Thursday, July 31, 2008
A father brought his just-turned-3-year-old son out for the first time. Little skates, little gloves, little helmet. There was a lot of falling -- crumpling, really. Often kids are taught to skate by pushing a chair or cone. Maybe if he was the first child he would have been eased into it that way. But no, it was sink or swim for this little guy. He was picked up when he fell down, then was on his own again.
When I chatted with them, the dad, who plays in two men's leagues, bemoaned the fact that the kid seemed more interested in everything around than actual skating. Sitting in the penalty box? Wow.
I saw the boy take his very first strides. He made these little happy sounds when he knew he got it. I'm going to try to remember that sounded like, because that kid had what so many of us have lost lately -- the simple joy of hockey.
There are a lot of people in and around hockey who don't seem to even like the sport anymore, if they ever did. Everything becomes about something other than hockey. It's especially easy this time of year, when huge contracts are signed to pay people to play a sport they once did just because they liked it. Loved it.
I would just encourage everyone to take one little step back towards what made them become a fan of the game in the first place. There's plenty of summertime left to do it. One little step, the size of a 3-year-old stride.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Let’s get the first question out of the way -- yes, Don Granato is the brother of Tony and Cammi Granato. He was raised in Downers Grove, Ill., just outside Chicago, and still makes his home in the metro area.
Granato’s personal story is quite inspirational. In February 2005, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same cancer that Mario Lemieux battled. Granato, who was coach of the Worcester IceCats at the time, had to step down and undergo 12 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. He beat the cancer and returned to coaching the next fall, with the parent St. Louis Blues as an assistant (link includes photo).
For the past two seasons, he’s been working as a pro scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Granato was hired there by John Ferguson, Jr (then GM). Granato was set to have continued on with the Leafs next year, if not for him going after the Wolves job.
Researching him as I’ve been doing, it’s hard not to see his passion for coaching. One in a series of columns on hockey in USA Today several years ago is titled A coach’s emotional roller coaster ride.
You get a sense of how excited he is about the game by the number of exclamation points he used in the column above. Copyeditors could not temper him. I count five.
John Buccigross met him in 2004 and had described him this way:
Don will make a good NHL head coach because of his experience and love of the game. He has a dedication to his craft and a cool demeanor that will work very well with the 21st Century athlete. Players will play and perform for him. He projects authority without being demeaning. He has those deep-set Granato eyes that project intensity, passion and warmth.Bucci asks him eight questions at the bottom, my favorite is this one.
No. 6: Ray Ferraro is now your brother-in-law after he wed your sister Cammi. Isn't that a bit unsettling?
Granato: No comment.
As far as his accomplishments go, Granato was the captain of the Univ. of Wisconsin's NCAA championship team in 1990. He was AHL Coach of the Year in 2000-01 with Worcester, posting a .675 winning percentage. He also won the ECHL Kelly Cup with Peoria in 1999-00. He was also general manager of that team.
Style of coaching? He expects a high compete level from his teams, so you’ll see an up-tempo game. Granato talked about the importance of competitiveness in another of his columns.
Granato was a forward when he played, and is still quite young, turning 41 in August.
St. Louis Blues GM Larry Pleau on Granato back in 2005:
"He's young. He's enthusiastic. He's a good teacher. And he comes from a hockey family. You take a decision on who will handle your prospects very seriously. You spend lots of money in the development process, from scouting the kids to grooming them to be NHL players. It’s important not to make a mistake in choosing a coach to bring your prospects into the future."
Wolves players with ties to Granato? Not many. He'll largely be starting from scratch with the players. The incoming Mike Hoffman played 15 games for Granato in 2003-04 in Worcester. Colin Stuart’s brother Mike played for him for three years also in Worcester.
When given a choice, as he was by the Blues in 2005 between coaching and scouting, he's chosen coaching. But Granato’s pro scouting and management experience will surely come in handy for the Wolves. Like the Thrashers, the Wolves need to bring more hockey minds into the organization. When the day comes that Wolves GM Kevin Chevaldayoff is officially hired by an NHL club, they will need those people to fill the hole he leaves.
Interestingly, Granato coached alongside former Thrashers coach Curt Fraser in St. Louis in 2005-06 (both were assistant coaches), and now with Fraser going to Grand Rapids, they will be going head to head in the AHL. (Speaking of Fraser, anyone else find it ironic that Todd Nelson and Curt Fraser were each both previously employed by the other's new organization?)
All in all, Granato looks like an excellent choice from all angles.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
I was a little surprised not to hear reaction about the Thrashers adding an additional assistant coach to the normal two. "Three! That's too many!" or something like that. Well, if you think three is a lot, the Sharks now have five. And no, video coaches don't really count.
Former Thrashers coach Bob Hartley is being interviewed for the Islanders job, but given that they have young talent that needs to be developed, he's not a favorite to get it. From Newsday:
There’s little doubt Hartley meets Snow’s criteria for a coach in terms of discipline and providing structure and technical expertise. But the major question for Hartley is whether he has the patience for a long-term development project and the willingness to rely on young players in major roles.
I'm going to say no to that question. Candidates Mike Sullivan or Scott Gordon of Providence seem like a good fit for their needs.
There were more NHL coaching changes this offseason than in recent memory. That, combined with multiple affiliation changes means that things are still fairly unsettled in the AHL. And it's almost August.
AHL coaching openings remaining:
Rochester (due to Randy Cunneyworth to Atlanta)
Rockford (Mike Haviland now an assistant with the parent Blackhawks)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Todd Richards hired by the Sharks)
Iowa (now affiliated with Anaheim)
Portland, though Kevin Dineen may return as coach, despite the change in affiliate to Buffalo.
Providence, if Scott Gordon gets the Islanders job.
The hiring of Todd Richards by the Sharks was a great one. I was extremely impressed by him when I was up in Wilkes-Barre for the AHL finals. He’s well-spoken, thoughtful, and energetic. I would bet money he’ll have an NHL team of his own in a few years.
Here's something fun. The St. Louis Blues website pitted Dan Hinote's fiance (Amy McCarthy) roommate (Erik Johnson) in a "who knows him better?" contest. Amy won by a big margin. The answers are funny. I once tested roommates Brad Schell and Lane Manson on how well they knew each other and they did much better than EJ here. Schell got more questions right about Manson than the other way around. That didn't surprise me since Lane talks so much.
