Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year from RoaRR!

I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who reads this blog. I started Ravings of a Rink Rebel in late January 2010, and much to my surprise, it's turned into a (mildly) legitimate blog and also a gig with a major hockey news outlet.

2010 has been an amazing year for me personally and I want to thank each and every one of you for the support that's been given. I really appreciate every comment, every compliment, and even constructive criticism that I have received.

I truly love hockey and writing about hockey and it makes me so happy that I am able to do what I love almost every day (regular day job notwithstanding).

So here's to 2011 and to good hockey. Let's Go Caps!

Special thanks go to Nate Ewell from the Caps, Dennis Bernstein from TFP, John Walton from the Hershey Bears, Anna, and countless others for everything they've done for me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Game Recap: Bears 1, Bruins 2

The Hershey Bears controlled the puck throughout the first two periods, outworking and outshooting the Providence Bruins, but a brief lapse in the early minutes of the third period cost them, with the Bruins scoring two quick consecutive goals in mere seconds that the Bears couldn't match.

The Bears lost their fire a bit in the first five minutes of the third period, and the Bruins quickly took advantage. After the two surprise goals, the Bears seemed to wake up and put the pressure back on the Bruins. It took about five minutes for the Bears to score their first and last of the night.

Scoreless in the first two periods, the Bears had a lot of quality chances, but Bruins goaltender Nolan Schaefer always had the answers. Coach Mark French acknowledged that Schaefer was on his game tonight. He was seeing the puck very well, and French said that the Bears needed "to take away his eyes. I didn't think we did that enough."

With top scorer Andrew Gordon as well as Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle currently on the Washington Capitals roster, scoring goals hasn't been coming quite as easily to the Bears. French praised his team's defensive effort, but defense won't necessarily win you hockey games.
"We're not giving up much defensively," French said. "But the object of the game is to score goals and we've got to do a better job of that."

He later added, alluding to call-ups and injuries, "We've got to find a way to score goals with the guys we have."

Defenseman Zach Miskovic, the third star of the game (and the only Bear to receive a star), was a real presence on the ice. He had an assist on the Bears goal, and was the player who sent it on the way to the net where Andrew Joudrey was able to tip it in.

Miskovic also showed a new side of himself, getting chippy with Bruin Jeremy Reich in the first period, and later dropping him with a cross-check to the chest after he interfered with Keith Aucoin. Speaking about the altercation with Reich, Miskovic said, "He wanted to mess around with Coiner (Keith Aucoin) a little bit, and we just can't have that with one of our top players. So just trying to stand up for some of our guys and do a little extra job there."

Miskovic, who's not typically known for chippy play, was the subject of praise from his coach. French was pleased that Miskovic "physically stepped up without hesitation. I think that plays to his maturation."

Miskovic credited the experienced defensive corps on the Hershey blue line with his development. Specifically, he named Nycholat, Fahey, and Souray as the veterans he's learning from most on the defense. Should he continue on the trajectory he's on, he should be a complete and solid blue-liner for the Bears.

The Bears face the Charlotte Checkers Sunday, and former teammate Oskar Osala. The Checkers defeated the Binghamton Senators in a 4-2 victory Saturday night.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Focus on Prospects: Garrett Mitchell

 photo by Don Healy/Regina Leader Post
Name: Garrett Mitchell
Position: RW
Shoots: Right
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 185 lbs
Birthdate: 1991-09-02
Hometown: Regina, Sask.

In the Capitals rookie game at the culmination of rookie camp, a couple of prospects made their names known. Players like Cody Eakin, Dustin Stevenson, and Philipp Grubauer performed extraordinarily well and were praised by coaching staff. One of the more behind-the-scenes players that made an impression was Garrett Mitchell, a 19-year-old kid from the WHL Regina Pats. On the second line with Nikita Kashirsky and Cody Eakin, Mitchell made the breakaway pass to Eakin that led to his game-winning goal.

Coaches were impressed with Mitchell, a physical forward with strong positional sense and a good work ethic. His leadership on and off the ice earned him the Captain's "C" for his final year with the Regina Pats this season. Of the honor, Mitchell said, "My whole hockey career I've tried to be a leader, whether you have a letter on or not."

