Sunday, September 28, 2008

Schneider in Thrashers blue (photos and more)

Today was Mathieu Schneider's first day on the ice with the Thrashers after Friday's trade. With most of the team in Detroit for a preseason game, there were 10 skaters and one goalie out, and they only went about 45 minutes.

Schneider looked very good. He's such a smooth skater that he doesn't look like he's working very hard, but he was keeping up or ahead of other players in skating drills. He had a good sweat on by the end. Assistant GM Larry Simmons was at the practice checking up on him.

Schneider did not yet have a number on the back of his helmet.

The players seem very favorable about the trade to get Schneider. I asked Eric Boulton some prospect-related questions, and also about Schneider. He said "First day, he hasn't been skating much I don't think, but he looks good, he's gonna help us out a lot. He's a great defenseman, he's gonna make the team a lot better."

He has a very good stick -- keeps it in the right position and tips pucks away a lot.

I said to Colby Armstrong that Schneider looked hard to get around. "Most guys look like that when I'm coming down on them," he joked. "No, definitely a great pickup for us. A veteran guy who can put up numbers but has the experience and solid play that we need. Obviously a good move for our team and I think everyone here is looking forward to having him. I just got to meet him this morning, but from what I've heard, great guy, great team guy, so a good guy to have in our room for sure and on the ice for us."

Brett Sterling on Schneider: "Oh, he's a great player. His stats over the last, what is it, 15 years have been unbelievable. I actually met him about three years ago in LA, skating with a bunch of guys out there [in the summer] and he was unbelievable. I mean I was still in college and he treated me like one of the guys. There was no awkwardness at all. He came in today and said hi, remembered me. He's one of those guys who's a great team guy and it's gonna be a great step for this team. I think it really helps us."

Sterling played goal at the end after Hedberg went off. He was actually rather good at it. He was down and dirty in the snow -- I told him he looked like a snowman when he came off.

Jeff Pyle, coach of the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators, led the drills today. He's the most senior coach left now that the Wolves coaches cleared out for their own camp. He had two guys helping move pucks around and it was hard to identify them because though I had seen their faces, I had never seen them on skates before. One was strength and conditioning coach Ray Bear, who is always in sneakers and a clip board.

I asked Pyle who his other assistant was. He said he thought his name was Cat, but joked that we should definitely check with immigration. Pyle said that Cat's claim to fame is that he toured with the Beatles -- he doesn't know if it's true, but it's a good story.

He is indeed Cat Collins, a guy who helps out with the equipment on game nights.

Note: Permission to reprint photos can be obtained by emailing

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paquette ejected in season opener

From the Sun Journal:

Maineiacs' captain Danick Paquette made his long awaited season debut, but that lasted all of 4:09. On his third shift, Paquette went to line up Moncton captain Matt Eagles. The shifty forward ducked, and the players' knees collided. Officials assessed Paquette a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing, and also kicked Moncton's David Savard out of the game after the lunky forward started a fight with Paquette.

Poll: Predict Anderson's bench minors

The poll question was "How many bench minors (unsportsmanlike) will John Anderson's Thrashers get this season?"

The main thing I got out of the answers is that everyone agrees Anderson is an old dog. He's either already learned his lesson and will keep quiet, or will continue to be penalized like in Chicago. He won't stop at 1 bench minor -- only 2% voted for that choice. The most popular answer was 4-6 times, with 31% of the vote. I believe that's what I voted as well.

0 -- 17%
1 -- 2%
2-3 -- 29%
4-6 -- 31%
7 -- 19%

I think from this you could set a betting line of about 3.5 bench minors.

Everyone has a beast they fight, and Anderson knows he needs to be better with the refs. Another thing he should probably work on is not chewing gum and blowing bubbles on the bench when the TV cameras come out.

Above is Anderson with his trusty writing pad. He's unorthodox in not using a dry erase board for drawing up plays. "I like my pad there because I can rip it off," he said after the game. I asked him about how the coaches were getting along on the bench. "Oh we were arguing," he joked. "No, it worked out really well. Actually we had a little problem with our mic on the bench to cut clips, but I guess that's why we do exhibition games. It's not just for the players but for the coaching staff."

Anderson and Randy Cunneyworth interacting on the bench.

Assistant coach Steve Weeks served as the eye in the sky, and he'll likely do that most of the year. He's been the "systems" coach for a few years because he has a good eye for the macro level.

At least there are no Swedes to break in during preseason this year, with their guaranteed too many men calls. Last year Toby Enstrom went through it. In Sweden, players have more leeway on line changes so when they get to the NHL they often get whistled for it. Swede Patric Hornqvist took two too many men penalties for Nashville on Thursday.
In other news, former Thrashers draft pick Mike Hamilton has been invited to Quad City Flames camp as a tryout.

