Thursday, November 29, 2007

Elmira team in a bus crash

The Elmira Jackals (ECHL), the team I said could come back to Gwinnett anytime, crashed on their way home from a game. And it happened like 10 miles from where I grew up.

[the bus] struck the back of a tractor-trailer and went down an embankment, seriously injuring the bus driver and causing minor injuries to several players.


The bus driver, 56-year-old Kenneth Nance of Blossburg, was trapped in the wreckage before he was flown to Hamot Medical Center in Erie.


No players were hospitalized. The team sent a bus to pick them up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wolves update done

Whew. Here it is. Sterling's defense, LaVallee's A, Valabik's skates, and more.

Sometime soon I will do another look at what kind of penalties Valabik is taking, as that seemed to be a big hit last year. I already had more than enough on him in this article though, so I didn't do it here.

It's a good time to note that the Jesse Schultz/Jimmy Sharrow trade seems to have worked out fine for both sides. The Thrashers surely aren't complaining as they both removed a problem and gained a player who is the Wolves leading scorer with 22 points in 18 games. The Canucks gave up an underachiever, and gained a player who is currently the top scoring defenseman for Manitoba, with nine points in 18 games. Win-win at a glance.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gladiators vs. Charlotte -- Turple with new saves record

Tomas Pospisil runs the stairs before warmups. He's heading into the rows here, where he climbed over a railing into the locker room. Hey Tomas, there's a side door right at the bottom.

Post railing-scaling. He's got the Thrashers training camp t-shirt on. Coach Jeff Pyle said Pospisil played his best game Friday on the road in South Carolina.

On the other side, Charlotte does some reading up on the competition.

Dan Turple adds a buddy to his pre-game shoot-around ritual. It's been working for him so far this year. He drops the shoulder...

Turps on a breakaway.
Watch for low-flying aircraft.

Pospisil fixates on the puck at warmups.

Stoesz is having a good time.

Stoesz eyes up the Checkers at the red line. I thought for sure he was cruising for a fight later on, but nothing came of it. Charlotte isn't a tough team.

Instead, Stoesz had a lot of ice time because the team was down a player all game from prior injuries. Below he's taking a faceoff.

Here he guards his point.

The game went into OT -- all eyes are on the Charlotte end.

Turps makes a save in the shootout.

Celebration. Turple had a career high in saves with 48.

Kowalski skates off with Turple.

Pyle said that on Monday he'd likely call the Wolves and see if they could spare a defenseman for next weekend against Texas. Lehman would be the best bet. Jon Awe is still called up to Houston, Jimmy Jackson is out with a separated shoulder, and Chad Denny may or may not be ready for Friday. Denny told me he'd be ready, but until the doctor clears him, it's not for sure.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to the locker room

Last night's Gladiators game against the Texas Wildcatters got boring late in the game, so I started scanning the crowd with my binoculars. Next to the injured (concussed from a puck to the face) Chad Denny, was none other than Ondrej Pavelec. I assumed he was there to see his friend Tomas Pospisil, who had been sent down for this weekend's games. I went downstairs and grabbed a seat next to him for the final few minutes to chat about how he ended up there, when clearly when I talked to him that afternoon, he had no plans. He said another Czech friend saw the transaction and told him about it. Ondrej called Tomas, and then headed over to the game.

Denny thought they should head down to the locker room with about 2:00 left in the game, so they said see you later and walked to the elevator. But the elevator attendant wouldn't let them downstairs because neither of them had a pass. They came back over and asked me if there was another way downstairs. I couldn't think of a staircase on that end of the arena, so I got up and talked us onto the elevator. I of course had my pass, and the lady was reticent, but said they could go down if I escorted them. I'll be laughing about that one for weeks.

Only two people recognized Pavelec at the game he said, wearing a black baseball cap. That doesn't surprise me. Pasi Nurminen could walk around the concourse at Thrasher games without being recognized. And Marc Savard to go to Gladiator games relatively anonymously.

Pavelec waited outside the locker room for Pospisil. I told him it would be fine if he went in, but since it was a loss, he didn't want to. I talked to Tomas as planned, and then afterwards gave Pavelec a status update -- he's stretching in the back. "I told him not to do this," he said. Not only does Pavelec not believe in stretching, he was hungry and wanted to get going. In fact, beforehand he kidded me "don't talk too long to Tomas" and keep him waiting.

Pavelec had nice things to say about Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle, having played for him in Traverse City, that he was a good coach and a good guy.

I warned both him and Pospisil that it being Thanksgiving night (and 10pm), they were going to have a tough time finding any restaurants open. I said they might have to go buy food at Kroger (not Publix, Publix was closed) and cook it themselves. Pavelec asked if the "firemans" were working that day. I assured him they were.

Here are a few shots from the game. Below is the miniature emergency backup goalie that Texas brought. He suffered the insult of no name on the back of his jersey. That's rough.

Pospisil had a skate issue in the first period and had to send his skates off. Below he's putting them back on. He's here because the Gladiators were short a player and asked Chicago to send someone willing to help out. Pyle liked Pospisil in Traverse City this year as I recall.