Meanwhile, in media news, newspapers around the country are taking a massive beating.
Rough June for newspapers portends bleak futureIn Atlanta, the AJC announced 10 days ago that they are cutting 8 percent of their workforce.
Accelerating decline in ad revenue leaves newspaper publishers predicting still more bad news
NEW YORK (AP) -- Regional and national newspaper publishers, already staggering with a drop in ad revenue more severe than the industry has seen since the Great Depression, say the second half of 2008 may be even worse.
1. Hockey players are nice people. I spend a fair amount of time near visitors locker rooms, trying to find a particular player. I often ask the equipment manager or a teammate to tell the guy I'm looking for him. Not only do they tell him, the often will follow back up with me on his status and estimated time. Thanks, man. The best for me was when I was in another city and mistook one player for another (easy to do given circumstance). The guy practically apologized for not being the one I was looking for. He finally got his first NHL contract this summer -- glad to see that happen to such a nice guy. And the nicest in the bunch are without fail the tough guys. When you think about it, it makes sense -- only those who channel that belligerent energy in a team-oriented way, on and off the ice, are going to move up the ranks.
2. Hockey players are smart people. It's a rough sport, but hockey is not about brute strength (like football) or being freakishly tall (like basketball). It's about skill and teamwork. I've only met two players who I would label "dumb jocks," and the fact that I remember them for that underlines how rare they are. Players in other sports get in trouble for dumb things. I don't think hockey players are angels, but they are usually smart enough to do the cost/benefit analysis on that potentially dumb thing and decide against it. One time a player who many probably would look at and assume he was dumb got preemptively defensive with me about it, stating that he wasn't dumb. I assured him that I never thought any such thing.
3. Most down to earth? On a whole, defensemen and guys from Saskatchewan. Defensemen don't get much glory, so they have the easiest time keeping their heads on straight. And Saskatchewan? Per capita, they've produced the most NHLrs of any Canadian province. Most of them could probably kick your ass too, starting with Gordie Howe. The culture must be just right there.
4. Good goalies have a swagger to them. All of them. They need it to do that job, which has so much pressure. If you meet a goalie who doesn't seem to have a swagger, either you don't know him well enough yet, he's in a bad spell, or he's not a very good goalie. I've noticed this same phenomenon with reporters to a lesser extent, because if you folded up the tents when people criticized you, you would last about three days. I get concerned when I meet a goalie and see no swagger.
5. Desire goes farther than talent. You need both, but the most important is desire. I've seen very talented players flounder in the minors because they just don't care to apply themselves. Likewise, there are tons of heart and soul players in the NHL who are there simply because they are willing to go through walls.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
It was not only Anderson's comment during prospect camp that made me think Nelly would get the job, but also the way he was pressing the flesh among the staff. "Hi I'm Todd Nelson and I'm running for assistant coach." I would only add that Nelly has always been very pleasant to me both in Chicago and Atlanta, even when he wasn't running for anything.
Nelson giving tips to Will O'Neill (48) and Zach Bogosian. Nelly was a defenseman in his day, so it's likely he'll continue to specialize there.
Nelson with Wolves coach Wendall Young.
Nelson in goal. Sort of.
With the name on the back.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The Wolves will likely make their own coaching announcement as soon as the Thrashers do. Right now it would be awkward to do it because Nelson would be a candidate for the head coach position there if he stayed. Best to avoid that. (Though I wonder if any media in Chicago would even notice...there's been not one item on the search that I could find. Everything's been out of Atlanta/Gwinnett.)
Some don't think the identity of the assistant coaches are very important. In normal times, that's probably true. But these aren't normal times. When there's any kind of power struggle or uncertainty going on, it gives you a window in like nothing else does. Would top candidates stay away due to the uncertainty of ownership, like the head coaching job?
2. In other news, Finnish hockey fans are hard-core. I learned this today after mentioning something about Finland yesterday and getting about 1000 visits from that country in the past 24 hours (numbers not exaggerated). That's like what, 10% of the country? (I kid!) Seriously, though, stay cold, Finland.
3. Things you like to see: Robbie Bina turning pro.
In about three years, Robbie Bina has made the incredible journey from a broken neck to a professional hockey contract.4. Things you don't like to see: Unfinished, abandoned hockey arenas. This is the Sarasota one.
The arena is now little more than three concrete walls standing along the largely unused road named Center Ice Parkway. It is fenced off twice -- once with a gate for which Diaz has the key and with another fence maintained by SMR.
The project's future remains uncertain, but it still has its supporters.
The East Coast Hockey League (sic), which had a team lined up to come here if the arena was built, still considers Lakewood Ranch a prime market.
5. I found another article talking about the rink project in Peachtree City. It references a letter from Don Waddell to the organizer of the project.
During his presentation Thursday, Thompson included a letter from Don Waddell, Executive Vice President and GM of the Atlanta Thrashers.
“The Thrashers would like to be involved in this, and will do mini-camps and hold some practices here,” said Thompson.
He also presented a letter of support from Toby Jeffreys, Majority Owner and Chairman of the Gwinnett Gladiators.
Monday, July 21, 2008
* Mark Popovic signing in Finland with Tappara. That’s the same team as Niclas Lucenius, by the way.
* Colton Fretter signing with the AHL Houston Aeros. They were interested in him last summer but he chose to re-sign with Chicago.
* Kevin Doell signing in Finland (or Sweden). He had a deal lined up with Espoo last summer with an NHL out clause. He was an UFA then and now. If anyone bemoans the loss of Doell, Rylan Kaip should be able to take over those checking responsibilities with the Wolves.
* Brett Sterling traded before the end of the calendar year. Left wing is still log-jammed with Kovalchuk and Kozlov. He is probably more valuable in a trade right now.
What would surprise me is 2000 draft pick Ilya Nikulin signing with the Thrashers. Everyone in the organization has said for years, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” because it seems every year noise gets made and then he doesn’t come. Even a signed contract wouldn’t be enough at this point for me. Don’t believe he’s coming until you see the whites of his eyes. It’s hard to extricate players from Russia for reasons that go even beyond the current dispute over contracts.
When Nikulin was drafted, Zach Bogosian was 9 years old. Think about that for a moment.