Yes we have no gas

My uncle called me a couple days ago wondering if it was true that we had a gas shortage in the south. He and my aunt were considering driving down to Memphis. I told him there's gas to be had, but only at like one out of six or seven stations and expect to wait in line. Like I did at the QuikTrip on Sidney Marcus the other day (note line of cars down the street):

I liked what QuikTrip did here, which was to have someone make sure cars go in line and didn't sneak in front. They were also selling their gas for $3.97 when other stations (who had it at least) were charging like $4.29. Bravo, QuikTrip. A couple nights ago I was at a different QuikTrip and it was hopping -- at 4:30 am!

Most places look like this though. No price=no gas.

Alpharetta seems to be the worst place to try to find it. There's more gas in the city than up there.

I do believe it's coming as fast as it can, since there was a gas tanker riding my tail on the way back from Nashville, but it's just not enough.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Preseason vs. Nashville (photos)

Some photos from the first Thrashers preseason game in Nashville. They won 4-2.

Boris Valabik. He got a 10-minute misconduct for gratuitous cross-checking around the net. He was partnered with Hainsey and those two were very effective. The improvement in Valabik's skating is noticeable and he said he's gotten good comments on it. In talking to him, he seems a bit more relaxed than he did when he was up with the team last year.

Chris Thorburn.

Grant Stevenson.

Ondrej Pavelec, now wearing #31. Everyone should get to pick out their number eventually. He's not a rookie this year so he piped up and got the number he wanted. Pavelec played very well tonight, even though he said he wasn't quite himself to start the game. He didn't fully see the two goals he gave up.

Here's how full the arena was. Not very.

Anything I didn't catch in this game I'm blaming on Spencer Machacek and his faux hawk a row below me.

Bryan Little.

It looked like Grant Lewis would love to have Exelby as his partner every game. Lewis had some turnovers, but he brought something to the table with his offense. He moved the puck well on the power play and took the puck in deep a couple times.

Angelo Esposito puts on his thoughtful face.

Oystrick really needed to play a great game, after what happened last year. But, he really didn't. It was an odd mix of letting Rivers do too much, and also running around out of position.

Marty Reasoner.

This one of Crabb and Oystrick seems to need a caption.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scraps from Nashville prospects game

Last week on Project Runway, one of the contestants was chastised by the judges for putting a photographer in a dress. Too impractical. That seemed reasonable to me at the time, but I had no story or image to go with it in my mind. Now I do.

At warm-ups in Nashville for the prospects game, I got some shots down at the Predators end first. That side was easy, there was a small step down into the photo area from the stands. Halfway through, I switched sides to the Thrashers end. At that end, there is a four-foot drop from the stands into the photo area. I had to jump down, with the polite help of the guy from The Tennessean. Then, to get out, I had to crawl under the stands. Crawl. I had my trusty go-anywhere black pants on, so I was fine, but I now understand precisely what those judges were saying.

Here's a few more of the hard-gotten photos.

Paul Postma. He made some bad mistakes, but he's got a lot going for him with his skating and puckhandling. His defense will only get better with experience. He made it to his game tonight in Calgary, by the way.

Artie Kulda. He was probably the team's best defenseman.

Angelo Esposito making a face. He makes lots of faces I've noticed. He and Jordan LaVallee.

Correction on when fighting teammates in practice becomes funny. Make that 'immediately' to Esposito, Machacek's locker room neighbor. He got a little chuckle out of it.

View of the bench from above.

I was going to applaud the fact that there's music constantly playing at the main intersection in Nashville, how fun it makes it after dark. But then this happened... Leaving the arena on Tuesday, walking back to the car, the speakers outside the convention center were playing Rick Astley's Together Forever. Not cool, Nashville.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Prospect games photos (Atlanta at Nashville)

Here are a few photos from the prospects game against Nashville today before I get on the road back to Atlanta.

Kaip and Kulda at warmup.

Grant Lewis was ready for a national anthem that didn't come. He thinks his hair is really short right now. Whatever.


Danick Paquette and Kelsey Wilson. Two players of the same ilk.

Paul Postma wants to be out there all the time.

Lewis coming to the bench.

Kaip in motion.

Denny, Esposito and Pospisil return to the bench.

Chris Carrozzi takes a water break.

Jon Blum and Cody Franson. What is Postma doing down in the corner? This is during the game, so he's not stretching.

There were lots of schoolkids at this game. Dan Turple checks out the action. That's Jason Christie next to him.

