Friday, November 22, 2013

Epic Windsor Hockey Road Trip 2: Electric Boogaloo

Last December, I took advantage of a long weekend to drive up to the illustrious Windsor, Ontario to see my Windsor Spitfires play at home for the first time. I only attended one game, but it was such a great weekend that I decided to make it an annual event.

I planned the most strategic weekend: two days off work, and a weekend schedule that included a bit of a doubleheader. On Thursday night, it was Plymouth at Windsor. On Saturday night, it was Windsor at Plymouth (just a quick 30 minute drive across the border in Michigan).

Crossing the Ambassador Bridge
So on November 7, I got in the car and began the less-than-five-hour drive to Windsor, Spitfires jersey tucked away in my suitcase. It was an uneventful drive, but once again, for the second time, I caught heat at the Canadian border after crossing the Ambassador Bridge. The border patrol agents, as they confusedly searched my car, told me "we're just trying to understand how you're from Chicago and a Spits fan." My thoughts: "I just am, let me in!"

But let's rewind and go back to why I'm a Spitfires fan, just as I explained to the Canadian customs agent that day at the border crossing. As we know, I became an NHL fan in February 2008, which was the time of the first NHL game I ever attended. I soaked up a lot of knowledge in that first year of fandom, and by May 2009, I was discovering and watching junior hockey for the first time in my life on the NHL Network: the Memorial Cup. It was then that I saw the Windsor Spitfires for the very first time.

Of course, that year, they were the dominant team in the tournament and eventually won it all, but I was attracted to them immediately. Their jersey colors were the same as the Capitals, and in fact, they reminded me a little bit of the Capitals' playing style. Consider Taylor Hall the Spitfires' Alex Ovechkin; Adam Henrique was Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Ellis was Mike Green, Zack Kassian was Matt Bradley -- if Matt Bradley scored a whole lot more goals than he did as a Capital.

I did manage to get across the Canadian border after they deemed that I was really only bringing clothes with me into Canada and I found my dumpy motel on the west side of town. There are several restaurants and bars in the area that offer free shuttles to the Spitfires' games, so after settling in at the hotel, I made my way to one of them that I had not tried on my previous journey: Johnny Shotz, in Tecumseh.

I had dinner and a few beers there, and when my waitress asked me if I wanted gravy with the fries that came with my sandwich, I said, "um, YES." O, Canada indeed.

Sitting directly behind the penalty box was fun
I took the shuttle to the game, and took my seat in the row directly behind the visitors' penalty box (which was very well-attended that night).

The first period was... not pretty. The defense was still asleep, and goaltender Dalen Kuchmey was the casualty. At the end of the first period, the Plymouth Whalers were leading the Spitfires 4-1. It wasn't looking so promising.

Then, in the second period, the Spits apparently woke up. I'm not sure what Coach Bob Boughner said to them in the locker room, but it worked. By the end of the second period, the Whalers were only leading by one, with a 4-3 score.

In the third period, Plymouth scored fairly early on to take a 5-3 lead, but things really got kicked off nearly halfway through when Slater Koekkek scored a gorgeous shorthanded goal to make it 5-4. Then, with less than five minutes left, Cristiano DiGiacinto scored to tie it up. It was starting to get interesting.

It was a tense final five minutes. Particularly when Kerby Rychel scored to take a 6-5 lead with barely a minute left. The last goal, by the way, netted Rychel a hat trick. A few hats floated onto the ice, but moods were too tense to really overcelebrate. The Spitfires managed to hold onto the lead and notched a 6-5 win over the Whalers.

On the shuttle back to Johnny Shotz is when my entire weekend changed. Throughout the game and on my drive, I'd been tweeting about the Spitfires and the official Spitfires Twitter account had been retweeting my comments about driving from Chicago for some games. On the way back, I was talking with a few patrons on the Johnny Shotz shuttle, mentioning that I drove from Chicago for the weekend. One of the men I was talking to turned to the couple in front of him and told them "this girl drove all the way from Chicago to see the Spitfires!"

The couple turned around and said, "Wait, I saw you on Twitter!" Turns out that the couple had seen what the Spitfires had retweeted and were shocked that I was an actual person who actually was from Chicago for the games, and I was sitting there on the shuttle with them.

Then, the plot thickens. I introduced myself, and they did the same. They also told me that they were the billet family of one of the Spitfires players. That player was recent acquisition Eric Diodati.

