Saturday, April 26, 2008

Joyce article on Shattuck-St. Mary's

For those interested in the NHL entry draft, this article in ESPN the Magazine is a must-read. Gare Joyce, who wrote Future Greats and Heartbreaks, describes the hockey factory that is Shattuck-St. Mary's, a private high school in Minnesota.

The school has a slew of regional and national titles, for both its men's and its women's teams. But neither the banners in the new rink nor the list of NHL players who went there does justice to the special qualities of SSM. They only partly explain why Wayne Gretzky sent his son here, why Mario Lemieux probably will too. "A little like a cult," is how J.P. Parise, the NHL journeyman and father of Zach (and the hockey program), explains it.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Custance on HFRadio

I found out about this HFRadio interview with AJC beat writer Craig Custance the way most people will, off a link. No one ever tells me anything. Isn't that the way most organizations work though?

It's funny that we're hearing from Craig via Canada, where our Hockey's Future podcast guy is located, but that's the way this crazy new world works I guess. Dustin, the other voice you hear, is originally from Lethbridge, Alberta, home of one Spencer Machacek. Naturally he works him into the conversation.

Craig sounds a little less relaxed than normal, but it's an interesting quick (under 10-minute) listen. It is, as you'd expect, mostly about rookies, prospects and the draft.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rookie review finished

As mentioned a few days ago, the Thrashers had eight rookies who played a total of 210 games this year. That's plenty to write about, as I found out when I put this together. It felt like going into the way-back machine at times -- training camp sure seems like a lifetime ago now. But the rookies were one of the few positives of a rough, rough season.

Next up will be writing the CHL season review. Paul Postma's WHL Calgary Hitmen were knocked out tonight by the Lethbridge Hurricanes. He was the last Thrashers prospect standing in the CHL. Postma outscored teammate Karl Alzner in the playoffs, just as he did during the regular season. He's one to keep an eye on in the future.

The Gladiators were knocked out at South Carolina tonight as well, so they are done. Maybe Jeff Pyle will have the winning lottery ticket though. If so, I suspect we wouldn't hear from him again. The seasons of the prospects with the Gladiators will be reviewed together with those in Chicago. The Wolves are even up in their first-round series with Milwaukee, with three games left, two of them at home.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gladiators force deciding game

The Gladiators evened their second-round series with the South Carolina Stingrays, forcing a deciding Game 5 on Wednesday night. Here's the game, told via pictures of the bench.

Matt Anderson gets his game face on.

Mount Rushmore of Busniuk, Dickenson, Brandt and Turple.

Defenseman Scott Marchesi scored his first professional goal.

Brad Schell has a decent playoff beard going.

Schell smiles at Desbiens after Desbiens' goal. You can always see the affection they have for each other.

Here they are together on the bench.

Jeff Pyle yells to rally the troops. "We got that third one and I just told the boys, 'you've got to send a message in this third that they're coming through us every time,'" Pyle said afterward.

Here he gives a stern look.

The most poignant moment of the night happened after it was all over. I gathered my things and exited via a door by the loading docks. The Stingrays were getting on their bus, and the Gladiators were getting ready to do so too. They will follow the Stingrays back to Charleston through the night where the season is on the line tomorrow -- one game do or die.

A shadowy figure said hey. It was Jeff Pyle, already changed for the trip. He was walking determinedly to his vehicle. I asked why he had parked over here instead of around the corner at his spot close to the door.

"Lost my spot," he said. "I get antsy in my office so I go run to the store sometimes or go buy a lottery ticket."

"You feelin' lucky?" I asked.

"Yeah I am."


Monday, April 21, 2008

Myles Stoesz and his undefeated shoes

Coming into tonight's game, the Gwinnett Gladiators had their backs against the wall, down 2-0 in the five-game second round against the South Carolina Stingrays. The Gladiators won the game. I thought they won because they worked hard and got good goaltending. But I was wrong -- it was because Myles Stoesz broke out his lucky shoes. His white snakeskin loafers.

Stoesz modeled the shoes in the weight/storage room of the Gladiators locker room, prompting cat-calls by teammates riding bikes nearby. He said he subscribes to the "look good, feel good, play good" theory of hockey, but since he's currently a scratch, in this case he said it was the "look good, feel good, watch the game good and hope the team does well" theory. The shoes are undefeated, and he only breaks them out for big games.

