Myers: Three-week long Olympic break key feature of new Wild schedule
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The truly jaded Minnesota sports fan will argue that the All-Star Break has been the highlight of the Twins season thus far. While the optimist would never make the same argument about the Wild's just-released 2013-14 season schedule, the break will be the dominant story both before and after a good portion of the NHL takes two weeks off to allow some players to participate in the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
That's the biggest news to come out of the schedule release, as after years of debate, the NHL, NHL Players Association and IIHF (the international governing body for ice hockey) reached an accord which will have NHLers playing in the Olympics on the other side of the world.
This will be the biggest travel and television challenge for hockey's pros. NHLers have in the past participated in Olympics in Japan (1998), Salt Lake City (2002), Italy (2004) and Vancouver (2008). Sochi, Russia, is nine hours' time difference from Minnesota, meaning noon games there will start at 3 a.m. local time, and a prime time 7 p.m. game in Russia will air live at 10 a.m. in the Twin Cities.
And for a few Wild players, the Olympic break is expected to be no break at all. Four years ago in Vancouver, Zach Parise was the offensive heart and soul of Team USA's silver medal effort and is expected in a similar role this time around, when the nation's best hockey teams battle in Sochi. Ditto for Ryan Suter, who is expected to anchor the Americans' blue line.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu will more than likely skate for his native Finland in Sochi, while Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom will be one of a handful of talented netminders competing to make the Finns' Olympic entry. Wild sophomore forward Mikael Granlund, who has struggled to adjust to the NHL game, has been a star for the Finns on the international hockey stage, and could find himself going to Sochi as well.
Coupled with the normal "not many home games in March" schedule due to Xcel Energy Center's use for the Boys' and Girls' State High School Hockey Tournaments, and for the first-ever Big Ten post-season tourney this March, Wild fans needn't set aside many February and March dates to see their hockey heroes play live.
The Wild have as many home games in November (eight) as they have in February and March combined. As for the rest of the schedule, the Wild open the season on Oct. 3 at home versus the Kings, and end the regular season at home on April 13 versus the Predators. In between they have just two road trips of more than three games, and none longer than four games.
In the new realigned divisions, the seemingly endless visits from the Oilers and Flames are gone, replaced with more natural geographic rivals like the Blues, Blackhawks and Jets. Calgary visits the Wild just twice, and the Wild travel there just once.
Want to see visiting fans in St. Paul? Get tickets on Sunday, Nov. 17 when Winnipeg makes its first-ever weekend visit to the X, and thousands of friends from Manitoba are sure to attend. Want to feel superior? Be there two weeks earlier on Sunday, Nov. 3, when Parise gets to face his former team, the Illya Kovalchuk-free New Jersey Devils, for the first time. Want revenge for last season? The Stanley Cup champions from Chicago, who dispatched the Wild in five games in the first round of the playoffs, visit three times, for divisional games in October, December and January.
The full 82-game schedule, plus six preseason games, is available here: http://wild.nhl.com/v2/ext/pdfs/13-14%20Season/2013-14WildSchedule-Download1.pdf