And then my brain exploded. They invited me to dinner before the game in Plymouth on Saturday with them, the player's mother, and his grandfather. I accepted.

Friday was spent touring several southern Ontario wineries (seriously, there are like 15 vineyards along the coast of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario, who knew? -- I went to about five) and had a nice dinner at a hip restaurant in downtown Windsor. On Saturday morning, I went for a lovely run in the park near my motel.

I then got ready to head to Plymouth very early. Though it was an evening, 7:05 game, I was totally unsure of how busy/strict customs would be, and I was to meet Diodati's billets, mother and grandfather for dinner at 4:30, so I left Windsor around 3:00. The customs line was long at border patrol, but I blew through customs once I finally reached them, and so I arrived very early at the Plymouth arena.

I met up with my group at the restaurant in the Plymouth arena, and despite being among strangers, I had a great dinner. Diodati's billet parents are great, and I absolutely adored his mother and grandfather. I was so grateful for the dinner we had together, not only because I met new friends, but also because (as a giant prospect nerd) I got fantastic insight into the life of a junior hockey player. As Diodati was traded to Windsor only in October, there was a fair amount of talk about his fitting in with the new team, including direct comments from coaches and how he behaves at home. For reference, all very good.

According to Diodati's mother, Coach Boughner thinks Diodati has clicked immediately with defensive pair Trevor Murphy (which, watching the games, is completely true) and I also heard about scouts checking out Diodati at Spitfires games, so I got a little inside information there. Being as Diodati is an overager who wasn't drafted, seems a few teams are interested in picking him up as a free agent. I heard a little bit about the inside process of scouting, and I found the conversation very interesting.

Adam Bateman and other scratches
We then watched warmups and posited ourselves over the Spitfires tunnel. Diodati came out as we were standing there, and I nudged his mother and she shouted out to him, and he looked up and smiled (probably wondering who this woman in a Spitfires jersey was with his mother, grandfather and billet parents).

The game in Plymouth was no less exciting than the one in Windsor. Teams traded goals, and at the end of two periods, Plymouth led 3-2. In the third period, with barely five minutes left, Josh Ho-Sang scored basically the most disgustingly beautiful dangle goal I have ever seen and tied it up at 3 (I wish I could find it online).

Kuchmey in the tunnel before the game Saturday
That put them into overtime, which produced no goals, and so they progressed to a shootout. Plymouth's first shooter didn't score. Windsor's first shooter, rookie Nick Foss, scored. Kuchmey staved off two more Plymouth shots, and the Spitfires won the shootout with Foss' goal standing alone.

During the game, I'd gone from my third row seat to hang out with the Windsor section, which was essentially all players' parents (Ty Bilcke, by the way, looks just like his dad). I met the Spitfires' arena PA announcer, and he invited me to attend the Sunday matinee game. I was further persuaded by Diodati's billet parents, who had an extra ticket to the 2:00 game on Sunday in Windsor. Against London. I hopelessly relented. How could I resist?

During the Sunday game against London
So I delayed my departure from Windsor. I'd been planning to leave Windsor in the morning and arrive back home in Chicago in the early afternoon. But with the PA announcer, billet parents, and actual parents pressuring me, plus the prospect of seeing Dale Hunter and an elite team like London, I gave in, essentially said, "screw it, why not" and accepted the ticket. I planned to leave immediately after the game, putting me home in Chicago around 9pm.

I met Diodati's billet parents, his mother and grandfather at Johnny Shotz on Sunday morning to have breakfast before the game. We took the shuttle over and I found my (free) seat, five rows behind the net, after helping Diodati's mother purchase Spitfires player t-shirts with her son's (and her) name on the back (did I mention I absolutely love her?)

I'll be honest, for this game against London, I did not have high hopes. After all it is London, with Dale Hunter furiously chewing gum behind the bench, and I knew the game would be a battle. However, I highly respected how well the Spitfires played against them. The Knights won, yes, but Kuchmey saved the defense's butts a lot, and once the defense warmed up a bit, it was a big battle.

After a very tense game and the first two periods being scoreless, London unfortunately ended up victorious with a 3-1 win (though I must mention that one of those goals was an empty netter, but Kuchmey came out with 33 saves -- quite respectable for basically a rookie).

I was two for three on the weekend, but being in the Windsor area, my personal attendance record is three for four. I met some fantastic new people, including some billet parents who are fantastic, and I got some real insight on junior hockey players, directly from the player's mother and grandfather.