Thanks to prospect camp, July has been the busiest month ever on the blog, and it’s only the 21st of the month. Thanks for stopping by, though I’ll admit the traffic makes me feel pressure to write every day. If you want to save yourself some clicks, and take some pressure off me, set up an RSS feed with the blogs you read and then it will show you if they’ve updated.
In August, I’ll do more “rules related to prospects” posts as people found them useful. Some may want to revisit the one on the NHL/CHL agreement now to understand why Angelo Esposito can’t play for the Chicago Wolves for the 2008-09 season (until his junior season is over). If you have another rule you’d like to understand better, just let me know.
Soon we’ll start hearing that so-and-so got invited to this or that NHL camp. That’s great except for Philadelphia’s. For the past couple of years, they’ve brought in 60+ players so that they can have a four-team mini-tournament at the start. Guys are brought in just to be bodies, and quickly released.
Conveniently holding off until the end of prospect camp was the premiere of season 5 of Project Runway. Last season I won my pool by picking Christian Siriano to win. To me he stood out right away. This season the talent is more spread out, with no clear favorite. I had to do a substantial amount of research this weekend to decide on my pick. I’m going with Jennifer Diederich. She’s got a clean look in her work that I think the judges will go for. If you do not yet watch the show, you’re missing some good TV. It’s on Wednesdays at 9pm on Bravo.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
A few notes on it. Like all things revolving around prospects, watching this camp requires a lot of patience. It's tedious, and it's work, there's no getting around that. But if you watch closely, you can pick out strengths and weaknesses. Of course you have to factor in everyone's age and experience level while you're watching though. Someone beating a pro guy is more impressive than beating an invitee for example. I didn't watch the pro guys in particular, since I know what they can do in games. But they were very good measuring sticks against the other players. Likewise I also didn't talk to the pro guys unless I had a summer-related question. It just seems like a better use of time to talk to them at fall camp or with their teams.
All Thrasher fans will find what John Anderson said about fall camp to be interesting, both about making everyone feel welcome and the team-building plans. North Dakota fans may find Mike Forney's comments interesting.
During camp I noticed a verbal oddity of Anderson -- he'll begin his answers with "Yeah, no..." Hmm. How do you quote that? What does it mean? I decided to just drop it from the quotes. I do prefer it to Bob Hartley saying "like" every fifth word though.
Marriage was certainly going around strong among the prospects, as in addition to those mentioned, Kaip, Turple, and Stoesz, another unnamed player said to me "I may be next" and I think he wasn't kidding.
Next up will be a new Top 20 ranking, adding in the new draftees.
As much as the Thrashers use the airport, it would make a lot of sense to practice closer to it.
It will be up to Peachtree City voters to determine whether to spend $941,000 a year for 20 years to build an ice rink and fitness center, which would be leased by two private companies...
[Local gym owner Dar Thompson] also said Thursday night that the Atlanta Thrashers will do minicamps in summer for our kids, hold some practices here, possibly some prospect camps for them here, and visiting NHL teams staying here in PTC using facility for pre-game warmups.
Possible exhibition events and camps from Gwinnett Gladiators.
And from The Fayette Daily News:
During his presentation Thursday, Thompson included a letter from Don Waddell, Executive Vice President and GM of the Atlanta Thrashers.
“The Thrashers would like to be involved in this, and will do mini-camps and hold some practices here,” said Thompson.
He also presented a letter of support from Toby Jeffreys, Majority Owner and Chairman of the Gwinnett Gladiators.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
After spending the 2006-07 season with the Gladiators on a Thrashers contract, last year Dave played for the AHL Lowell Devils and ECHL Trenton Titans. He’s preparing for New Jersey Devils camp again this year and will be re-signing with Lowell. He said they have everything with the contract worked out except for the insurance. He explained how much better the insurance is in the AHL than the ECHL. If you’re on a two-way contract and get sent down, you stay on AHL insurance only as many days as you were originally in the AHL. Plus ECHL insurance cuts off on June 30. So he’s trying to get better benefits just in case he gets sent down. But I don't think that will happen, for the reasons below.
In New Jersey they have Martin Brodeur and some other guy who never plays...Kevin Weekes (had to look that up). There are two spots open in Lowell. Dave figures veteran Scott Clemmensen has one of those jobs. He'll compete with rookie Jeff Frazee. They’ve told him they’ll take the best two, regardless, and the one left standing will go to Trenton (ECHL). "They" here is New Jersey, who own and operate the Lowell Devils. So while Dave's actual contract will say Lowell, all the talking is with New Jersey.
Dave likes his chances between him and Frazee, as do I. Frazee, remember, was the goaltender who lost his starting job at Minnesota last year to Thrashers draft pick Alex Kangas, a freshman. It’s curious that New Jersey signed him to an NHL deal at all, in fact.
Caruso believes that opportunity comes to those who are in the right place at the right time, and you couldn’t do any better hedging your bets than being in an organization without a star goalie prospect. It's about the only way to get AHL ice time. With so few goalies in NJ's system, if there are a couple injuries, he has himself an NHL contract again.
NJ goaltending coach Chris Terreri spent a lot of time with Caruso last year in Trenton going over game tape sequence by sequence and talking about what to improve. It was all little things like reading the play or being more flat at times.
Here's a photo of Dave from today at camp.
If he looks skinny, that’s because New Jersey wants his playing weight under 200. Dave said he wasn’t sure that skinnier goalies are always better, Brodeur isn’t skinny, but he’s willing to do that if that’s what they want. He said he played his best hockey when he weighed 212, his junior year in college at OSU. He said he sweats less when he weighs less, that’s the only advantage he feels. When he was in Gwinnett he weighed around 218.
His training lately is both conditioning and lifting heavy weights quickly, with not a lot of reps. Then he’ll move into lighter weights, and be ready for training camp. With camp just eight weeks away now, all pro players are getting serious.
The goalie camp stuff is tiring in itself though. It's been long days this week because he is at the rink with the kids all day and then does a workout in the evening when he gets back to his parents’ place. He said it’s hard to keep up your intensity all day with the kids. You have to be on them constantly.
In Columbus, Ohio, where he spends his summers among other OSU alumni, he plays pickup hockey with guys who come back and some current players too. Thrashers prospect John Albert has been among the group. Dave said he looked like a good player at pickup and asked how he did at prospect camp. Of course I said well.