He also owns a black pair that he got about year ago, but this pair was given to him in December by his girlfriend, who works at Aldo and got them on discount. It may be before Memorial Day, but undefeated shoes of any color are always in style.

Painchaud sent home

Since a lot of people are looking for this information, here's the obligatory post on Chad Painchaud. On 4/20 he was released by the Gwinnett Gladiators, which removes him from the roster without returning him to Chicago.

Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle on the transaction: "I'm gonna put it to you as simple as I can -- we had a difference of philosophies, we had a meeting, and we thought the best thing was he go home and prepare for next year. That's as politically correct as I can tell you right now. Bottom line -- I coach the way I coach and I'm not changing for anybody."

I asked if he would take the player back next year if it came to it, and he said "I don't think we'll ever have to cross that bridge."

If I know Jeff, and in this particular area I think I do, you won't ever see Painchaud playing for the Gladiators again. A few years ago Pyle and Adam Smyth were on the outs, and Smyth was assigned to the UHL the next year. The two players and their situations are different, but the outcomes would likely be similar.

Painchaud has one year remaining on his entry-level deal with the Thrashers.

For more insight, I would also point back to a post made in early March when Painchaud was assigned to the Gladiators:

Pyle said he thought it was the first time he had seen Painchaud play two games back to back of good hockey. The two met when Painchaud got here, and Pyle told him basically "this is it, me or you," meaning your way or my way. Painchaud chose to work hard.

For me, this whole story goes back to his junior days. I interviewed his coach, Shawn Camp, of Sarnia in early 2006. He said that Painchaud was finally figuring out what it would take to become a pro -- but he didn't look very convincing saying it even then.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Prospect superlatives

I thought it would be fun to do some superlatives at the end of the season, like they do in high school yearbooks. I'll stick to the pro guys, since I know them better. Here are my picks. If you have another pick, go ahead and put it in the comments.

Most likely to succeed - Bryan Little

Most talkative - Brett Sterling. Sterling has something to say on every topic. He could go into sales, no problem.

Teacher’s pet - Jordan LaVallee.

Best smile -- Not sure, but it's not Myles Stoesz. Be careful not to poke your eye out there man.

Class clown – Chad Painchaud was named as a joker by Boris Valabik. A few years ago this would have gone to Lane Manson. But there aren't a lot of big jokers coming up the ranks right now.

Friendliest -- Grant Lewis, Joey Crabb, Myles Stoesz

Shyest: Chad Painchaud, Tomas Pospisil

Most likely to become famous outside of hockey -- Guillaume Desbiens

Cutest couple – Sterling and Crabb. I wish I had a photo of these BFFs together, but alas I do not. Edit: Here's the best I can find.

Best dressed – Karl Alzner would tell you it's Angelo Esposito. I'd give a nod to Ondrej Pavelec here as well. I've seen him in Calvin Klein, a simple but refined designer. Desbiens doesn't do badly either.

Worst dressed – None are poorly dressed, but I did see Toby Enstrom wearing Crocs and Lavallee wearing a suit out of season once.

Rookie games played by Thrashers: 210

Last year around this time, I was supposed to put together a review of the rookies who played for the Thrashers in 2006-07. There were only two, Braydon Coburn and Mark Popovic, and between the two of them, they only played 32 games. Not much to write about. So instead, I focused on the rookies who would likely make the team out of camp. Predicting who will make it out of camp is much more straightforward than who will see time anytime that year because you're then not factoring in development (like in the case of Boris Valabik). That piece turned out not too bad.

This year, I can take the rookie assignment at face value and just write about how the rookies did, since there were eight of them, totaling 210 games played (over six times as many as last year). I'll still include a bit about who might make it next year, which was one reason for holding off until I got back from Chicago. I wanted to share the numbers now though, to give you something to chew on.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A few tidbits

Something for everyone in this post, I hope.

First, thinking in a 2008 draft mode, we have a great performance by Corey Trivino at the U18 World Championships this week, going on in Kazan, Russia (where Ilya Nikulin and Andrei Zubarev play).

Corey Trivino, of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League's Stouffville Spirit, was a one-man wrecking crew at the 2008 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Kazan, Russia, on Tuesday. The Toronto native not only picked up a hat trick, he also assisted on the other goal as Canada dumped Denmark 4-1. The win moves Canada to 2-0 and sets up today's battle for first place in Group A with last year's gold medallists from Russia.