I got home around, as predicted, 9pm on Sunday night, but it was worth every second. Even though the game against London was lost, it was a very good and exciting game that I'm glad I stayed for.

All in all, this was basically the best weekend ever. Yes, it ended on a bit of a low note with the loss to the Knights and an unfortunate discovery of bedbugs in my motel, but I am so grateful to have met Eric Diodati's billet family, mother, and grandfather and gotten their insight on the whole "CHL experience," not to mention I liked all of them so much I basically spent the entire weekend with them.

I went into Windsor expecting to see two games and remain largely on my own. I ended up attending three games and spending basically an entire weekend with a player's billet and blood families.

I'm so grateful for my experiences over the weekend and all the crazy happenstance that led up to all of it. I absolutely cannot wait until next year's trip to Windsor, especially since I have friends there now that will ease border patrol questions! I feel that WFCU Centre is now my home, and I'm so glad that I have friends who populate it.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Focus on Prospects: Andre Burakovsky

It's draft time again! This is like Christmas in June to me personally.

photo by eliteprospects.com

Name: Andre Burakovsky
Position: LW
Shoots: Left
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 179 lbs
Birthdate: 1995-02-09
Hometown: Klagenfurt, Austria

With the Washington Capitals' first pick of the 2013 draft (23rd overall), the Capitals followed a trend of recent years and again went Swedish. Well, sort of. Andre Burakovsky, though Austrian-born, plays for Malmö of the Allsvenskan league (the Swedish Hockey League's minor league).

Dedicated NHL fans may remember Andre's father, Robert Burakovsky, who played 23 games with the Ottawa Senators in the 1993-1994 season. Though that short time was the only NHL ice Robert Burakovsky ever saw, he spent a total of 27 seasons in professional hockey, mostly in the Swedish Elite League. Andre was born during Robert's season with Klagenfurt AC in Austria.

Something that was discussed a lot by commentators during the draft was the recent influx of Swedish players coming to North America to play in the CHL and in the NCAA, due to many 16- and 17-year-old Swedish players being "too good for junior but don't play any minutes in the big league."

Burakovsky has been a casualty of precisely that situation, and as a result, his statistics last season are very underwhelming. In 43 games with Malmö's "big" club last season, Burakovsky had just 11 points (4g, 7a). He also played 13 games with Malmö's junior teams, and fared a little better there, scoring seven points (3g, 4a).

However, Burakovsky has had international tournament success, playing in the 2013 U18 World Junior Championships for Sweden in April (he did not make the U20 club, but had five points in five games at U18) and the Five Nations tournament this past February. The Five Nations tournament was really his coming out party, as he scored one goal and two assists in four games.

He's known as a very talented skater, with good agility and speed. But his real strength is his nose for the puck. He's a guy that always wants the puck, shoots often, and shoots to score. His shot and his shot placement are major positives that scouts have seen. Even though he seems to prefer to have the puck himself (which may be just fine considering his great puck possession skills), he's still a great playmaker, has excellent vision, and skilled hands. He is the kind of player who has the ability to be a total gamechanger.

Major criticisms of his game involve his play when he doesn't have the puck, namely, in his own end. Scouts point out that his defensive skills are lacking, and need work. However, being that he still does not have a lot of weight on his 6'2" frame, the defensive side of the game may come once he puts a bit of weight on his frame. Once that happens, he may be a little more willing to throw the body and muscle his way into puck battles. Being 6'2", one can only hope that he'll use his size appropriately once he gains that extra strength.

That's not to say that once he gains weight, he should suddenly become Chris Pronger, but if Burakovsky can round out his game by adding the defensive element, he'll be a very dangerous player that will cause major problems for opponents.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Explaining the 2005 CBA and the 2012 Lockout

Being a grad student means that I have to write my fair share of papers. Being a grad student in a Sports Administration program means that I sometimes get to write my papers on hockey.

Such was the case last quarter, when I had to write a final paper for my Sports Finance and Accounting class. The assignment our professor gave us was ridiculously broad. Basically, the assignment was "write a 6-8 page paper on a subject having some small relation to sports finance and accounting." As this was mid-December, I of course opted to write an assessment of the NHL lockout, what each side was asking for, and how the lockout might be resolved.

With the topic, I bit off way more than I could chew. I realized that in order to write the paper, I had to read several portions of the actual CBA, which is like reading a very complicated book of laws and statutes in terms of ridiculously mind-numbing jargon.

Even though the lockout is now over, I figured my paper might make a nice post for the blog for people who are still confused over what the whole fight was actually about.