Later in the summer, the Blue Jackets players will start to play pickup games as well. Dave got in on that last year, and hopes to again, but the organizer, Jody Shelley, was traded so there will be a little hurdle to go over. Dave lives with his girlfriend in Columbus. She has a very good job as a special education teacher there.
The off-ice portion of camp is in the Thrashers workout area. Thrashers Strength and Conditioning Coach Ray Bear is in charge of this part. Dave said they can’t keep apples in stock now that Ray Bear told the campers they should eat three apples a day. That three of them have as much anti-inflammatory as four Advils, all in the skin. Very good for the body. I asked if it was OK if you dip the apples in caramel. He said, “I’m saying it’s OK.”
Another picture, yes that's Cam Brown in the foreground. Everyone is looking at Al Blevins, who is at the net talking.
The goalies range from age 8 to 15. The youngest is Erik Gordon, the son of Providence Bruins coach Scott Gordon. Dave said Erik is very good for his age. Scott Gordon was a goalie back in the day as well.
Dave said he heard via his girlfriend that former Gladiator teammate Jon Awe is going to play in South Korea. My thought on that is that the South Koreans will probably worship him, which should appeal to the sensibilities of someone who calls himself Big Sexy. It looks like some speedy South Korean has already updated Awe’s Wikipedia entry with the signing, which isn't too surprising if you know anything about them.
We also talked about training techniques, which I won't bore you with. I had my third conversation about skating treadmills in a week, which is odd. I learned quite a bit as he ate like four plates of food to my half. No wonder I'm hungry again. Excuse me while I go buy a bag of apples. And caramel.
Oh, and if you came here looking for news on the prospect camp review, it's coming. From HF's perspective there's not a big rush since we don't have a lot of other stuff going on. Maybe tomorrow night, but more likely I'll sleep on draft and finish Saturday.
Two more pictures, because they're funny.
No, he actually isn't practicing for a Broadway musical, he's lifting his stick over his head to show the campers what to do to stretch.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Today was more work with skating and skills coach Kenny McCudden. I'll stop putting "Wolves" with his name because he said today that he's going to be doing more work with the big club. This didn't surprise me at all, and in fact in my opinion it's overdue. Players have mentioned to me for years how much help Kenny has been for their game, the latest being Boris Valabik (see article). Kenny's been a key cog in the organization for a long time even though he wasn't officially a part of it. I wrote an article about his influence last year. The other important thing about him is how positive he is. He's the most energetic 47-year-old you'll ever see.
During the Calder Cup Finals, John Anderson asked Kenny if he could have 35-40% of his time if he became the coach of the Thrashers. Kenny does a lot of skating instruction with kids in addition to his work with the Wolves, so this will be a substantial shift for him. He'll probably be in Atlanta every few weeks for maybe three days at a time he said. He has had a big impact on players who are still developing, but there's always something a veteran can improve as well. Brad Larsen has already expressed desire to work with him in the fall. I would bet that given the proximity of the Gladiators, Kenny will also work with prospects assigned there.
Here's Kenny and Myles Stoesz. They're laughing as the entire field of white shooters fail on their shootout attempts. Stoeszer was the only one who made it, so he won the contest. I told Kenny he should give him a t-shirt as a prize because Stoeszer was lacking in that department.
Rylan Kaip. He is terrific in 1-on-1 drills. Very strong and he almost always gets a shot off. The drill favors the defensemen, so it's really impressive. Enlund was also good at 1-on-1's, in a more crafty way.
When UND got their playoff mustaches, I joked that Kaip looked 35. Well, talking to him he could pass for it too. He has the no-nonsense aura of a grizzled vet, kind of reminded me of Brad Larsen (two Larsen references in one day, odd) or like a Cam Brown. His strength is that "old man strength" guys sometimes talk about. I've said it before, but Kaip is one of the few players who will probably be a better pro than he was a college player.
Bogosian. Notice how everything is blurry except his eye -- a visual depiction of his high concentration. I like this picture.
For the Swedish contingent: Nicklas Lasu.
For the Gladiators contingent: Scott Marchesi. He looked like he was dying the first day, but was OK after that.
For the Alaska contingent: Wylie Rogers.
The best invitees this year were probably Scott Bartlett out of Middlebury (NESCAC) -- I don't even know what that is, it's so obscure -- and Vic Saponari from BU.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Me on the other hand, I'm exhausted. So here are just a few photos for now and I'll have to write more later.
Paul Postma. Notice the white on his nose, that's a tape bandage. He took a stick to the face on Friday morning. His locker room neighbor Kulda tried to tell me Postma got in a bar fight. If you were picking teams for a bar fight, this mild-mannered skinny guy would be the last guy picked. Anyway, it looked really bad that day, but it's already much better. No stitches and it's not broken. He said it's really sore though.
Oh one funny thing. I was asking Postma what his body fat measurement in camp was. Just at that moment, Strength and Conditioning Coach Ray Bear walked by in the background and yelled, "lie!" as a suggestion for answering. Postma tried it "umm, 26%" but then said he couldn't remember, but it was close to what's been measured before for him, like 6 or 7%.
Speaking of Kulda, something needs to be revisited. I said on the first day that Bogosian hit him in the opening skate-around. That's what I thought I saw, and I checked with John Anderson and that's what he thought he saw too. But today I asked Kulda if anything funny happened in camp, since he's usually good for stuff like this, and he mentioned that he stepped on a puck and fell five minutes into camp. He said everyone keeps talking about Bogosian hitting him, but it was a puck. Funny. The circumstantial evidence was all against Bogosian -- he had just passed Kulda and was looking back laughing. Falling is funny whether you made it happen or not I guess.
Will O'Neill recovering from the mountains (timed skating drills). He had the worst time in his five-player group. Bogosian won that heat handily.
By the way, I asked John Anderson what his preferred term for this drill is, and he said that we'll continue using Bob Hartley's term of mountain (others call them Herbies for Herb Brooks).
Machacek, Holzapfel and Esposito have a conference.
Chris Carrozzi sticking out his tongue as he stretches.
Invitees Ryan Daniels looking this way, and Dan Rosen looking away.