Trivino is ranked No. 36 on ISS's April ranking for the 2008 draft. OPJHL guys are often wildcards in the draft because since they play against lesser competition than the CHL guys, it's harder to tell how they will do at a higher level. Some NHL teams might have them ranked highly, others very low.

In the OHL, Justin Azevedo is leading playoff scoring the same way he led regular-season scoring -- at about two points a game. Azevedo was an invitee to Thrashers prospect camp last July. Someone will likely sign the 5'8, 20-year-old undrafted free agent to a contract this summer, and there's no reason to think it wouldn't be Atlanta, since they've previously shown interest.

Did you know that former Thrashers prospect Pat Dwyer is captain of the AHL Albany River Rats?

And in the ECHL, here's an interesting Q&A with Craig Brush, President/GM of the Florida Everblades. I came across it due to my interest in the Rochester situation, but was sucked in and read the whole thing top to bottom without stopping. Of Gladiator interest is the fact that Everblades coach Gerry Fleming may leave for the AHL next year, and that Johnstown and Cincinnati will make swings through the South Division. Lots of good stuff in there.

To avoid embarrassment, keep your sisters away from the press

Because they are likely to say things that you wouldn't necessarily want out there during the playoffs. It's a lesson Thrashers prospect Paul Postma is facing right now.

With many fans choosing to stay home to watch the Calgary Flames-San Jose Sharks tilt on TV, the Saddledome [home of the Calgary Hitmen] was less than half full.

But despite being avid Flames fans, the Postma sisters -- Jamie-Lea, Alissa and Sharlene -- wouldn't consider missing a Hitmen game.

Their brother Paul, who was facing the Lethbridge Hurricanes last night, is one of the club's top defencemen.

"I think we've only missed two games since he was traded (from Swift Current,)" said Jamie-Lea, who makes the drive from Red Deer for every junior contest.

"We're die-hard sisters. We've been Flames fans since we were babies. Even Paul had a little sleeper he used to wear.

Does everyone have a visual in their head of baby Paul in his Calgary Flames sleeper? Good. I'm sure that's just what he would have wanted.

Aussies promoted to Division 1 for World Championships

I have a soft spot for Australians. They crack me up with their funny phrases. So I was glad when I came across this today -- the Aussies have been promoted to Division 1 in the upcoming World Championships, to be held in May in Canada.

Gold Coaster Mike Gough says the future looks bright for Australian ice hockey after the Mighty Roos national team created history in Newcastle earlier this week.

It has been a long battle for respect but Australia is finally being treated as one of the big boys after earning promotion to the world class Division 1 for the first time.

At the IIHF World Championship Division 2 Group B in Newcastle this week, the Aussies went through undefeated to earn their first promotion to Division 1.

They capped off the week by defeating China 1-0 in the deciding game, which was the biggest win in the nation's hockey history.

...Australia now enters Division 1 and will line up against the best in the world, including Team USA and Russia.

Mighty Roos? Hee hee hee.

And note that they have to keep saying ice hockey to distinguish it from the popular sports of field hockey, and underwater hockey. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

A look at the effect of birth month in sports

This article is more about baseball than hockey, but interesting nonetheless.

Twelve full months of development makes a huge difference for an 11- or 12-year-old. The player who is 12 months older will, on average, be bigger, stronger, and more coordinated than his younger counterpart, not to mention more experienced. And those bigger, better players are the ones given opportunities for further advancement.
The first major study of what has become known as the "relative age effect" was published in the Journal of the Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation in 1985. This study, by R.H. Barnsley, A.H. Thompson, and P.E. Barnsley, determined that NHL players of the early 1980s were more than four times as likely to be born in the first three months of the calendar year as the last three months.

The effect in hockey would probably be even less now because players come so many various countries, all with different youth regulations.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wolves photos and random notes

It will be a while before all the interviews I did while in Chicago make their way into articles. But here are a few photos and other tidbits that are sort of on the side. They're not in chronological order.

Arturs Kulda upended by a Riverman.

Here he's right side up. After the game, Russian Nikolay Lemtyugov of Peoria came over to the Wolves locker room to visit Kulda. He was nearby as I interviewed Kulda, so I asked Kulda if he hit Lemtyugov that night. Kulda said he tried, but he's slippery (loud enough so Lemtyugov could hear of course). Kulda's English has improved since I talked to him last July. He said he took marketing courses at a local college this year.

