Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, of Finland, stops a sliding puck as they face the Montreal Canadiens during second period NHL hockey action Thursday, December 17, 2009 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
OTTAWA - 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 for Saturday night's game against 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. 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 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 OK, 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 the 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 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 OK, along with medical supplies and items like knee braces.
"It went from a real bad situation to just a bad one," Fletcher said.
The Wild 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."
Fletcher said several members of the team are battling the flu, and equipment was just another thing to worry about.
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 a 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 plays twice more before the Christmas break, so players won't get much time to adapt to their new stuff.
Right-winger Martin 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.
"It's going to be an interesting game tonight."
Since both goalies lost their equipment, the Wild recalled Anton Khudobin from Houston of the AHL, just in case neither netminder was able to suit up against the Senators, but both Backstrom and Harding said they'd be ready to go.
"It's good," Backstrom said. "It could have been more serious, so we're really fortunate."
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, so hopefully we can get accustomed to them right away and go out there and play solid," said Harding.
The Wild had won 10 of its past 13 games heading into Saturday night's contest and were hoping the fire wouldn't cool off its hot streak.
"We've got to play, we've come too far," Fletcher said. "We were 3-9 at one point and we battled back and put ourselves in a position to compete now for a playoff spot. We just can't let this be a setback."
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