Oh and I asked Stoesz about his shootout goal the other day, in which he buried a shot after missing the puck on pickup at center. "What are you talking about?" he smiled. "I do that all the time." What happened was mental. Two shooters prior, Angelo Esposito was recalling a shootout he had this year in which he missed on the pick-up and then fired high. Stoesz was thinking to himself 'don't miss the puck, don't miss the puck,' and then promptly missed the puck.
Friday, July 11, 2008
"You're gonna be upset when I tell you," Lewis said. "We never bowled."
Why, was the obvious question. Here's the Grant Lewis version of events: "I dunno, Albert wasn't up for it. I challenged him numerous times. I think he was embarrassed -- I think he may have been lying about his 180 average. And after called out about it, he backed down. He's the one who's running. You tell him I'm here anytime."
Eventually I caught up with Albert and raised these accusations. It's looking now like it was all a veteran move by Lewis to put some heat on the rookie by sending someone over with a tape recorder. Albert the Innocent's version of events: "No, I didn't run away from anything. I didn't hear anything about a bowling challenge. If there was, I would have done it." He said they didn't talk about bowling whatsoever. On the lying about his average accusation, Albert said he could support it. "Yeah, for sure," he said. "Anytime."
Another version of events might be that Lewis was just distracted by all the video games and never thought about bowling. "We played this game called 'Jamba Jungle' or something," he said. "You just have to follow your finger around the screen til you get it in. There was probably a crowd of about 30 of us at the end because we thought the game was unbeatable. Once you got really close, the time would come down really fast.
"Some say I stepped up and beat it, some said I beat the unbeatable," he said, pausing for the historical significance... "Ask Painer if you don't believe me. I was betting people $100 they couldn't beat it." I asked if he ended up raking in money on his win. He said no. "No one wanted to bet me because they knew I had the best shot at doing it."
"Spencer!" he shouted across the locker room. "Come here and tell her about me beating the unbeatable!"
Machacek walked over and Lewis repeated his request.
"You beat that?" Machacek said.
"I beat it! We thought the game was unbeatable."
"Yeah it was. You beat it?"
"I beat it."
"What'd you get? How many tickets?"
"Yeah. We gave them to underprivileged children."
I suggested that maybe Lewis should make a career out of gaming. "Honestly, I've thought about it," he said. "In college it was me and Hugh Jessiman, we were roommates. We had two TVs set up and we had four systems. We would challenge people when they came over."
"So are you better at that or are you better at hockey," I asked.
"Umm... ... ... I dunno, it's close. It's close," he said. "I think hockey pays a little more."
Meanwhile, in another corner, Artie Kulda praised the driving skills of Riley Holzapfel, who beat him repeatedly at a car racing game. "I can see he's playing every day, video games," Kulda said, glancing Holzapfel's way. "Arm exercises for strength," he added, demonstrating some wrist moves.
I asked Holzapfel if indeed he had been training for this. "No," he laughed. "I guess it's just natural talent."
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Here's a shot of the spectators who came out today.
It was a good day to come because it was the highest level of play yet. It seems like the players have worked out their jitters, understand the drills, and is are hitting their stride.
The hot weather brought another afternoon thunderstorm, which could be heard loudly through the roof. Speaking of the weather, some reactions by first-timers to the oppressive heat in Atlanta:
Zach Redmond, from Michigan: "It takes a little bit of getting used to, it's not too bad."
John Albert, from Ohio: "Oh it's a killer out there. I was dying in warmups yesterday and we were only outside for about five minutes. I was just drenched in sweat."
Paul Postma, from Alberta: "Oh man, it feels like Mexico."
Back to more serious topics for a moment. Coach John Anderson got a little upset with the campers for not doing a drill correctly, and broke out some curse words. It was kind of an odd forechecking drill so I can't blame them too much.
Blue won the 4-on-4 scrimmage 6-2. In the shootout that followed came the funniest moment of camp so far. Tough guy Myles Stoesz missed picking up the puck at center, which immediately brought jeers from the bench, but he stepped in and buried a wrister on Carrozzi high. He skated towards the bench motioning for a reaction, and then made a guzzling gesture. Lots of laughs there, and he certainly made up for missing the puck.
Chad Denny made a diving defensive move in the scrimmage, but backing the tape up a bit, he got into that position because at the other end, he took a big windup and shot right into a guy's shinpads, who then took off with the puck.
I chatted with Rylan Kaip for a few minutes afterwards. He got to camp a day late because he got married on Saturday back in Saskatchewan. Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils, who Kaip played with at North Dakota, was his best man. About 8 or 9 teammates came out. Being from a small town, the couple invited pretty much the whole town and had 450 guests. His wife let him keep the goatee for the wedding. "She's a pretty good sport," he said. I remarked on North Dakota's early use of this year's playoff sensation, the mustache, which the Wolves later employed with success. "Yeah, we had them first, but they put them to use for a longer time." Good point by him.
The 24-year-old Kaip had been rooming with Danick Paquette, but he left early. Kaip now has a single. "Michelle said if someone's got to have a room to themselves, might as well be the old married guy," he laughed.
I asked Paul Postma if his bright blond hair is all natural. He said it is, but that in the playoffs last year for Calgary the team bleached their hair, so he bleached his too. "When I came to the rink, they said 'you didn't actually dye it, did you?' I did!" He claims to have died it back to natural since then.
Postma is rooming with Jonas Enlund, who is not so good with English yet. Redmond is rooming with Mike Forney.
Derek Nesbitt, former Gladiator who is newly signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, was in attendance. Yesterday he was sitting up in the Breakaway Grill and today he was over by the Zamboni door with Al Blevins.
Some photos from today.
Will O'Neill. He's very smooth with the puck, no panic. Good D today, including on Esposito. Note the bright mouthguard tucked into his glove.
Spencer Machacek making a face. He's so strong on the puck.
Nicklas Lucenius. He did a lot of tricky things with the puck in warmup, but that was it. Seems very choppy in his motions and doesn't always move his feet during play.
Asst. coach Steve Weeks worked with Carrozzi and Ryan Daniels.
Wolves goaltending coach Wendall Young worked with Wylie Rogers and Dan Rosen.
Today was the first scrimmage and Team White won 5-1. It got more spirited as time went on. White had the more experienced defense with Lewis, Kulda, Denny and Marchesi. At the other end, just as an example, this foursome was caught in their own end for a while: Postma, Redmond, Thorburn and Enlund.