After the game, Pospisil admitted that he was tired from having moved into his apartment this week (shared with Scott Lehman), buying and putting together furniture. He didn't see much ice time late in the game.

Turps had an equipment issue that requires both Hoops and a linesman to fix.

A.J. Thelen in the ECHL

I had roughly planned to talk to A.J. Thelen, Minnesota's first-round pick in 2004 (12th overall) tonight as the Texas Wildcatters visited, but decided not to. Not only did I want to talk to the newly-assigned Tomas Pospisil for my forthcoming Wolves update, but Thelen is...well, not that good. Guys get sent down to the ECHL for a variety of reasons, but in his case, it's not a mystery. He's under contract with the Houston Aeros, but Jon Awe is up with them and not Thelen.

If someone had said at the 2004 draft that just three years later, this is would be his fate, they would have been ridiculed for going so much against the conventional wisdom. But here it is, in black and yellow.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pavelec's Thanksgiving

Last time I talked to Ondrej Pavelec at the end of training camp, he was worried about where his meals would come from because he'd be living on his own for the first time, and can't cook. Two months later, he still can't cook, but says he's eating OK. He has a kitchenette in his hotel suite, but is "scared to try to cook stuff at the hotel." I asked him what was in his refrigerator, and he said "two Gatorades and cheese. Mozzarella I think."

It being Thanksgiving, most people are headed someplace for a big meal. He said he may head over to the houses of some Czechs he knows in town. The Czechs on the team had family things going on. Hopefully he won't be eating just the cheese.

In Chicago, Pavelec lives with Slovak defenseman Boris Valabik. They found a two-bedroom townhouse together that he was excited about. Buying furniture was a two-day adventure. "One night I slept on the floor because I couldn't put together my bed," he said. "The next morning we put together everything. It's very nice."

He and Valabik stay close via phone. "We talk with each other all the time, maybe every two days. If they have a game, I call the next morning. If we have a game, he calls me. "

There's still lots to talk about with the townhouse. "I have to pay too, I don't know why," he joked. "He called me, 'did you pay for the phone this month?' I said uh yeah. 'Alright, thanks.' I told him 'send me the bill for cell phone, I pay it too, doesn't matter.'" Easy to be generous when you're pulling in an NHL salary.

At this point, we had to take a break from talking as he packed his equipment into bags that will be transported to Philips for tomorrow's game. The equipment [s]manager[/s] czar made sure of it.

Next, I asked him why he isn't wearing #31 in Atlanta, his chosen number in Chicago. "The first thing, I want #1," he said. "But in Chicago, they retired the number, Wendall Young. I can't have #1, so I took #31. And my birthday's the 31st of August. Here, the last two years when I played the exhibition games, they gave me #33, so I just kept #33, it's not a big deal. Next season or whatever, I'll try to change it to #31 maybe."

Pavelec knows he'll be sent to Chicago as soon as Lehtonen is ready, either next week or the week after. He seemed a little worried about his ice time there, now that Fred Brathwaite is playing so well. (Brathwaite will return to the team by Friday's game, having attended a funeral in Ottawa.)

I asked how it felt to have gotten Washington's coach Glen Hanlon fired after beating the Caps 5-1 last night. Pavelec hadn't heard the news until then, but said it's never just one game that does it. He heard the booing last night for sure.

Pavelec thinks he'll play on Saturday against Pittsburgh. It could end up being his last start of the season before he heads back.

Thrashers Thanksgiving practice

Today was an optional, though not a light, practice for the Thrashers. Eleven skaters took part, and all three goalies. Hedberg, who will start tomorrow at home against New Jersey, came off the ice early.

Skating today:
D: Havelid, Zhitnik, Popovic, McCarthy
F: Holik, Little, Dupuis, Thorburn, Larsen, Slater, and Haydar

Marian Hossa and Toby Enstrom were kicking around in the back. Everyone was extremely chipper. Winning seven of the last eight will do that I guess.

Kari Lehtonen looked good, in fact was better in all of the goalie drills at the end of practice than Ondrej Pavelec.

Don Waddell worked in his office during the practice, but came out afterwards with his daughter Chelsea, as it was definitely family day on the ice. Below are photos of Havelid's kids, who were pushing cones as they are still learning to skate. They were doing really well though, and will be able to drop the cones pretty soon.

I asked what kind of sticks Don had taken to using, now that he's back into regular use. Equipment manager Bobby Stewart laughed that Don "hasn't got his own pattern yet" and uses whatever's around.

I talked to Pavelec, and will put some of that interview into a separate post in an hour or so after I transcribe. He is hilarious.

Here are some photos from today. The lighting in the practice facility is horrible, so you get what you get. First is the full group of skaters.

One little-known fact about the new practice jerseys -- the ribbing is light reflective.

Which makes each save look more dramatic.

A good crowd was on-hand.

Including lots of kids.

Nic Havelid had his kids out afterwards. Gotta start 'em young.