Colin Stuart is concentrating awfully hard for warmups. He was scratched a bit down the stretch, which kept him at 260 pro games -- the limit to be considered a non-veteran in the AHL. This will allow him to dress freely next year.

Brett Sterling in a fight. Bookmark this page. The game against Rockford got really insane, as most of them are with that team. It was so crazy that assistant coach Wendall Young got into a shouting match with Rockford's coach. I love this stuff. I've mentioned before doing an offseason greatest hits of coaches losing it on the bench. That's still on, and we have a new entry.

I love the equipment guy stuck in the middle. He may be wisely making sure Wendall doesn't jump the divide. Given that Wendall is the team's strength and conditioning coach, in addition to goalie coach, and keeps in superior shape, I'd take him in that fight.

These things often end with players pulling their coaches back in. You can see Dowell doing that here.

A couple non-photo things now.

I talked to Grant Lewis, who is rehabbing from a foot injury, which occurred as he blocked a shot. (It hit him in the meaty inside part of his right foot). He said he will start skating this week and hopes to be back within a week or so. During the interview, he had only one sock on, maintaining his streak of talking to me in odd outfits.

Coach John Anderson said he has some tough choices to make going into the playoffs, and you have to think the timing of bringing Lewis back is one of them.

I also talked to Riley Holzapfel during an intermission. He's one of the few guys who can move around the arena virtually unnoticed since he only played one game with the team. He has been taking morning skates and warmups with the team though, he said.

Anyway, I asked him some questions about WHL guys, and here are his picks in the categories I asked him about:
1. Best 2008-eligible WHL prospect: Luke Schenn.
2. Best goalie in the WHL: Tyson Sexsmith (SJ)
3. Best prospect in the WHL: Karl Alzner (WAS)
4. Most underrated: Jason Bast, his teammate in Moose Jaw.

I mentioned to Lewis that he and Holzapfel had something in common with concussions this year. He joked that what they have in common is that they are both so skilled.

Jordan LaVallee to Nathan Oystrick, "Oh yeah?"

Oystrick and Rob Gherson after Gherson got involved in the melee and was socked by Mike Brodeur. Oystrick talked his ear off, very animated.

And then they closed their eyes and what? Visualization exercises?

Leaving the ice at the end of the game, Oystrick taps on the glass to thank the fans.

Nesbitt the IceHog and Grimaldi the Riverman

The Rockford IceHogs and the Peoria Rivermen were the opponents in town this weekend to meet the Chicago Wolves. Derek Nesbitt has been with Rockford most of this year, having been called up from the Gwinnett Gladiators. Joe Grimaldi is a rookie defenseman who the Gladiators acquired at the trade deadline. He was parked in Peoria for a week so that the Glads could have veteran Jimmy Jackson back. Good circumstance for him though, since he gets to play at a higher level.

First, Derek Nesbitt.

He had the generosity to park just to my left to stretch during warmups. Good for photo-taking.

Nezy lives in Gwinnett in the offseason and I remember seeing him around during the Thrashers prospect camp last July. He came to watch, to try to pick things up. Now he's playing against a lot of guys who were at the camp.

He matched up against big Brian Sipotz several times. Above they are on a faceoff. Another time, they were along the wall near the blue line and Nezy actually won the battle.

With linemate Petri Kontiola. Jack Skille was the other one on that line. Nezy plays on the power play and sees a good amount of ice time.

He played wing, but above he takes a faceoff.

The next day we had Grimaldi in with Peoria, in their final game of the year.

Here he's matched up against Joe Motzko. Earlier in the game, he and Valabik tangled up. It was worlds colliding, in my mind anyway, because just a few weeks ago, both were in Atlanta -- Valabik as a Thrasher and Grimmer as a Gladiator. Grimaldi went off for hooking, but I think Valabik sold it a little bit too.

Grimaldi was paired with Ryan Glenn. And he played some PK. Later on he was in a scrum.

Grimaldi deciding whether to hold in or back up. On the Wolves bench, that's Sterling and LaVallee.

I talked to Tom Callahan, Peoria's radio guy who used to work for the Augusta Lynx, about how Grimaldi was doing there. He said good -- the first game he kind of overplayed, trying to impress. But has calmed down. And he talks a lot. His teammates tell him to stop the chirping, imitating his Long Island accent.