The stands were an equally interesting place, if you're interested in the coaching future. Steve Weeks, who has been an assistant coach with the team since the Kurt Fraser era, was there bright and early watching from the Breakaway Grill alongside Wolves GM Kevin Chevaldayoff. Later Weeks was down by the glass and John Anderson went and stood by him chatting for quite some time. This surely bodes well for Weeks being retained by the organization. He works on systems and with the goalies, by the way. Don Waddell came out for the scrimmage as well, and at one point was chatting up a 'non-traditional fan.' (His previous words)
The first injury of camp was invitee Patrick Cusack. He could be seen today icing his left leg and limping.
Jacob Anderson, John's older son, helped on ice with the pucks, getting them set up for drills. Dad said afterwards, "There were only two of us (coaches) on the ice so I said 'get out there and start pushing pucks -- I'm the head coach, I can't be seen pushing pucks around like that.'" Said facetiously of course.
I asked Anderson how it was OK by NCAA rules that he head up the camp, since college players are very regulated in the interaction they can have with pro teams in order to keep their eligibility. He said, "I'm not being paid right now (in addition to regular salary). LA does it, Washington does it (with their camps). It's not like I'm coaching games. It's just ice time if you want to be on there. None of the coaches are paid -- we're here of our own volition. They want us to be here to have faces to put to names, but there's no money being paid to any of us."
Anderson talked about a few players in particular, at some length. Note a bit of similar language in describing the conversations he had with Painchaud and Esposito.
Anderson warned about how different the pro players look than the amateurs -- it's a good advisory to new watchers of the camp. "Without looking at who's doing what, I can tell if guys have had a year of pro. They're a little smoother, a little quicker, and they're not as nervous. And they know a lot of the drills -- that helps immensely. The other guys, they don't know the shortcuts in the drills and stuff like that. I'm glad (they're here) because I can put them at the front of the drills so the drills don't get screwed up."
On Chad Denny: "He's improved immensely. We had to send him down (at the start of last year), he kind of wasn't getting it, but he's become a professional where he knows where to go a little bit better and he doesn't take his time going there. There's no hesitation. If you watch him shoot the puck, he has an NHL shot. He almost killed the goalie there twice. Tell him to tone it down, we're running out of goalies. So he's coming along. His stick is better, he's using his poke check a lot better."
On Chad Painchaud: "I had a talk with him yesterday in my office, he had a little bit of a bump in the road there at the end of last year. But look, the slate's clean as far as I'm concerned, I never hold any grudges. I talked to him after the incident with Jeff (Pyle) and I said look, your hockey's gonna do the talking. How you play. I don't care about anything else that's happened in the past. Let's let your hockey do the talking and that will decide where you are and what you're gonna do. We all make mistakes and we all say things that we regret."
I asked if it was Painer's choice to come to the camp. "Yes," he said. "He asked if he could come in. And absolutely. Guys want to play -- God bless 'em. I'm all on board with that. I think he wanted a clean slate. Good for him. And what's hard for him when you think about it, it's his third year pro, he's been here and done this already. It's good -- he shows that he cares, cares about his career and I'm very happy to see it quite honestly."
Anderson's comments on Myles Stoesz morphed into a statement about Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle (who is up for Anderson's old job). "Myles' concept of the game is better. Jeff's done a really good job with our guys in Gwinnett and we're really happy with the progress. We send guys down to Jeff and they come back and they're better players. He's done a great job for us. He deserves a lot of kudos for that."
On Vinny Saponari: "He looked a little nervous yesterday. I like what he does, I like his skating, his quickness."
On Angelo Esposito: "His 'dartiness' is excellent. He's got a great release and a good shot. We had him in Chicago for a bit last year. His agent wanted him to play one game with us, which I was fine with. He wanted to practice a little bit then go back, he has to play another year of junior. We were very impressed with him and he had a real good game. The mission was accomplished. I think he feels a little bit more comfortable with us too, he's coming from another organization (Pittsburgh). I'm glad he did come down for the game and got a little experience. It's made my relationship with him a little bit better. At one point, he was supposed to be the No. 1 pick overall and kind of slid down a bit. So that's a lot of weight on his shoulders to prove everybody wrong. I talked to him yesterday and Danny Marr talked with him. We just told him the slate's clean -- don't worry about what everybody else says you're supposed to do. Just play. Just play and let your hockey do the talking. He was fine with that. He's a good kid. I can joke with him, give it to him out on the ice. He's getting to understand our mentality a little more."
The pressure on him hadn't come to any kind of head, "I like to stop things before they happen," Anderson said. "Look, I was drafted ahead of Mike Bossy if you can believe it -- I got my GM fired. So I can understand what's happening. I was in the minors and Bossy scored 50 goals his first year in the National Hockey League. I understand the pressure and what you can go through with that. Danny (Marr) came to me and said, 'let's get him on board here,' don't worry about what everyone else is saying. It's what you do for us. And we don't care what they say either. I can see in his face out here, he's happy and having fun. This is a game, we want to have fun."
On settling in with Atlanta (where Anderson looks completely comfortable and is owning the job, by the way) : "Right now I'm still burned out after the season, but I really wish the new season would start right away because I'm ready to go."
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Today I was talking to John Albert, and at the end of a pretty serious interview, I asked what fun activities they had planned for the guys as a lead-in to what I was pretty sure would be a interest of his. He said he didn't know, but that the track at 7:30am tomorrow morning wasn't it.
I mentioned that usually they go out for some fun, and there's bowling involved. "Really?" he perked up. I said being from Cleveland, he was probably a good bowler (we're both grew up near to Akron, Ohio, once the bowling capital of the world). "Oh yeah, I love bowling," he said emphatically. "If we went bowling, that'd be great." He said he has about a 180 average, which is solid. I told him that Grant Lewis, a Pittsburgh native across the locker room, was a good bowler. "Is he? I'll have to talk to him, challenge him maybe," Albert said. I asked Albert if he thought he could take Lewis. "Yeah, I think so," he said, the most confidently of anything he had said all interview.
I made my way to the other side of the room for another purpose, and mentioned to Lewis that Albert bowls -- oh, and that he said he thought he could take him.
