Insiders. A warm welcome to you from overcast St. Paul, where it’s a touch quieter than it was upon our arrival. Weather for this trip is shaping up as would be expected for this time of the year: cold, cloudy, bright and sunny in the daytime in Denver, potentially snowy in Edmonton. So it goes.
The Kings held an optional practice at Xcel Energy Center at 11:00 this morning. There was little to report from it. Jack Campbell was the only goalie to take part, though that’s not representative of anything beyond Jonathan Quick getting a day off from on-ice work during another 11-in-19 stretch. With roughly half the team confined to simply kicking the soccer ball around and getting a workout in, it’s more likely that we’ll see a full team skate at Xcel Monday morning.
–The NCAA field was revealed while the team took the ice. Among the highlights: Michigan-Northeastern in a 2-3 match-up in Worcester. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALEX FAUST. There were also some observations – mostly friendly – that North Dakota failed to qualify, as did Minnesota, which was 0.0001 RPI points (which are used to determine PairWise rankings) behind Minnesota-Duluth. Because RPI, and thus, PairWise, determines who fills out the field, it was known ahead of time that the only way for the Gophers to miss the tournament would be if Princeton, Boston University, Air Force, Michigan Tech, Notre Dame and Denver all won on Saturday, and, hey, guess what happened?
For Kings rooting interests, Mikey Eyssimont and top-seeded St. Cloud head to Sioux Falls to open with Air Force, a plucky 16th overall seed. Cole Hults and three-seed Penn State travel to Allentown, Pa. to face a very difficult two-seed in Denver, which defeated St. Cloud Saturday night at Xcel to win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. Mikey Anderson’s UMD Bulldogs face Minnesota State as a three-seed in the Sioux Falls bracket, with the winner presumably facing the Huskies. (I’m saying this from experience, though: Air Force is not an automatic out.)
-Several quick bullet points on the Wild, as passed along from their PR team: diminutive but poised defenseman Jared Spurgeon will miss the game with a right hamstring tear. Minnesota, one of only four teams this season to receive more points from their defense than Los Angeles, has won four straight at Xcel Energy Center in the head-to-head series and is tied for first in the NHL with 54 home points this season with a 24-6-6 record in St. Paul. 33-year-old Eric Staal, who has 38 goals, is aiming to join Gordie Howe as the only players to post 40-goal seasons at least nine seasons apart, with no 40-goal seasons in between. Howe posted 44-goal seasons in 1956-57 and 1968-69, and Staal netted 40 with Carolina in 2008-09. More on Minnesota to come tomorrow morning.
-The Kings have traveled to 28 of 30 opposing buildings and will finally check off the final two on this road trip: Xcel Energy Center and Pepsi Center.
The former comes with a long wait for Christian Folin, who made his NHL debut late in the 2013-14 season with Minnesota. He joined Los Angeles, along with former Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper, on the first day of free agency.
“I circled it on the calendar when I saw the schedule come out, so it’ll be fun to come back here,” Folin said after practicing Sunday. “It felt a little weird coming in and taking the bus from the airport yesterday, but no, it’ll be fun. I can’t wait to play against them and see the building from the other side.”
There’s an appreciation for the hockey culture he was a part of in Minnesota, beginning when he was picked up by the Austin Bruins’ bus at a crossroads in his career and forged success with the NAHL team located a hundred miles south of the Twin Cities.“I really enjoyed playing or being a Wild player,” Folin said. “The whole community and the whole state basically loves Minnesota and the Minnesota Wild, so you get a great support. You could be out at the Mall of America and people recognize you, and you get noticed all over the place and it’s a fun atmosphere. The building is usually pretty loud and the fans, they know hockey really well, so they demand that you play well. It’s a fun place to play.”
Should he play Monday, he’ll face a former roommate in Matt Dumba, and “that’ll be a little weird.” He’s also close with fellow Swede Jonas Brodin, with whom he reconnects in the summers.
“But we had a good group of guys – like younger guys the same way we have here – that were pretty tight, and we lived in the same building too.” For one year, that was in downtown St. Paul, within a bag skate of the rink. For the next two years, he lived with several other younger players in downtown Minneapolis.
The average temperature in March may be different, but the close proximity is not too different from the concentrated group of younger Kings, all of whom call the South Bay communities of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach home.
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are his age that the way our rink is set up and the way we travel, I think you’re in a good way forced to spend a lot of time together, and I think he has a really good relationship with his teammates, gets along with everybody,” John Stevens said. “He likes being around the rink and is an enjoyable guy to be around, so I think his relationships have fanned out into the group.”
Having sat out the last two games, it’s not a given that he’ll be in the lineup. But Paul LaDue, who had recently stepped in for Folin, played only 8:49 in Saturday’s loss to New Jersey. Given Folin’s NHL homecoming, it’s not out of reach to see a switch in the lineup in which he re-enters.
And should he play, the team will have full confidence in his ability to offer positive contributions down the stretch. Folin has impressed with his work ethic and character, and those who work closely with him knows he’s the type of player who, as it had once been described by a member of the team’s staff, practically has to be pried off the ice at the end of practices.
“I think the big challenge when Foles came here was we sat down and tried to figure out ‘why haven’t you been a regular in the National Hockey League?’” Stevens said. Part of the reason, as Stevens described, was due to “consistency,” and Folin has shown admirable improvement in that evaluation and could very well be a player who will start the postseason on Stevens’ lineup card should Los Angeles earn the right to play Game 1 of a playoff series.
“Have an identity, understand what that identity is, and play to the full potential every game, and that comes with being a good pro,” Stevens said. “I think early in the year he had back-to-backs where he had to get used to the minutes, but I think his game has rounded into form where he’s been very consistent. His identity, if you watch him play night in and night out, you’re thinking the same thing about him and what he provides, and I think he’s come a long way this year.”