On the bench, with the coach right behind.

Anyone remember this face? It's Marty St. Pierre, who used to play for the Greenville Grrrowl.

The 5'9 (on paper only) St. Pierre standing next to the 6'4 Ryan Stokes. And he brought his dog.

The Wolves chased Corey Crawford out of the net, and we got another familiar face in goal -- Mike Brodeur. He played for the Grrrowl a few years back and Pensacola this year too. Great guy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Esposito's AHL debut

Angelo Esposito made his AHL debut today for the Chicago Wolves. The team pulled its tried and true rookie prank on him, though it didn't work quite as well on him as it has some others.

Esposito and Ondrej Pavelec.

Bryan Little and Esposito.

He looked pretty nervous during warmup, but when he saw a camera on him, tried to put on a good face.

Esposito played left wing on the fourth line with Steve Martins and a rotating winger. He saw about two or three shifts a period. Once when Martins was tossed from the faceoff circle, he and Darren Haydar quickly discussed who would step in. They decided on Espo.

A few times Esposito's shift was cut short when a penalty occurred. He drew a hooking call himself once as he crossed the blue line with speed.

In general I thought he did a lot of running around. Seemed to want to be everywhere. Went for some hits, but doesn't really have the body mass yet to be an effective hitter.

He had a nice one-timer that he shot wide, but otherwise no scoring opportunities. He had a dipsy-doodle move in the slot once, but the defender was right on him.

All in all, he showed a glimpse of his talent, but wasn't in the best places to get the puck on his stick. I asked Peoria's play-by-play guy what he thought of him, because I know Tom and he has no dog in the hunt, and he said he thought he looked raw, and that he has talent but doesn't know where to go. And that guys out of junior/college run around with chickens with heads cut off, and he followed that pattern.

Dan Marr of the Thrashers was there to see him.

I asked Wolves coach John Anderson what he thought of his play, and he was complimentary:

"Really liked him. You can see he's got some savvy, a good shot, and he's pretty smart with the puck. His first game, he was a little nervous, but I thought he played very well for us. I'm happy we had a chance to use him."

Anderson had the rink diagram out with him on the bench, drawing a few things. One thing he was showing him was "soft locking."

"If he's the last guy in the zone, when he comes over to the player, normally you want to go and take the man out, but you can't because you'd get trapped against the wall and it's a 3 on 2 the other way," Anderson explained. "So what we teach is to come up and soft lock on the guy -- you turn up with him as opposed to taking him out, so at least you're coming back with the play instead of getting stuck on the wall. A few other things, but he's very good, a quick learner. He hadn't seen our team play or our systems at all. Nelly (asst coach Todd Nelson) spent a good 45 minutes before the game explaining a few things we like to do. He was very receptive, a quick thinker."

Valabik fight photos (vs. Peoria's Neilson)

In going through my photos from today's Wolves game, I realized I had a good set of fight photos. So I'll go ahead and put these up before we get to Angelo Esposito.

We start in warmup.

Chris Beckford-Tseu to Rob Gherson: "You wanna go? Me neither." (There was a goalie fight last night between Gherson and Mike Brodeur of the Rockford IceHogs though.)

Eric Neilson, #42, lays his groundwork well. Here he's eyeing up Boris Valabik from his bench during a timeout. (Bonus points to anyone who recognized Gwinnett's Joe Grimaldi above -- more on him later).

Neilson chirps Valabik on a faceoff.

A scuffle a bit later. Then right before the fight finally came, Neilson did a drive-by past the Wolves bench and there was contact. Valabik immediately jumped on for the faceoff. I knew this was going to be a good one, but could barely get my camera ready in time.

Hair flying, the 6'1 Neilson gave up some size to the 6'7 Valabik, but wasn't overmatched too much.

The TV cameras did not need time to get ready though, in fact they seemed against Rockford to have a "Valabik-cam" going, since they had a replay that was tight on him before the fight even started.

It was Valabik's second fight in two nights. Last night I was seriously concerned for Rockford's Colin Fraser, because Valabik was sitting on him, hitting him in the head with both hands. Just pounding him. It was a little beyond the pale.

The Wolves bench watched the replay intently. To the far left, Bryan Little definitely enjoyed it.