"We'll see," Lewis said, accepting the challenge. He recalled his bowling feats of two years ago when he got like four out of five strikes and on for the win, despite Jimmy Sharrow feeding him drinks.
Thursday night will be the trip to Jillian's, a place with lots of games including bowling. Myles Stoesz piped up at this point and said he made sure he brought his Jillian's card with him for the trip. This comment is particularly funny when compared to what he told me the day before -- that packing in a hurry, he didn't bring enough shirts to last all week. You can see what's important here.
Later I was standing by the stick rack, and Chad Denny came by. To make conversation, I asked him if he brought his Jillian's card. He said he didn't, but when told that Stoeszer did, Denny said, "He would though."
For the record, my money is on Albert in the contest. He seems to take his bowling very seriously.
40 John Albert - Looks very good, quick skater and good hands. Quite soft-spoken. Makes most of his shots, which is ironic, given that he said today he was disappointed in his goal totals last year. Bogosian had to make a real effort to defend him.
41 Jonas Enlund - I watch him, but I don't write anything down because he's not been remarkable in any way. That's both good and bad I guess.
42 Nicklas Lasu - Scrappy. He's got quick hands and feet. Odd balance, but he stays up. Puck skills could be better.
44 Zach Bogosian - He gets where he's going in good time. Very hard shot. Tough to get around. Loves the poke check -- he'll break a lot of sticks in his career by doing that.
46 Spencer Machacek - Skinny. Made a real nice 2-on-1 play and has some finish.
47 Mike Forney - Flashy at times, but where's the substance to back it up.
48 Will O'Neill - You can't miss him with his hot pink mouthguard. I had low expectations for him, but he's better than expected. Has a hard slap shot.
49 Niclas Lucenius - Need to watch him more closely.
54 Vinny Saponari - Often involved in scoring plays. His most spectacular moment was while he was waiting in line for a drill at center ice. Rylan Kaip fell and slid almost into Saponari, taking out his legs, but Saponari jumped -- getting some serious air -- and avoided the collision. Showed some agility there.
56 Zach Redmond - Yes, folks, there is another Zach at camp, though you wouldn't know it to hear people talk. He's much better than you'd expect for a 7th round pick. Rather good in fact. He even brought out a toe drag to the net against I think it was Chad Denny. You don't see many defensemen trying toe drag moves. He skates well with good transitions. Hard shot. Temper everything by remember he's already 20.
57 Angelo Esposito - Uses the fake move a lot, both passing and shooting. Nice play on a give and go (tip). Kept the puck at the blue line with a tight curl. Took a really long shift in the 4-on-4 game.
60 Paul Postma - He's going to be real good someday, you can tell he has all the tools. Good size, good skater, lots of torque on his shot. Just needs to mature.
61 Myles Stoesz - Having the most fun of anyone in camp. Maybe it's the new-found confidence his personal trainer is giving him. But if there was a scoring race, he'd be in it. Skating is somewhat better, but still noisy.
63 Matt Siddall - His skating is not pro caliber. Rest of game doesn't make up for it.
35 Chris Carrozzi - It's easy to see why his glove hand is an issue -- he doesn't hold his glove up like goalies are taught to. He holds it the lowest of any goalie I've seen, and worse, not open towards the puck. So he has to raise and open it for shots. Here's a photo that's a bit blurry but you can see what I'm talking about. That's his normal stance there. He's very flexible though, I'll say that.
Goaltender Ryan Daniels looked very good on breakaways. Guys would try to deke and he'd always have a pad on it. Scott Barlett has some good wheels, one of the fastest out there. Hard slap shot.
Team Blue gathers for some drills. #41 is Jonas Enlund.
Coach Anderson at the board. He's a lot neater than Bob Hartley in drawing things. But that's not hard.
The very blond Paul Postma.
A smiling Spencer Machacek.
Nicklas Lasu and Enlund.
Angelo Esposito, chomping on his mouth guard as usual.
A very unflattering photo of Esposito. Vic Saponari, Vinny's brother, is behind him. These three should team up for a mafia flick.
Enlund, next to Anderson.
John Albert, out of OSU, who I interviewed today. He looks very good.
Rylan Kaip takes a rest as the world whizzes by. He probably needs that rest, he's been a busy guy lately.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Zach Bogosian started camp off his way, checking an unsuspecting Arturs Kulda into the boards and onto the ice on the opening skate-around. He didn't hit him hard, but Kulda wasn't expecting it.
I wrote in my notebook, "ice looks terrible," and afterwards John Anderson said "the ice was a little soft." The Thrashers sheet used to be exceptionally good. But it wasn't nearly as cold in the IceForum today as most days, and they do go hand in hand. There was a good crowd, maybe 60 or so. Three TV crews were out. With the Braves on the road, they need pictures of something.
There were three rostered players not on the ice. One was Chad Denny. I actually ran into him near the door to the locker room and asked why he wasn't out there. "No gear" he said. He flew in today from Portland, Maine but his gear was behind him. He said that Michelle (Director of Team Services) was picking it up right then. Danick Paquette is sick, according to (Director of Scouting and Player Development) Dan Marr. He ate something bad at the mall. I asked if it was salsa, given the salmonella outbreak. He said no, it's mostly a precaution. Paquette was only going to be here for a couple days anyway because he's going to a skating camp in Europe for three weeks. Rylan Kaip missed today for what is officially "personal reasons." I'll go talk to him to get some comments later in the week. He arrives tonight.
Center John Albert skates just like Bryan Little and even has the curls coming out the sides of the helmet too. I did a double take.
Team Blue won the one-on-goalie scoring race, with a Bogosian slapper as the winner. Anderson praised him for his good stick today -- poke checking, and showing his natural size and strength. Anderson said the way he was playing his 2 on 1's, they wanted to adjust that a little bit, playing off the nearside post.
I congratulated Anderson on his new job, and asked if it came with unlimited sunscreen. "I tan so well," he said sarcastically. No, it came with a sunbrella hat, he joked. The mere fact that he knows the word for sunbrella may indicate the very fair-skinned guy burns more than most of us.
A window into an assistant coaching position? Anderson talking about Bogosian said "starting off here with a lot of his peers is a great start, and to acclimate him to myself and Todd Nelson, how we deal with players, that's a good start for him. When the big boys get in, it'll be much easier for him." Given that Bogosian is unlikely to see a minute in the AHL, it's pretty certain Anderson was talking about Atlanta.