Hockey's Future places the 2009 sixth-round pick on an energy line, likely third or fourth line depending on linemates. He has a defensive mindset and is best for those grinding, forechecking lines, as well as the penalty kill. He's not much of a puckhandler, but he's very fast and does what's needed to wrestle for the puck and win battles along the boards. He's willing to drop the gloves in defense of his teammates, and it shows in his penalty minutes -- he had 110 PIMs in 57 games with the Pats last season (8 recorded fights). He backed up his physical tendencies with a total 31 points for the season.

For his confrontational, gritty style, Mitchell has drawn comparisons to Matt Bradley. When he was told of the comparison, Mitchell said, "Definitely that’s the kind of role I like to play.  I’m not the biggest guy but I kind of like to be an in-your-face player and I don’t shy away from dropping the mitts or whatever. I do think that’s a good comparison."

If you need an example of the sacrifices Mitchell is willing to make to help his team, take a look at this fight from just last week against Sena Acolatse of the Prince George Cougars. Acolatse, a known heavyweight in the WHL, was absolutely hammering away at Mitchell, but Mitchell didn't back down and didn't give up, and even ended up drawing blood from Acolatse. The Pats lost that game 5-3, but after Mitchell's scrap late in the second period, the Pats went on to score three goals in the third period.

Once Mitchell ages out of the CHL this coming spring, depending on the outcome of his next Capitals training camp, Mitchell is likely to be sent to either South Carolina or Hershey to further develop his skill set. He has played one game with Hershey in April, a 3-1 loss to Syracuse, but Coach Mark French indicated that he would like to see more of Mitchell in the future.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Which Peter Bondra Made Fun of Me

During tonight's Caps game, as always, I went to the tweetup during first intermission to say hello to all the Caps tweeters.

But there was a... "special guest" today. As I was talking to some people, I looked over quickly and Peter Bondra was standing there about 10 feet away from me. Of course I did a double take. And then got extremely distracted in all my conversations. So I started to explain to people I was talking to why I was all distracted, vaguely pointing over in Bondra's direction.

And then, Bondra noticed that I recognized him. And was pointing at him. As he was talking to someone, he started laughing and pointing to me, much as I was pointing to him. But in an odd way I felt completely honored that he was making fun of me. He noticed that I knew who he was and responded to it.

Definitely an interesting first interaction with Bonzai.

A Sad Time for NHL Fans

It's never easy when tragedy strikes in the NHL family. On Saturday, news broke that the 14-year-old daughter of Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson committed suicide. This is a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the Richardson family.

Suicide prevention is a cause that hits home to me. I have several friends who have had issues with self-harm, and some have attempted suicide. One high school classmate succeeded on December 26, 2003. I myself have struggled with depression, and now hold a degree in psychology due to my interest in mental health.

The Richardson family has asked for donations to be made to the youth program of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. I'd also like to ask people to donate to the Hopeline (Kristin Brooks Hope Center). If anyone feels like they need someone to talk to, they can call 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) to speak to someone 24 hours a day. The Hopeline is a great cause with phenomenal people. After I donated in honor of my high school classmate, I got a personalized thank you card from the founder, Reese Butler, asking if I wanted to notify her family of my donation. They do wonderful work.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kirill Kabanov Traded to Lewiston

 photo by Getty Images

There were mixed feelings when the New York Islanders selected Kirill Kabanov in the third round (65th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Kabanov's skill is undeniable; his offensive talent was good enough for him to be drafted in the first round, but his history of problems with his teams and agents dropped his draft value. Teams didn't necessarily want to risk the drama, and the Islanders took a gamble by drafting him.

Kabanov was drafted from the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL where he excelled on the ice. In the 2009-10 season, his first season with the club, he averaged over a point per game (23 points in 22 games). He missed the first ten games of the season due to a dispute over his rights between the QMJHL (who selected him seventh-overall in the 2009 CHL Import Draft) and his KHL club (Ufa). The IIHF, mediating the dispute, ruled in favor of the QMJHL, and Kabanov headed to Moncton.

