MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Wild knew it would have to rely on its Taxi Squad at some point, and that time came Sunday night against the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center.
The group of six minor league players gets to practice with the Wild like a normal NHL player, then has to wait to find out from Dean Evason and the front office if they need to suit up for a game. That time came for Kyle Rau, Gerald Mayhew and Luke Johnson on Sunday. The Wild is without Matt Dumba after placing him on injured reserve with a lower body injury, Marcus Foligno is on the NHL’s COVID-19 list and Kevin Fiala is still serving a three-game suspension. Marcus Johansson is also out with an undisclosed injury, and won’t be traveling to Colorado this week.
That meant for the first time since last March, about 11 months, it was time for Rau, Mayhew and Johnson to get on the ice for an actual game.
Mayhew registered 10:14 of time on ice, Rau got a little more than eight minutes and Johnson got 9:42. They combined to take five shots.
"You’ve got to be ready with this year. Covid, injuries, you’re going to get a chance to play. You just have to wait for your number to be called upon. We have to step up in times like this," Mayhew said Tuesday. "When you’re called upon, you’ve got to be ready."
Most importantly, the Wild came back from a third period deficit Sunday to force overtime. Then Jonas Brodin scored the game-winner 18 seconds into the extra session.
"Everybody has to be ready to play. I think the guys understand that, if they didn’t, then they certainly do now. We were happy with all three guys," Wild coach Dean Evason said Tuesday.
He’ll continue to rely on his Taxi Squad, with Dumba, Foligno Fiala and Johansson all still out. For Foligno, it’s a tough situation having to sit out and be placed on the COVID-19 list.
Evason said he’s spoken with Foligno, who is understandably disappointed and following protocols. But there is not yet a timetable for his return. Captain Jared Spurgeon said it serves as another reminder to stay safe.
"I think we’ve all been pretty good and I think it just shows that no matter how careful you are, there’s always a chance that it can happen. I think as a group we’ve all been pretty respectful and responsible," Spurgeon said. "Obviously it sucks and Marcus is a big part of our team, but we’re just taking it day by day and hoping it ends there."
The good thing, despite Foligno’s case, is that it hasn’t spread to the rest of the roster and they’ve largely been able to go about business as usual. The Wild, No. 3 in the West at 6-4 through 10 games, is 3-1 away from Xcel Energy Center and has its next two on the road at the Avalanche, starting Tuesday night, before coming home for a four-game home stand.
Evason has stressed flexibility with his team since this season started, with anything being possible trying to play through a pandemic. That means following every protocol, every rule that’s been put in place.
"I assume it’s like that with every team, it’s how the world is right now and it’s what we have to do to stay safe in order to put a hockey club on the ice," Evason said. "The guys are hopefully doing the right things away from the rink as much as they are at the rink."