he gave up a rebound that was backhanded into the cage by Johan Larsson. Team Green would seal it up with an empty netter to earn a 5-2 victory and a scrimmage series sweep. You can see the highlights from the scrimmage here as well as Wild.com's recap here.
Aeros' roster cuts
On Thursday, the Aeros announced they made their initial cuts to their roster as they get themselves ready for regular season action set to begin next week. Some of these players were simply released from the professional tryout they were on while others were simply reassigned to other clubs. With so many players now vying for spots on AHL rosters, cuts are that much tougher. You could say its another side effect of the NHL lockout. Aeros GM Jim Mill still has more cuts to make but here are the initial ones.
Assigned to the Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL)
D - Kyle Medvec
D - Sean Lorenz
D - Corbin Baldwin
F - Josh Caron
F - Nick Petersen
C - Ryan Ginand
F - Rob Mignardi
Assigned back to junior club
D - Colton Jobke (Regina, WHL)
Released from Professional Tryout
F - Eric Lampe
F - Ryley Grantham
F - Brennan Vargas
D - Mike Montgomery
I would try to describe Matt Dumba's 1st goal of this season with the Red Deer Rebels, but it would pale in comparison to seeing it. Either way, when you consider he's a defenseman I think its safe to say most NHL'ers would be proud to have a highlight like this in their career. Impressive!