One of several scrums. Mark Santorelli said that the players were told they weren't allowed to fight in the game. They got about as close as you can get though. I asked Santorelli about Myles Stoesz, who he played with in Chilliwack, specifically about his skating. Santorelli said Stoesz didn't even look like the same player now.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Two things learned tonight in Nashville

Due to how much of a good time Nashvegas is, I'll be brief.

1. Don Granato is very intense -- and popular. It's a meaningless prospects match-up, and afterwards he was as intense as any coach you see after games. For the popular part, while he was commenting in the hallway, he waved hello to several people walking by. One guy stopped and shook his hand -- Ryan Suter. Not sure how they know each other, but I bet it's something to do with Suter being from Madison, Wisconsin.

2. When you fight with teammates in practice, it takes at least a year afterwards to become funny. Jon Blum and Spencer Machacek dropped the gloves at practice with the Vancouver Giants last November. Since Blum was an opponent tonight for the first time, I mentioned the fight to Machacek after the game, thinking he'd get a laugh out of it now. Nope, he's still pretty serious about it.

Also seen tonight, Don Waddell in the house, and Jason Fitzsimmons, who used to coach the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays but was hired by the Capitals as a pro scout. I couldn't place him for the longest time -- I knew the face and it was driving me crazy. Then he asked to talk to Jason Christie. Christie used to coach in the ECHL so then the lightbulb went on that it was Fitzy. How could I even momentarily forget someone who waved a white towel on a stick on the bench a couple years ago? That was comedy gold.

I talked to a Nashville reporter I know in the elevator. He said Ryan Jones will probably make the Predators unless Alex Radulov suddenly comes back. Radulov is the never-ending story. I commented that I was tired of hearing about it. He said he was tired of writing about it.

And Nashville's roster

From the Tennessean, the second best paper for Predators coverage:
The Predators will use at least 18 young players in rookie scrimmages against Atlanta today and Tuesday.

Goalies: Mark Dekanich, Chet Pickard and Jeremy Smith.

Defensemen: Jonathon Blum, Robert Dietrich, Cody Franson, Teemu Laakso and Mark Matheson.

Forwards: Brandon Buck, Ryan Jones, Ryan Maki, Ian McKenzie, Mark Santorelli, Mike Santorelli, Nick Spaling, Andreas Thuresson, Stephen Werner and Kelsey Wilson.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kowalski invited to Norfolk training camp

Since I had someone come up to me at Thrashers training camp yesterday and ask what was up with Gladiators goaltender Craig Kowalski, I know there's a chunk of the readership who will want to hear about this.

He's been invited to Norfolk Admirals training camp. He is still officially without a contract for the season.

NORFOLK, VA – Twenty-four players will report to Norfolk Scope on Monday morning, September 22, as 2008-09 Norfolk Admirals training camp begins.
Goaltenders Nick Boucher, Craig Kowalski and Mike McKenna complete Monday’s roster.

Training camp, Day 2 with photos

Some photos and tidbits from today. I'll try to work everything into one post.

Riley Holzapfel. You'd be smiling too if you were on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk.

Speaking of which, I tried to get a photo of Holzapfel, Stoesz and Kovalchuk together, but failed. The best I could do is just Stoesz and Kovy in silhouette. I was able to watch Stoesz a bit today, he does look much smoother in his skating. He's relaxed enough to joke around on the ice too. One time he pretended to still dribble a puck after Exelby had tipped it very neatly off his stick.

Paquette, on the other hand, looks choppy in his stride. I interviewed him afterward -- his English is better than expected. Fine really. One funny thing was when I asked about the injury at Traverse City just to clarify. He pointed at his butt and said, "let's say legs."

In case you wondered what language Kovy was swearing in these days, it's definitely English. He was raring to go in a drill against Enstrom, lost control of the puck, and swore rather loudly.

Jordan LaVallee.

Brett Sterling chatting up Grant Stevenson.

A tete-a-tete between Kulda and Oystrick. Kulda is back to his original stick, by the way. The Modry one didn't work out. An equipment rep was around after practice today. Machacek was talking sticks, Thorburn was talking skates.

Valabik and Crabb chat while stretching. Valabik has the same spot in the main locker room that he had at the end of last season. That certainly bodes well for him. Those lower on the totem pole are in an auxilliary locker room down the hall.

Crabb must have said something funny as he got up, since he left Valabik laughing.

I chatted with Crabb today for a bit myself . Since he's an Alaskan, I asked him what he knew about Sarah Palin. He didn't know much more than the rest of us. He said his parents have a cabin on a lake in the little town of Wassila that Palin was mayor of. A lot of fishing happens there.