But Moncton wasn't too secretive with their feelings on Kabanov as the season went on. After coming back in February from injuring his wrist (an injury which required surgery), he was a frequent healthy scratch, including during Moncton's playoff run. Moncton actually released him during the playoffs so that he could play in the U-18 IIHF World Hockey Championships for Russia, but he was rejected from the team due to disciplinary reasons. Russian team Head Coach Mikhail Vasiliev told Sovietsky Sport:
"I removed him from the team because we thought Kabanov would help us, but he brought only confusion to the team. Kabanov came and thought 'Here I am, a star from Canada, who will save all.' But it's the team that wins rather than an individual player."
Kabanov's father had also had a great deal to do with some of the issues clubs have with Kabanov. Kabanov has gone through at least five agents, most leaving due to the demands of his father, Sergei. Jay Grossman is a former agent of Kabanov's, and Ilya Moliver, who is an agent in Grossman's firm, spoke to Sovietsky Sport about dealing with Kabanov's father. Here are some excerpts from the English translation:
"Sergei Kabanov believes that an agent is a player's servant. He doesn't know how to communicate with people. In view of this, he incorrectly educates Kirill."
 "I've told Kirill once: 'You have to choose. We either work with you or with your dad.' Kabanov's dad is hard to please. I work with players and their parents since 1992, and I never had to deal with such a complicated person."
"When we just started working together, Sergei told me: 'My son is considerably better than Kovalchuk, Ovechkin and Malkin at 16.' Why all this arrogance? This can only spoil the kid. And I understand why scouts and agents changed the attitude towards Kabanov. Because Kirill isn't progressing as he should, but the guilty ones are the ones surrounding him."
And perhaps the most pertinent excerpt vis-a-vis Kabanov's talent:
"A couple of years ago I visited a tournament in London, Ontario, and Kirill played great. Elegant, intelligent, he made beautiful rushes to the net. It was evident that the guy can play. The fans were crazy about him and he became the top contender for the first overall pick. But what can you do when you have so much pressure from your father? And Kirill himself has a talent to get into awkward situations."
Had Moncton just had enough with Kabanov's antics?

Maybe, but the Lewiston MAINEiacs paid a big price to get Kabanov. His deal gives Moncton backup goaltender Jordan Kennedy, a second round draft pick in 2011, a fourth round draft pick in 2011, a first round pick in the 2011 CHL Import Draft, and a fourth round draft pick in 2012. And the MAINEiacs (who have struggled in recent seasons) seem to be excited about the idea of getting a talent such as Kabanov. Lewiston Head Coach Jean-Francois Houle said in the press release announcing the trade:
"He is very gifted offensively, and is a threat every time he touches the ice. Adding him to this team adds speed and skill to an already dynamic offense. With open arms, we welcome Kirill to our organization."
With his history of being late (more than once) to his first NHL Training Camp, bizarre statements to the press, and intense tattoo obsession, it's difficult to tell how Kabanov is going to take this opportunity. For his, Lewiston's, and the Islanders' sakes, I hope he takes it as a second chance, to prove that he can take his hockey career seriously and show that he's not as high-risk as initially thought. But will his father ruin everything for him once again?

Kabanov will join Lewiston once his visa is sorted out (Lewiston is in Maine, so he obviously needs a U.S. visa to play there). It should be an expedited process, so he may make his Lewiston debut as early as next week. Capitals prospect Samuel Carrier plays for Lewiston, and will have a new teammate.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Game Recap: Bears 5, Phantoms 1

After a disappointing home opener last Saturday, as well as a loss last night, Hershey needed a big win. They got it tonight, coming out hungry and putting the pressure on the Adirondack Phantoms until the final buzzer. 

Despite the Bears' recent call-up losses of Mathieu Perreault (who ended up having a productive night in Washington), Jay Beagle, and Dany Sabourin, they had no problem filling the remaining voids, absolutely dominating the very young and offense-challenged Phantoms. The Bears had control of the puck for the majority of the game, as shown by the Phantoms' 18 shots on net. The Bears, on the other hand, put 37 shots toward Phantoms goaltender Johan Backlund.

The Bears power play returned to its former glory after going 0-5 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last night, with the Bears capitalizing on two of their eight (yes, eight) power play chances. Throughout this season, the Phantoms have had trouble staying out of the penalty box, and tonight was no exception. The Phantoms' disciplinary problems turned into an early lead for the Bears, with Brian Willsie scoring a power play goal on the Phantoms' first penalty.

Kyle Greentree followed up with another power play goal at the end of the first period, but it was really only Greentree's goal on paper. His shot deflected off of Phantom Oskars Bartulis' shoulder and went straight past Backlund for a goal. 

