I went to practice today, largely to talk to Boris Valabik about how it's going. The team worked on moving the puck in units and some skating. Valabik matched up with and beat Bobby Holik at the agility race. He was paired mostly with Joel Kwiatkowski and Mark Popovic for drills, the same guys he's been playing with the past few games. Crowd turnout was good, but if they wanted autographs, they were largely disappointed. Not a happy team, though there were a scant few smiles which I happened to catch below. First, Valabik points out something across the ice to assistant coach Steve Weeks.
He pointed out the same thing to Kwiatkowski, who got quite a laugh out of it. I think it may have involved a kid and a sign.
I asked Valabik a bit about the Chicago Wolves locker room to try and gauge how far they might go in the playoffs. He spoke fondly of the guys. He said Steve Martins is the biggest joker in the room, "the funniest hockey player I've ever met." That's quite a compliment. He also mentioned Kiwi as being funny. Among the younger guys, he said Chad Painchaud is a joker too. I said I was surprised to hear that, since Painer is usually pretty shy. Valabik agreed that he's shy, but said once you get him going, he's like that.
While I was waiting, I grabbed Valabik's stick off the stick rack (a RBK X-stiff Flex 10). It's taller than me. In heels. That makes it at least 5'10. Looks like he has a 2" end plug (piece of wood typically) to extend it. Geez.
As far as his skates go, he said he's on Pair #3 for the year. He has a fourth pair in Chicago, but he doesn't think he'll break them in before the playoffs. Recall that he said in November that he needs to cycle through skates more frequently so that he doesn't experience ankle problems. Newer skates are stiffer, and that's what he needs.
I also talked to Mark Popovic about Valabik. At the end I asked Pops if he would be back next year (knowing that it's not up to him and there's not much room on the blue line). He smiled and said "you'll have to ask Don about that." He said of course he'd like to stay. He's an RFA this summer with just 43 NHL games experience.
It's a shame that there's probably no room for him because Popovic is a perfect 6th/7th defenseman. He's versatile in terms of being a two-way guy who plays either side and he has a very positive attitude all the time. The "all the time" part is the key. September or April, win or lose, Popovic is positive. But if a top defenseman (or two) is acquired, guys still under contract must be bumped down the depth chart. Squeezing out one of the last positive guys in the room is really not what the team needs going forward but they would have to get creative to keep Popovic.
(Sidenote: Someone asked me recently how cold the practice facility is. I took a thermometer with me today and measured 58.5 degrees. It's not a place for the ill-prepared clothing-wise.)