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NHL: Wild's Brunette battles ACL injury during offseason

ST. PAUL -- Hours after being at the rink, you can bet Andrew Brunette still can hear Kirk Olson's sergeant-like voice reverberating through his head.

ST. PAUL -- Hours after being at the rink, you can bet Andrew Brunette still can hear Kirk Olson's sergeant-like voice reverberating through his head.

The Minnesota Wild's strength and conditioning taskmaster doesn't mess around as he holds a stopwatch and screams instructions like: "Showtime. Move it! Move it! Move it!!! . . . Push, push, push, push! . . . Thirty seconds. Drop the hammer!!!"

"Anything to motivate you," Brunette said, laughing, as the Wild's third-leading scorer of all time works ceaselessly toward recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. "You're fortunate to have a guy like that pushing you. Sometimes on your own, you don't quite push as hard -- especially in June.

"They're long days, though."

After playing the entire second half on a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, Brunette had surgery seven weeks ago. It's a four- to six-month recovery with exhaustive rehab on a daily basis.

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He works out 30 minutes on his own, then 60-75 minutes with Olson before being treated by medical trainer Don Fuller for more than an hour.

"It makes you realize the attrition Kurtis Foster had for more than a year," said Brunette, referring to his teammate who underwent a yearlong, painful return from a broken femur. "I've only been doing this for seven weeks.

"It's not fun. You're every day in here. You're like in a dungeon. You don't know what's going on outside. Driving in, it's 75 degrees, sunny. You just want to go hit golf balls or fish, and you have to come in here instead. There's certain days, I'm not going to lie, where it's like, 'This stinks.' But I've got a lot to give and am very motivated because I still feel like I've got a lot of hockey left."

A little extra encouragement

And on the days Brunette, who turns 36 in August, doesn't feel as motivated, there's Olson barking in his ear. And it's well known among Wild players that Olson can be one sick puppy at times. His workouts and words of, let's call it, encouragement are legendary.

And the more you fight, the more Olson loves it.

"Bruno's phenomenal. We've always had a blast," Olson said. "He'll throw out an F-bomb every once in a while, but you know, it's kind of a compliment to me when he does that because it means you're pushing him, he's working and he's feeling it. We have fun."

Brunette currently is strengthening the left leg, as well as his shoulder, which has been operated on the past three offseasons. He's never really had time in the summer to devote to his upper body, "so in a little way, it's a blessing."

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In late July or August, Fuller is expected to give Olson clearance to begin working Brunette's operated-on right leg.

That's when the "fun" really starts.

"I'm champing at the bit," Olson said.

Even better

Despite the injury, Brunette still finished as the Wild's second-leading goal scorer (22) and point producer (50) last season. He's hoping to be even better next season.

"I don't know why not," said Brunette, who returned to Minnesota last season after three years in Colorado. "Last year, I felt I had to make a lot of adjustments in my game. In Colorado, it was night and day different from the system we played here. In some ways, it wasn't beneficial individually for my game.

"It was an adjustment getting used to playing with players, and I'm a guy who likes to develop chemistry and read off players. It was tough. It took me a while to get into it. In Colorado, we were a down-low cycling team, and here we're more of a patient, transition team. So I'm looking forward to something new next year. That's where the motivation is right now."

Plus, Brunette, not exactly known for his speed, thinks he'll be much quicker on his spanking-new knee.

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"I hear the cadaver they put in was from a guy with a really fast ACL, like maybe a sprinter," said Brunette, always the jokester.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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