Greentree, on the Phantoms squad when they were based in Philadelphia, says Bartulis is a friend, and joked that he "owes [Bartulis] a beer." Previously going through a goalless streak, Greentree said he later told Bartulis, "Thanks a lot, I appreciate that, it got me out of my little funk that I was in. It's probably the easiest one I'm going to have this year."

Ashton Rome, a guy not normally known for scoring goals, netted two in the win. Rome was modest after the game, saying, "I've been told I have a pretty good shot. I look for a pass, if it's not there, just keep it and shoot and hope for the best... I think that's my first two-goal game since I was in Idaho on the East Coast [ECHL]. It's been a while."

Rome also spoke to the very physical nature of the game -- with the rivalry between the teams, it's typical for a Bears/Phantoms game to be rough, and three fights broke out (including an excellent bout between Sheldon Souray and Matt Clackson, in which Souray absolutely dominated, but ultimately as we found out later, broke his hand in the fight). Rome said, "We gotta step up when teams try to push us around and show them that they can't."

Some quick notes:
  • Zach Miskovic had his face drilled into the half wall during the second period, and stayed crumpled on the ice for about a minute as blood poured from his face. Thankfully, it seems only stitches were needed, as he returned to the game shortly thereafter.
  • Braden Holtby had a couple of worrying instances where he wandered out of his crease to play the puck, but with one awesome exception. As a Phantom player was streaking toward the puck in what could have been a total breakaway, Holtby stepped out to play the puck, and (unbelievably) passed it through his own legs to the boards. It totally confused his opponent and brought puck control back to the Bears.
  • Speaking of Holtby, the Phantoms spoiled his shutout bid with just 4:23 left in the game.
  • Trevor Bruess and Zac Rinaldo had a little re-match of their rookie game fight, but Bruess started off on uneven footing and I don't think any punches were actually landed before linesmen got between them.
  • Steve Pinizzotto's goal was a thing of beauty. He wrapped around the net, and unleashed a quick snapshot from the top of the circles. Backlund didn't have a chance.
  • Joel Rechlicz is still, to put it lightly, not looking so good. I got a closer look in the locker room and while the swelling in his face has gone down since last week, he still is wearing a bandage over the bridge of his nose and his eyes are still quite black. In short, he still looks pretty frightening.
  • Dmitry Kugryshev had a decent game. This was the first time I was really able to see him in a Bears game, and he had a fantastic breakaway chance, passing in front of the net to Willsie, who had come up behind him. How he could have possibly seen Willsie coming just speaks to Kugryshev's instincts. Heck, even I didn't see Willsie coming.
  • Assistant Coach Troy Mann seemed pleasantly surprised to have women covering the game (and not in that sort of way, more as in 'good, we haven't had enough of that diversity'). In the locker room, as I was with Hershey Bears Examiner Lauren (the only female press of the night), he turned to us and said, "Hi, ladies!"

    UPDATE: Check out the video highlights below.  And don't miss Souray's fight (starting at the 0:43 mark). It was awesome (aside from Souray breaking his hand in the fight).

      Wednesday, October 20, 2010

      The View Behind the Bench

      Johansson on the bench just after scoring his first NHL goal (photo by me)

      The best seats I've ever had for a Caps game were still in the days of the Student Rush promotion, when I sat sixth row in section 112 or 113 for a November 6 game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

      My friend's fiance is a season ticket holder, and while she usually accompanies him to games, I tag along if she's unable to go. So I was planning to be at last night's game against the Bruins anyway. But turns out, through some miracle twist of fate, he managed to snag glass seats behind the Capitals bench.