Lastly, Toby Enstrom. Still no Zach Bogosian today.

Other items:

Junior Lessard's hair is red, red, red. He was icing his left thigh after practice.

Paul Postma will play in the rookie games in Nashville, then has a flight back to Calgary scheduled for Wednesday. He's supposed to arrive at 4:45 and his Hitmen (WHL) have a game at 7:00. If all goes well, he'll be playing in it. They really need him since one of his fellow defensemen asked for a trade and that's still pending. He should get an absolute ton of ice time this year.

Ondrej Pavelec is very close to changing his number to #31. The #33 he's been wearing was a number that was given to him at his first camp with the Thrashers. He talked about changing it last year, but didn't bother because he was going back down to Chicago soon. This week he's talked to the equipment managers about making the change, but needs to decide for sure. He likes #31, especially because he was born on Aug. 31, but also talked today about the possibility of #34 (because it sounds good). Bottom line, I asked, do you think there will be a #31 jersey in your locker in your first preseason game? "I think so," he said as he tried on some new skates. There too, he's debating -- CCMs or Bauers -- but "probably CCM," he said.

Stats of the day: The practice ice temperature is set at 17 degrees, the rink air temperature at 50 degrees, and the humidity at 40 percent. All of this information from Al Blevins, rink manager.

"Weigh out!" is strength and conditioning coach Ray Bear's reminder as players scatter for the day. In other industries, if they weighed you upon leaving, it would be because they thought you were stealing things.

Nashville prospects game roster

Sixteen skaters and two goaltenders will make the trip to Nashville for the first of what may become annual rookie games with the Nashville Predators. The teams will square off Monday night and Tuesday at noon.

It sounds like the Thrashers may have the younger of the two rosters. John Anderson said he thought that Nashville had several Milwaukee (AHL) guys on their roster. For the Thrashers, only Grant Lewis and Scott Lehman played the majority of the season's games in the AHL. Chad Painchaud, Scott Lehman and Dan Turple are all second-year pros. Note no Zach Bogosian, who is out with a hip flexor injury suffered at Traverse City. He has yet to skate in main camp.

Please remember good netiquite if you copy and paste the list -- if it's good enough to copy, it's good enough to cite your source.

Forwards (10)
Matt Anderson
Angelo Esposito
Riley Holzapfel
Rylan Kaip
Spencer Machacek
Chad Painchaud
Danick Paquette
Tomas Pospisil
Matt Siddall
Myles Stoesz

Defensemen (6)
Chad Denny
Arturs Kulda
Scott Lehman
Grant Lewis
Scott Marchesi
Paul Postma

Goaltenders (2)
Chris Carrozzi
Dan Turple

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More notes on Day 1 of camp

A few more things before we turn the page to Sunday.

Grant Lewis weighed in at 205, up a dramatic 16 pounds since July at prospects camp. His body fat went down from 6.9 (already a good number) to 5.4% in that time, so you can tell what he put on was virtually all muscle. That's impressive. I asked if he felt different. "I actually feel much stronger and much better on the ice," he said. "I don't think I lost a step at all to be honest. Most of the weight I put on was muscle." The only thing bothering him right now is his broken toe.

Lewis said he's rooming with Rylan Kaip here at camp and they both have facial injuries. Standing right across from him, I didn't even notice the cut beneath Lewis' lip, but Kaip's right cheek has a 50-cent piece sized red spot on it, in addition to being all swelled up. He wore a full shield in practice today.

Spencer Machacek had a score of 67 on the VO2. That put him tied for fourth place in camp. Kozlov and another vet had 69, Armstrong had 68, and five guys had 67 including Machacek and Esposito. At camp, Machacek is rooming in the hotel with Riley Holzapfel. "Yeah we're buddies," Machacek said. "Western guys gotta stick together."

Chad Denny had a vertical leap of 31.5 inches, two inches farther than anyone else. "I was shocked, he's a pretty big guy," Anderson said. And Rylan Kaip led in pullups. "He has no arms, I don't know how he did it," Anderson said.

Artie Kulda is already changing things up after one day of camp. After practice he was at the stick rack doing some shopping. He settled on a stick in a Jaroslav Modry pattern. Kulda heated it up to take the end piece out and then walked it down to the equipment managers for more work.

Kozlov may or may not have been back to himself playing (Anderson said he's at 95%), but he sure was back to normal in the picking on teammates department. He's extremely sneaky about things and never cracks a smile, but I distinctly saw him punch Colby Armstrong while waiting in a drill line.

