Wild shake off burnt equipment
Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom gave new meaning to holding a hot
hand Saturday at Minnesota's pre-game skate.
The Wild took to the ice at Scotiabank Place to prepare before Saturday night's 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators bearing signs of the fire a day earlier that destroyed much of the team's equipment.
Backstrom broke in new pads after most of his gear was lost, save for a catching glove that still bore burn marks across the leather.
"It's not the way you want to prepare for a game, but the trainers did an unbelievable job to even make this game possible," said Backstrom, who wasn't using the hard luck as an excuse. "That would be the easy way out to hide behind that. I didn't play a good game, I don't think as a team we played a good game. It would be easy to hide behind all those excuses but that's not going to make us better."
His backup, Josh Harding, was wearing a mask from the previous season that had a different number emblazoned on it than the No. 37 he currently wears. Defenceman Nick Schultz — who assisted on the Wild's only goal, by Martin Havlat — sported a pair of shoulder pads that he'd dropped $200 on at an Ottawa-area sports store.
In his 14th NHL season, left winger Andrew Brunette said he's never seen anything like it.
"It's just unbelievable," Brunette said after practice, as his teammates still were busy cutting and taping new sticks after the team's equipment staff spent much of the night scrambling for replacement gear.
"I thought it was a joke. The phone was going off (Friday) and our truck was burnt.
"Your first thought is to make sure everybody was okay, obviously, but I never thought it was as serious as it was. To lose the amount of equipment we did, especially our goalies, it's a little bit of an obstacle here to overcome."
Brunette was a little more light-hearted about the incident than other members of the Wild. He was one of nine players who were fortunate to have recovered all of their gear intact.
"My stuff's OK. I was one of the lucky ones," said Brunette, before pointing to his locker-room neighbour, Antti Miettinen. "Guys like Antti beside me lost everything. ... Our goalies, to have new gear and wearing stuff they're not used to, it's a pretty big deal."
The Wild had practised at a community complex about a five-minute drive from Scotiabank Place on Friday since the arena was booked for a concert that night.
At about 2: 30 p.m. ET, the fire department had to be called to the loading dock area after a fire broke out in the back of the cube van carrying all of the team's equipment from practice.
There were no injuries and no cause has been determined.
"We'll have to look into insurance for sure and I'm sure the police will have a report, but at this stage, I just don't have any information," said Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher.
That made for a long night for head equipment manager Tony Dacosta and his staff.
The team dispatched assistant equipment manager Brent Proulx back to Minnesota to retrieve replacement gear, which arrived on a charter flight not long before the team's skate Saturday morning.
Initially it was feared that all of the contents of the van had been destroyed, but, in addition to the equipment of the nine players, the team's video and some of the coaching equipment was okay, along with medical supplies and items like knee braces.
"It went from a real bad situation to just a bad one," Fletcher said.
The team was in frequent contact with the NHL offices throughout the night, but the idea of cancelling the game didn't come up.
Minnesota's main concern in getting replacement gear was that the players wouldn't be put at risk.
"We're taking that part seriously," Fletcher said. "We want to make sure there's no health risk and we're not putting anybody in danger by going out there. I think the players all feel comfortable that it's more of a comfort issue and breaking in equipment issue than it is a health issue."
Schultz was also pretty upbeat, although he said it might be too early for joking about the incident just yet.
"I think the trainers are probably still a little sensitive," he said, adding that he was just trying to help them out by venturing out on his own Friday night to acquire some gear. He also had the trainers pick up an old pair of skates he had lying around at home.
"I don't think (Dacosta) wants to pay the $200 for the shoulder pads, but hopefully he'll reimburse me."
The Wild also play twice more before the Christmas break, so players won't get much time to adapt to their new stuff.
Havlat was among those who spent the morning trying to break in some new gear after all of his equipment was ruined.
"The skates are going to be hard," Havlat said. "Just to get used to them, some guys need a few days, some guys need three or four weeks."
Since both goalies lost their equipment, the Wild recalled Anton Khudobin from Houston of the AHL as a precaution.
"It could have been more serious, so we're really fortunate," Backstrom said before the game.
It was a photo of Harding's charred mask that wound up prominently displayed on many sports websites Friday when the story broke.
"Every goalie's different and every pair of pads are a little different," said Harding.