Full text appears after the jump. It's not Shakespeare, as I was panicking and majorly scrambling to finish this on time. I should hope this would go without saying, but this is my own work and research and you cannot reproduce or use it for your own purposes without my express permission. Bibliography is available but too much of a pain to reproduce on Blogger.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy Caps Year in Columbus

I'd previously blogged about my other hockey trips, so I thought I'd do the same for my little trip to Columbus for New Year's Eve.

I moved away from DC on November 2, 2011, the day after an overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks, a win that was almost a singlehanded effort from Nicklas Backstrom (scoring the game-tying goal in the last 30 seconds, and then the overtime winner). It was also the beginning of the end for Bruce Boudreau -- the game that stirred controversy when he did not put Alex Ovechkin out on the ice in the last minute of the third period to try to tie the game.

It was my last Capitals game at Verizon Center, at least for the foreseeable future. I went to every single game of the season until my move, preseason included, and the Capitals were still undefeated at home at that time.

After I left is when the team spiraled downhill, and it was difficult to watch from so far away. And I thought the next time I would see the team is when they come to Chicago to play the Blackhawks in March. After attending about 30 games in 2010-2011 and every game until November 1 in 2011-2012, four months without seeing my team in person was going to be tough.

On Friday night, I still didn't have any plans for New Year's Eve. Sam (Caps fans may know him as The Horn Guy) mentioned to me the Caps Road Crew trip to Columbus, but I thought the Road Crew seats were sold out. But another friend, Karen, also had a group going, and had a last-minute cancellation, and thus a ticket.

So I made the decision. Just 8 hours before I got in the car, I paid for a ticket, got a hotel in Columbus, and packed up my Nicklas Backstrom jersey to be worn to a game for the first time in two months.

It's only about six hours from Chicago to Columbus, and it was smooth sailing through Indiana and Ohio. My hotel was about four blocks from the Arena, and after a quick change, I went to meet up with the Road Crew near the arena. At the bar, I met Caps fans from London (Ontario), Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and obviously DC. Caps fans really came from all over.


After getting into the arena, it was almost like being at a Verizon Center game -- Caps fans were absolutely everywhere. Nationwide Arena is beautiful. Being one of the newer arenas in the NHL, I enjoyed the design and features. The concourses are wide, and the seating arrangement is unique and also functional.

We headed down to rinkside for warm-ups, and I practically started crying when the Caps hit the ice. It was so great to see them, and it just made me incredibly happy. Dmitri Orlov was called up after I'd left DC, and as I was at his first-ever AHL game, I was so proud to see him in an NHL jersey in person for the first time.

As for the game, it wasn't looking so good after the first two periods. But thankfully, the Caps picked it up in the third period and scored four goals in less than seven minutes, including two Ovechkin markers. After a New Year's Eve fireworks display on the ice, we left the arena happy and went back to a nearby bar to watch the ball drop.


It was no Verizon Center, but it was absolutely worth the trip and there's no other way I would rather have spent New Year's Eve. And the experience will at least hold me over until two months from now, when the Caps come into my hometown of Chicago.


Pictures from the trip (including a bunch of warm-up photos) are here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Second period mistakes cost Express

 Players look on as Devin DiDiomete (28) and Phil Rauch (20) fight at the end of the second period (photo by Chicago Express)

Coming into Wednesday night's game, the Toledo Walleye (DET/CHI) and the Chicago Express (CBJ) had already met six times this season, splitting wins evenly between them at three a piece. Chicago took the first three decisions, and the Walleye took the last three. After Wednesday's final decision, the Walleye have now won four, claiming a 4-3 victory over the Express.

The game didn't start out so bad for the Express. Mike Embach scored a beauty in the first period, taking advantage of a turnover at the opposite blue line to fly through the neutral zone, deke around three defenders, and put the puck top shelf. The goal sent the Express into the locker room with a 1-0 lead at the first intermission. But when the team stepped onto the ice in the second, things turned disastrous.

Walleye forward Christopher DiDomenico scored twice less than four minutes into the second period, first on a power play, then at even strength, making it 2-1 in favor of Toledo. After the Express began trailing for the first time in the game, everything went wrong. Pucks were continuously turned over, the defense was sloppy, and Express had significant trouble putting passes on their teammates' tape.

The Walleye took advantage, and struck again. Allen York misplayed the puck 10 feet in front of his own net, and suddenly Kyle Rogers had his sixth goal of the year. Just seconds later, Joey Martin got another puck past York, and it was 4-1 Walleye.