Here he adjusts his little one's cone stack.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gladiators photos -- vs. Elmira

Just a few extra photos from last night. By the way, I will try to be better about adding the labels to posts so you can gather up all the ones on a given topic more easily.

Below is Dan LaCosta, a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect who was named ECHL goaltender of the week today. I would welcome a playoff match-up against Elmira, they're a good team with interesting prospects. Their coach also seemed very nice. They can come back any time.

At the other end, Turps watches the Jackals warm up. This is as small as he gets.

Myles Stoesz fights Watson.

Cam Brown gives Stoesz, a player after his own heart, some love as he heads off to the locker room after the fight.

Jameson Milam gets into his own scrap with Littlejohn.

He spells his nickname as "Jamo." Big bro Troy started that nickname for him, in the pre-JLo era I believe. I prefer the JMo spelling though. And since I'm the one typing, I get to pick.

Turps is so exhausted by opening and closing the bench door, he has to towel off.

And in the ECHL tranactions today, Joel Stepp signed with Pensacola, and Lane Manson was called up to WBS.

The Equipment Czar

Every hockey team has an equipment manager, but I think this position should be renamed Equipment Czar, at least in the minors. It's amazing how much power they have. It's the reason Grant Lewis came to talk to me in a towel and a jersey on Saturday night -- that's all the Wolves equipment manager would let him keep.

Tonight I had grabbed Tomas Kudelka, an Ottawa prospect, after the game with the Gladiators. This is him below. Very good player, by the way.

We were moving to a quieter area of the locker room, and Elmira's equipment manager halted Kudelka in his tracks -- "Stop! Gimme your socks." Kudelka removed his hockey socks on the spot and handed them over. Then we could go.

Can you imagine if someone demanded that of you? The rest of us may not be pro athletes, but we take our socks off when we are good and ready. I have white fuzzy sock/slipper things on right now, and I think I'll leave them on all night, thankyouverymuch.

Here's a picture of the Elmira Equipment Czar (taking a broken stick from the linesman).

And here's Gwinnett's equipment guy Hoops, telling his assistant Jason all about it tonight. He wields his power more gently.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wolves photo essay

Below is a photo essay of my trip to see the Chicago Wolves this weekend.

My Q&A with Sterling is up at HF, by the way.

Joey Crabb directing traffic. He played really well this weekend. Don't write him off for a role down the road. He has a really good vertical leap, by the way. He went literally skipping by me, and managed to say hi at the same time.

Not only are four guys in a formation standing all the same, all of them are righties. That's probably why they choose to stand together though. It's Brian Fahey, Kevin Doell, Andre Deveaux and Grant Lewis.

Grant Lewis dribbling a puck on his stick at warmups. He's having trouble staying in the lineup. His fundamentals are good, but just needs to adjust to the quicker game. Sadly there is no photo of the getup he had on after Saturday's game as I talked to him -- a towel skirt and his jersey. I couldn't resist commenting,"nice outfit."

Jon Awe in the green of the Houston Aeros. It was the first game he's played for them this year. The green is pretty powerful, and makes them look like a motley band of leprechauns. Houston is banged up right now, which opened a spot. He could be back in Gwinnett by next weekend though.

Bench shot. Notice that because it's a short one, some guys have to sit on chairs on the riser behind.

Center faceoff. The 2007-08 logo is sharp. The ice was shaky on Saturday because not only had the circus been in town, but there was a concert the night before, and a basketball game that day.

Kevin Doell makes a face as he stretches.

Karel Pilar looks incredulously at the San Antonio Rampage.

Nathan Oystrick passing.

Oystrick, Jordan LaVallee, Steve Martins and Deveaux.

LaVallee has an A on his sweater this year. I talked to him about this, as well as Coach Anderson, which will be in a forthcoming article. Relatedly, if he's going to have a letter, he'll need to learn to speak to the media. At this point, be careful not to ask him yes or no questions, because you'll get yes or no answers. Captains need to be able to provide some kind of insight, win, lose, draw, sleet, snow or hail. And that's a standard expectation, not just me saying it. Reporters often compare notes on who is a good quote, and right now I'd put him on my avoid list. Good player, but a chore to talk to.

Guillaume Desbiens.

If you forgot how big Brian Sipotz is, here's a reminder.

A blast from the past -- Chris Durno, former Gladiator, plays for San Antonio. That's him losing the faceoff. I saw him doing lunges by the locker room before the game and said a brief hello. His skating has improved. When he first turned pro, the Gladiators at first didn't have room for him and waived him -- no one picked him up. Then they had some injuries and took him on again. Now he's a regular in the AHL. Just goes to show how up and down people's paths are sometimes.

Robert Gherson is on a PTO during Kari Lehtonen's injury. The Wolves will have to let him go soon, but I'm sure he'll catch on somewhere else as well as he's playing lately.

And what game would be complete without Anderson cussing at the ref?

Here he's telling LaVallee to go serve the bench minor for unsportsmanlike. No doubt brought on by the cussing.