Bryan Little was very "zippy" today and very accurate with his shot. Looks very ready for the season. Joey Crabb does as well. Junior Lessard has a helluva shot -- he picked the very top corner against Hedberg on a tight angle. Saw a hard wrister out of him too. Mike Hoffman had a few moves.

Team building items: they had a team dinner last night in which they acknowledged the winners in each fitness event. They will have an event at an army base, and a pig roast at Todd Nelson's house. They will also do an exercise in the locker room where they talk about team strengths and weaknesses and what they can do to fix them -- making everyone feel a part of it.

Oh and if you're planning to go to Nashville Monday, be sure to find gas before you get there -- 85% of Nashville stations are out of gas. Filling up ahead is easier said than done though, since gas is pretty scarce in Atlanta right now too. I had an adventure getting some today.

Stoesz wins the line lottery at Thrashers training camp

The forward lines on the first day of training camp were a jumble of veterans and prospects. Coach John Anderson laughed at the suggestion that he drew names out of a hat, but said it wasn't far from what happened. Maybe Anderson thought Ilya Kovalchuk needed some protection in camp, or maybe it was just good luck, but tough guy Myles Stoesz ended up on Kovalchuk's right wing (Riley Holzapfel at center).

Stoesz and Kovalchuk actually have more in common now than ever before. Kovalchuk had some teeth knocked out recently, making him look a lot like Stoesz, who's had some of his bottom ones gone for a full year. One might assume that this commonality would give Stoesz an opening to chirp Kovalchuk a bit. But they aren't on chirping terms just yet, apparently. I asked Stoesz if he said anything to Kovalchuk about it. "No, definitely not," he laughed.

Stoesz said he was nervous early on today, but not nearly as nervous as last year. "On one drill I messed up a pass that Holzapfel gave to me and kind of dumped it into the corner and then Kovalchuk gave me a tap on the pads and said 'good job, keep going' that kind of thing, so that was nice to hear. That just totally calmed me down. At first I was scared that if I screwed up, he was going to yell at me or whatever."

On playing with Kovalchuk: "He's one of the top guys in the NHL, so to play with him even for a practice, it was a heck of an experience. A lot of fun just to watch him, the way he does things. He does everything at full tempo and even in practice he pumps his fist when he scores -- I love that. He's got passion for the game it seems. It's good to learn from that."

Stoesz plays an up and down grinding game, so the finesse plays from Kovalchuk were not something he was used to. "It's amazing. Any pass from him is good," he said. "Times when I'd be out and down, he finds a way to pull it through and dish you a puck and then you score."

Stoesz worked with a skating coach all summer in Winnipeg. Did he think his improved skating showed in camp? "I feel better, I feel like I can keep up better out there," he said. "I hope it shows. I haven't really heard anything."

In physical testing, Stoesz got a 62 on the important VO2 max test, which measures cardio fitness. This put him middle of the pack. That's an improvement over previous years, but he thinks the difference for him isn't so much a product of better conditioning. "It gets to me in my head," he said. "I psych myself up before I go there and just kind of fall off. That test is all mental. You've got to find the inner strength to push through."

His best fitness event is the pushups. Jimmy Slater was the winner this year with 98 in a minute. Stoesz had 75. "I did 82 in the summer but the guy counting was kind of stingy with a couple of them," he said with a smile. "There's some controversy there -- some guys are mad. He didn't count probably half of them."

Training camp photos, Day 1

Just a few shots from today.

Kulda at the net with Matt Anderson. Anderson got into a lot of my shots somehow. He snuck his way into camp as well, taking both in the injured Carter Bancks' invitee roster spot and number #65. Anderson, who's from New York, got the call to come at about 5pm last night, his flight was at 10pm and he got into the hotel about 3am. And looked none the worse for it, said he felt fine. He might have had more adrenaline going than most.

Myles Stoesz with a zombie goalie. No, that's Dan Turple. Stoesz played on a line with Kovalchuk today, which I'll have more on later.

Paul Postma in front of Johan Hedberg.

Nathan Oystrick and Matt Anderson. It will be interesting to see if the 2008-09 version of Oystrick plays better in the preseason games. John Anderson said he worked out all summer in Chicago with Wendall Young. "I'm really proud of how he's turned his body around. It was amazing. Hopefully it relates to something that's going to happen on the ice."

New Wolves head coach Don Granato with Bryan Little, Scott Lehman and again, Matt Anderson. Lehman, laughing, is looking at Chris Carrozzi -- the goalies had to make a long outlet pass on this one. Some were better than others.

Granato with Kari Lehtonen.

Jason "Smurf" Christie, Granato's new assistant.

Danick Paquette and Chad Denny.