Sep 26, 2017

By Tom Witosky | Follow @toskyAHLWild

Training camp for the Iowa Wild’s fifth season opened Monday with one of the largest camp rosters in team history with players and coaches ready to accept the challenge to finish what they started last season – making it to the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playoffs.

“We turned it around last season and were so close to making the playoffs,” Colton Beck, who is entering his third season with the Wild, said. “There is a different vibe this season. We not only want to give ourselves that chance again, but we get the chance to break through that door.”

The third-year forward is among 31 players already in camp and will play in the annual Green-White scrimmage beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena. Beck is one of a number of veterans from last season’s team to introduce Wild fans to the 2017-18 season, which begins with regulation play at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7 against Central Division rival Milwaukee.

The major goal this season is to improve on the club’s first winning record, 36-31-7-2, in four years that was highlighted by a major turnaround midway in the season when Wild set a team record road winning streak of nine games and collected at least one point in 11 straight games.

The Wild missed the playoffs by five points in the Central Division, which included the 2017 Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins and the Cleveland Monsters, the 2016 champions.

Coach Derek Lalonde, entering his second season at the helm of the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate, also said that the feel is different this season – largely because of the apparent depth of Wild roster in Minnesota and, in effect, for Iowa once the parent club settles on its roster.

“I’ve gotten a good vibe about where we might be already,” said Lalonde. “We have the potential to be much deeper and the players are much more familiar with what we want to do.”

Lalonde said his optimism stems from his weeks in the Minnesota Wild training camp as well as directing the Wild’s young prospects, which played in the 2017 Traverse City Prospects Tournament earlier this month. He said the signs include veterans who came to camp in excellent skating shape, the quality of free agents signed in July, and what he hopes is the commitment of last year’s rookies to “step-up into their second year.”

“We are hoping that we’ll see a natural progression from players like Sam Anas, Mario Lucia, Nick Seeler and Hunter Warner from their first year into becoming good second year players,” Lalonde said. “They played a lot of minutes last year so you hope they hit the ground running as the season starts. The reality is that we will be leaning on them.”

In addition, Lalonde said, several Iowa alums from last season, forwards Zack Mitchell, Christoph Bertschy, Pat Cannone, and Luke Kunin have been impressing Coach Bruce Boudreau’s staff  even though there is limited space for them on what appears to be an already deep Minnesota roster.

“Zack Mitchell is in the midst of a really good camp right now. He is vying for a spot and that is where he should be in his career. I am putting Bertschy and Cannone in the same category,” Lalonde said.

As evidence, Lalonde said  the Iowa veterans came to camp ready to meet the challenge of Boudreau’s infamously demanding skate test, which requires each player to skate 4 ½ lengths of the ice sheet back-to-back. Players are required to meet a time test of 37 seconds on the first leg and 40 seconds on the final two.

Lalonde said he was a skeptic about the value of the test. “I didn’t know anything about Bruce’s skate test – it seemed a little outdated or old school for me.”

But, he said, after seeing how players arrived in camp in better shape and used their success to jump start their camps, he understood its value.

 “To see Pat Cannone, who was coming off an injury last year and struggled with it, pass it as he did was great. It jump started him in camp,” Lalonde said. “Zack Mitchell crushed the test.”

Beck said he has been looking forward to the beginning of the season because of the challenge it presents.

“It’s about getting ready to play plus developing chemistry as quickly as we can after being off for the summer,” Beck said. “I want to be ready to step into any situation that I’m put into and be there for teammates as we strive toward that goal of getting to the playoffs.”

 Palmquist, who also is entering his third season, said that his camp will be focused on simply helping to get the team off to a fast start unlike the past several seasons.

“We are coming off some success so we have a good feel about the direction we are going. It is a good feeling that we have a good team being put together and a coaching staff that wants to win, that will push us in the right direction every single day,” the 26-year-old South St. Paul native said. “My mindset is to be one of the hardest workers down here and be an example for everyone to push to get better each and every day.”

Wild notes…
Lalonde said he intentionally brought in more players for the beginning of training camp partially to introduce likely players for the Wild’s new ECHL affiliate in Rapid City, S.D., to the Wild system. Eight players listed on the Rapid City Rush preseason roster are on the Iowa training camp roster. “I like the fact that we were able to invite a lot of the ECHL affiliate players here. It gives them opportunity to get ingrained with the habits, structure and coaching here and gives me a great chance get a good look at the guys,” he said.

Stalock and Svedberg locked in a battle… Lalonde said that the jury is still out on who will take the back-up role to Minnesota goalie Devin Dubnyk. He said Alex Stalock, who posted a 23-17-8-4 record with Iowa last season, and Niklas Svedberg are playing well. “Svedberg and Al are both playing at a very high level. Bruce wanted a true competition of the back-up spot and he has what he asked for.”

Lucia ready to go…  Second year forward Mario Lucia understands the challenge he faces this season. “Wall battles. I need to be competing harder along the walls night in and night out. I can make plays but I can’t make those plays if I am not competing for the puck,” The 24-year-old Minnesota native said he has completely recovered from his shoulder injury last season. “I started well last season, but then that faded and then I got hurt. I have a good understanding now of what is expected of me. It is up to me to work that hard all over the ice so we can be successful.”

A good start … Lalonde said that a good start to the 2017-18 season is imperative, but one he expects largely because of the team’s depth and improved culture. He said that players from Minnesota will begin to trickle down to Iowa this week and into next week. They could include several of the club’s new signings like forwards Cal O’Reilly, Kyle Rau, as well as defensemen Alex Grant and Ryan Murphy. “I am hoping with the success we had once we got through the 5-10, 15-20 record, our guys started to come to the rink every day expecting to win every night. It’s always hard to get that good start, but I am hoping the culture change will have big influence on it.“

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