Thursday, July 17, 2008

Caruso swings through town

Goaltender Dave Caruso, an Atlanta product, is back in town this week to help with a goalie camp at the Duluth IceForum. I swung by today to grab some lunch with him and catch up. I like Dave because he's always interesting to talk to and very honest. The amount of lying going around lately has gotten me down, so it's nice to talk to a straight shooter (er, catcher?) with a different perspective who still has the joy of hockey.

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.

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