Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prospect camp - Day 2

Today was a little colder, and much louder in the IceForum, due to a thunderstorm that rolled in during the afternoon session. BOOM it went on the metal roof, but at least the lights stayed on. Several years ago I was at hockey practice at that very facility in a storm and the lights didn't stay on. It's a scary feeling when you're skating along and suddenly lose your bearings. Luckily I wasn't going very fast and didn't crash into anything. But back to today, the pro players who have skated at Allstate Arena in Chicago would have been used to loud noises in the building, as Allstate is in the flight path of O'Hare Airport and the planes can be heard going over even when it's full of people.

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."


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report, Holly. Very informative and I appreciate the way that you are covering the 'behind the scenes' interaction between coach and players. Those conversations say as much about Anderson as they do about the players.
good stuff

Tony said...

Hey Holly,

Thnaks for your work and love the articles.

Anderson's comment about Esposito "has to play another year of juniors"......

Does that mean the decision has been made as in, he won't be competing for an NHL job this year?

thanks again,


Holly Gunning said...

Well, I think his comment indicates that the NHL isn't really in the mix right now for Esposito. Officially the decision hasn't been made, but I think everyone knows he's going back to junior. His rights were traded in the Q recently -- the Jr. Canadiens wouldn't have given up that much for him if they thought he wouldn't be playing there.

Having seen him play that one game in Chicago, I can verify that he's not yet ready for prime time.