Systems work will be done in future days. Random fact: Cody Crichton is Anderson's nephew.
First he told me how his buddies back home were chirping him about the photo I took of him in his white snakeskin shoes. Ah, the price of fashion.
He's rented an apartment in Winnipeg, which is about 45 minutes from his hometown of Steinbach, MB, to be closer to where he trains (McDole Performance). He said he's really enjoying it, "it's the first summer I feel really good. My trainer has pumped me up, making me feel good about myself. Like I'm gonna improve a lot."
He's also using a skating treadmill three times a week for the past 3-4 weeks, and already in camp, teammate Scott Marchesi remarked to Stoesz that he looks better as far as skating. He's also seeing a skating coach, Andrea Rawlings. He's been on the ice just twice with her so far, but said, "she's helped out a lot. I'm gonna keep going all summer (three days a week)."
I told him I thought he looked a bit better skating, but what I noticed is that his butt looks bigger. "Thanks!" he laughed. "I've got a little bit of a bubble butt...I've been told." I asked if it was the pants he was assigned or if his butt really is bigger. "I've gained like 10 lbs, maybe it's all gone to my butt," he said.
In April, Stoesz told me he hoped to get a summer job where he could make commission, like maybe Best Buy. He ended up getting a security guard job instead, which he starts when he gets back. He'll do Winnipeg Blue Bombers (CFL) games, and concerts. "Like a Show Pro?" I asked, referring to the yellow jacketed people at the Gwinnett Arena. "Yeah, I guess. Pretty much," he said. He'll do pat-downs for alcohol and check purses. "Otherwise I just stand there at the front like this (demonstrating his cross-armed tough look, then laughing). It'll be fun. Beat down some little punk kids or something."
Myles' little brother Rio is a very good motocross racer, so I asked him about how he's doing this year. He said that just Sunday Rio won first place in the spring series. "He had a slow start, some bike problems," Myles said. I asked who was more famous now, him or Rio? "If you Google us, I've got more hits," Myles said. "That's what we go by in our family. I've got like 5-6 pages, he's only got 2." Rio is only 13, so Myles definitely got a head start. "Give him a couple years. I don't know how much longer he's gonna ride though because it's starting to cost quite a bit. You have to spend 5 grand on a bike every year. Getting kinda pricey so if anyone's listening out there -- sponsors?" he laughed.
I noticed that his bottom teeth were still not fixed -- the ones that were knocked out last September in training camp. He has the posts in, but needs the actual teeth on top. It was supposed to be done in April before he went back home. "They didn't end up fixing them cuz I went to a different dentist and they had different parts, believe it or not. I'm supposed to be doing it this week actually. But if they don't get it done, then main camp. It's crappy. It sounds good to get brand new gibs, but I wouldn't wish it on anybody. A year and $20,000 of work."
What does he think of Jeff Pyle being interviewed for the Chicago Wolves? "Kudos to him. He definitely deserves it. I think he's kind of like the John Anderson of the ECHL. He's got a hell of a record there, what is he like the third winningest coach? Pyler's a heck of a guy. I wouldn't think twice about putting in good words for him."
In the course of talking about going to see his brother race, he mentioned his fiance. This was news. They got engaged in April at the end of the Gladiators' season. There not yet a plan for the wedding date. She's trying to get into dental hygiene school right now, so things a a bit up in the air. (Dan Turple got married this week too, Stoesz mentioned, so it's going around right now.) I pointed out the irony of her becoming a dental hygienist and him having no bottom teeth. He couldn't argue.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Players with Thrasher ties:
Jordan Sigalet, G
Brent Krahn, G
Tyler Weiman, G
Scott Munroe, G
JS Aubin, G
Mike Weaver (played in the NHL last year, but sparingly)
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Pro experience in NA (from most to least):
Chad Painchaud, F - he's played two full years pro
Grant Lewis, D
Myles Stoesz, F
Chad Denny, D
Arturs Kulda, D - he played junior last year, but so much in the playoffs for the Wolves it seemed like a whole season.
Turning pro this year:
Riley Holzapfel, F
Spencer Machacek, F
Zach Bogosian, D (maybe)
Rylan Kaip, F
Matt Siddall, F -- turning pro assuming someone signs him. He has no more college eligibility.
Angelo Esposito, F
Paul Postma, D
Danick Paquette, F
Chris Carrozzi, G
John Albert, F
Vinny Saponari, F
Zach Redmond, D
Will O'Neill, D
Mike Forney, F -- he goes here rather than miscellaneous, but he's going back to the USHL.
Jonas Enlund, F
Nicklas Lasu, F
Niclas Lucenius, F
Free agent invitees
Spencer Anderson, F (yes this is still John Anderson's son)
Scott Bartlett, F
Cody Crighton, F
Victor Saponari, F
Mark Thorburn, F
Patrick Cusack, D
Scott Marchesi, D
Ryan Daniels, G
Wylie Rogers, G
Dan Rosen, G
A few comments. The most surprising two names on the list for me were Grant Lewis and Arturs Kulda. Kulda played so late into the summer that he wouldn't be required to come to camp, and I'm surprised he's up for it physically and mentally. Lewis didn't play much in the playoffs, but he's past the point of being pressured to come, so he must have wanted to. He told me last year that he likes to get out of Pittsburgh to train because it keeps him more focused, so it makes sense to come to the camp.
Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle isn't part of the coaching staff this year, so he won't be around for Chad Painchaud to have "philosophical differences" with. Speaking of Gladiators, Scott Marchesi joined the team at the end of his college days last year. He's the oldest of all the players at 25, but he's surprisingly good defensively. Note that Myles Stoesz was drafted in 2005, not 2007 as it said on the release. And speaking of corrections, Machacek's stats are listed for Riley Holzapfel. Holzapfel played for Moose Jaw and had a down year, actually.
Yes there will be posts about camp next week. How in-depth they are will depend on what I feel like writing, and how interested people seem in reading about it. So if you have a particular interest, you might want to express that now.
Meanwhile, it seems like a lot of people are looking for a list of AHL free agents. I'll try to put something together. It won't be comprehensive, but rather a few guys I think are worthwhile.
Goaltender Peter Mannino signed by the Islanders? I'm monitoring that situation.