Instead of getting inspired, the Express got angry. A lot of chirping began. During a faceoff, Bobby Robins clearly asked Nick Oslund if he wanted to fight. Oslund shook his head no. Net mouth scrums got more and more frequent as the Express tried to get some kind of spark going. After putting only five shots on goal in the second period, the Express' frustration finally spilled into a full-fledged fight just after the horn indicating the end of the period.

Devin DiDiomete, fresh off injured reserve, went up against Phil Rauch. Though smaller, DiDiomete looked to get the better of Rauch, knocking Rauch's helmet off and eventually taking him down to the ice. The only punches Rauch landed were right on DiDiomete's helmet, resulting in a bloody hand for Rauch. DiDiomete was assessed a two-minute roughing minor, a five-minute fighting major, and a ten-minute misconduct, and as a result, missed most of the third period. Rauch received just a five-minute major.

But the fight appeared to serve its purpose. The Express came out in the third period ready to battle for goals. Five minutes in, several Express players crashed the net and ended up scoring, with Kyle Ostrow getting credit for the marker. Ten minutes later, Chaz Johnson scored a rocket of a one-timer from the dot on a power play.

It was 4-3 Walleye with five minutes to go, and the Express were not going to give up. With one minute remaining, Allen York sprinted to the bench to get an extra man on to try for an equalizer. Walleye goaltender Thomas McCollum faced a flurry of shots, but nothing got through, and the Express fell short in their comeback.

Though there were at least two goals that Allen York would no doubt like to have back, he made 29 saves on 33 shots as the Walleye outshot the Express 33-20.

Just after the final horn, there was an altercation between Chaz Johnson and Matt Krug of the Walleye. Something Krug said or did very obviously set Johnson off, sending him into hysterics as a referee struggled to hold him back. Johnson smashed his stick on the ice before finally heading down the tunnel, leaving the Walleye to celebrate their victory.

Given the nature of the scene, I wouldn't be surprised if Johnson faces any supplemental discipline from the league for unsportsmanlike conduct. It's fitting, as that capped off a game in which Johnson surpassed his 1,000th pro career penalty minute (he had four penalty minutes in total on the night).

Friday night, the Express face the Elmira Jackals (OTT/ANA). Tyler Donati, named the second star of the game with two assists, said the game plan against the Jackals is pretty obvious: "Play like we played in the third."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Express down Wings in a shootout thriller

 Kyle Ostrow scores the game-winning shootout goal (photo by Chicago Express)

It wasn't looking so good for the Chicago Express as they headed into the third period Friday night, down 4-2 to the Kalamazoo Wings. A few minutes into the third period, Eric Kattelus made it 5-2. The clock was ticking.

After two power play goals in the first 20 minutes, the Express looked to have stalled out in the latter half of the second period. They were finding it tough to carry pucks through the offensive zone, and shots from the blue line were immediately blocked by Wings players on the defensive. Worst of all, Express goaltender Allen York wasn't getting a lot of help.

But the crowd of 3,090 in the Sears Centre Arena got loud in the third, and the Express seemed to respond in turn. "Nothing out of the ordinary was said during the second intermission, we just knew that we had to step it up for the final 20," Express defenseman Scott Wietecha said after the game. "We were confident that if we went out, played hard and stuck to our style of play, we'd have a chance to climb back into it."

Wietecha (a Capitals development and rookie camp attendee) started it off for the Express in the third, getting a fluky goal from nearly center ice. He blasted the puck to the net, and goaltender Maxime Clermont got just a piece of it, sending the puck tipping off the top of his glove and into the net.

It was Wietecha's first professional goal, and judging by his delayed jubilant reaction, he didn't immediately know that he'd scored. "I didn't know it went in at first, but was pretty pumped when I realized I finally got my first one out of the way," Wietecha said.

The goal also set off the Express comeback.

By the time Wietecha scored, the Express had been down 5-2, and with Wietecha making it 5-3, the Express had about 16 minutes to make it a game.

They did. Wietecha's goal included, the Express scored three unanswered goals to tie the game and send it to overtime. Two goals were against starter Maxime Clermont, but just after Mike Embach made the score 5-4, Clermont lost his mask in a scrum and appeared to be cut in the face. Bleeding from his forehead, Clermont left the game and watched the rest of the action from the bench while back-up Riley Gill took over in the Kalamazoo crease.

Gill surrendered a goal to Chad Painchaud, his second of the night, and the Express had the game tied at 5-5, sending it to overtime.

Overtime was largely uneventful until 1:46 to go, when Painchaud took a costly hooking penalty to put the Express shorthanded for the remainder of overtime.

Your best penalty killer is often your goaltender, and Allen York was brilliant while the Wings had several quality scoring chances during their power play.

Scoreless through five minutes of extra time, the game went to a shootout. Kyle Ostrow scored in the fifth round of the shootout to finally get the Express the 6-5 victory.

One to watch: Mike Embach
I could barely take my eyes off Embach whenever he got on the ice. He had very fancy footwork and deked like Datsyuk, but a lot of times when he was carrying the puck, his moves were too fancy for his own teammates, and he'd end up sending a blind pass to no one. While he was busy dancing into the offensive zone, it seemed like he lost track of where his teammates were, and even where he was, and several times, he'd turn it over to the opposing defense by the time he got to the top of the circles.

Even so, watching his moves through two periods, I knew it was a matter of time before Embach put one in the net, and he did about seven minutes into the third. Embach needs some time in the pro leagues (he comes from four years at Ferris State) to really get his hockey sense under control while he's weaving around the D so that his passes can be on point and he can get farther into the zone. But the 23-year-old undrafted forward is a fun player to watch and might end up getting somewhere, even if it's only as far as the AHL.

Development camps and preparing for a pro career
Since I got to ask Scott Wietecha some questions, I had to ask about his experience at  Capitals camps this summer and how they helped him start his pro career. He had very positive things to say about his time in Washington.
"I definitely think that being at the Caps camps better prepared me for my first year pro. It has given me confidence coming into the season. I learned a lot from the coaches and the players that were there. Skating with Caps players and seeing how they prepared for the season was definitely beneficial. In Washington, I better learned from the coaches and staff what it takes to make a professional hockey player and picked up things on the ice too. It was a great experience."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Graham Mink comes home

 He's already got the playoff beard down (photo by JustSports Photography)

Early in training camp, I was watching Group B practice. A friend asked me, "Is Graham Mink a career AHLer?" Without even thinking, I said, "Yes." Then I paused for a minute and said, "But he's the kind of guy that knows it and accepts it. Like, 'This is my role, so I'm going to be damn good at it.'"

Even in interviews, he refers to Washington as "they," not "we."

It's an attitude that is evident just talking to Mink about his return to the Washington organization. He's played just seven NHL games (all with the Capitals), but consistently puts up big numbers with his AHL clubs. The 32-year-old winger has had only one season scoring under 40 points since 2005-2006, and he's won two Calder Cups with Hershey (2006 and 2009).

It's Mink's first time back in Hershey since that 2009 Calder Cup win (and third time back overall), and he's ecstatic to return. "It kind of feels like family here. I missed being part of Washington," he said during training camp. "I'm going to be in Hershey, and I'm excited to be back there, I love playing there, it's a great city."

Mink doesn't put on airs about his role with the organization. He knows that with all the young talent joining the Bears this year, he may not enjoy any call-ups at all. But at this point in his career, Mink knows exactly what he's supposed to be doing in Hershey: be a mentor.

"There's going to be a lot of players that are in Hershey this year that are going to come up and help the Caps. My goal is to help teach them and have them learn the game, learn what it's like to be on a successful team and what's expected to be a professional," Mink said.

"I kind of look at it as an extension of the coaching staff as the veteran player. I think most veterans do. You want to bring these 22-, 23-, 24-year-olds and make their learning curve as steep as possible to get to the next level as quickly as possible."

As for the new kids in Hershey like Cody Eakin and Dmitri Orlov, Mink is looking forward to being a leader for them. "They're very smart kids, they're very mature for their age and they pick up fast," Mink said. "It'll be good for Orlov to learn some more English and grow. It's got to be tough being as young as you are and all that ways from home, so you want to make them feel as comfortable as you can and allow them a coming out process of growing up, maturing a little bit."

With Mink's work ethic and drive, he's the perfect candidate to teach the new blood. He thrives on the pressure of being with a winning organization, and brings a good attitude to the locker room. "(The pressure environment) meshes well with my personality," he said. "I want to win every game, every night."

Hopefully that attitude will rub off on the Hershey rookies. It's why Mink is returning to Hershey for what he hopes is a long stay. "Hopefully I can stay for a while this time. It's something I'm looking forward to."