      It was an unbelievable experience sitting right there. I couldn't see much of the action due to Bob Woods being parked in front of my face for 2/3 of the night, and Dean Evason for the other third, but it was interesting to watch the players interact on the bench no more than two feet from where I was sitting. So here are some random observations of the evening, since my night was near limited to watching the guys on the bench.
      • No one seemed more excited for Marcus Johansson's first NHL goal than Alexander Semin. Off on the other, small bench where the backup goaltender usually sits, Johansson joined Semin there after coming to the bench from his goal shift. Semin gave the rookie a huge hug.
      • Speaking of Semin, he had a great game. In one shift, he picked up at least three giveaways that his linemates gave up and singlehandedly kept the puck in the offensive zone. He also was very in tune with what was happening on the ice while he was on the bench. He jumped to his feet and protested a questionable penalty call on the Capitals (I believe it was when David Steckel was taken to the box for tripping in the second period).
      • The guys who ask the most questions to coaches on the bench are David Steckel and John Carlson.
      • Michal Neuvirth must have really been sick, because not only did I not even see him leave the ice, but he never returned back to the bench.
      • The smell of sweaty hockey equipment does get pretty rank as the game goes on, but for me it just brought me back to my days of playing hockey and smelling like crap.
      • A big chirper on the bench is Jason Chimera. I'm not sure who the Bruins player was (it was quick, it may have been Brad Marchand), but as he skated by the Caps bench, Chimera said something to him and the player responded, "Hey, f**k you." That's hockey, folks.
      • Matt Hendricks is a creature of habit and has OCD tendencies worse than most goalies. I've noticed that when the guys get on the ice for the game, he instantly starts stretching his arms and shoulders using his stick. Sitting behind the bench, I discovered that after every single shift, he takes a water bottle and douses the back of his neck. Every shift. Without fail.
      • I situated myself at the tunnel as the guys came down to take the ice for the first period. Getting the glove bumps from several of the players was awesome.
      • For my first appearance on the Versus telecast... I was busy tweeting. Quite fitting, really. (on second look, I may have actually been taking a picture)
      My photos from the evening are on flickr. Despite the loss, I think it was a pretty hard-fought game from the Caps.

      Monday, October 18, 2010

      Anton Gustafsson Hangs Up His Skates

      photo by Getty Images

      In a shocking move, it was announced today that Anton Gustafsson has quit the South Carolina Stingrays and is headed home to Sweden, per Mike Vogel.  Instead of trying to prove his worth (being the Capitals' first first-round draft pick at 21st overall, John Carlson was also selected in the first round at 27th) to the Capitals organization in the ECHL, he has informed the team that he is "not enjoying hockey."  The Capitals have made moves to immediately suspend Gustafsson's contract.

      Gustafsson, the son of Capitals great Bengt Gustafsson, was ranked by scouts as 5th among Europeans in the 2008 Entry Draft, but ended up going at 21st to the Capitals, who presumably decided to keep the organization in the family.  Reading the scouting report, now having seen him go through three NHL camps, is interesting:
      "Anton is a highly skilled player with strong puckhandling skills and playmaking ability. He is an effective passer through traffic who also has a good selection of shots. He's a tall, strong and talented two-way center with good vision and a fine understanding of the game. He plays a mature game even when playing against opponents who were two or three years older."
      One scouting report even stated that he could end up replacing Michael Nylander as the second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom.

      But in camps with the Capitals, he never seemed to show those abilities.  Though the talent level was there, the motivation was not.  He had great success with his junior club in Sweden (the Frolunda Indians' U-20 team), registering nearly a point per game in 2007-08.  After being drafted in 2008, he attended Capitals training camp, but was extremely limited due to a back injury.  

      Regardless, Gustafsson was signed by the Capitals in May 2009 to a three-year entry-level contract.

      In 2009 during development camp, he suffered a concussion (his second of the year) after falling and going headfirst into a goalpost.  In training camp, he still was battling injuries, but was sent to Hershey and played in a handful of preseason games before returning to Sweden once again for the 2009-10 season.  

      He returned just before Hershey headed to the Calder Cup playoffs, and played his first game in April, recording two assists in his professional debut and earning the game's third star in the win over Norfolk.  While he was on the roster for the Calder Cup playoffs, that April game was the first, and last, game he played with Hershey.

      2010's training camp was his chance.  He was healthy and in his third camp.  It was one of his last shots at cracking the roster in Washington, or at the very least, Hershey.  But he still didn't seem to be all-there.  After Coach Boudreau had pointed him out during development camp as being a player who had improved from the previous year, Gustafsson was nearly invisible in training camp.  Subsequently, on September 22, he was sent down to Hershey.

      There, he appeared in one preseason game for the Chocolate and White, notching one assist on a goal by Nikita Kashirsky.  On October 3, it was announced that Gustafsson was sent down to South Carolina.  He played in their opener, a 3-2 OT loss to the Greenville Road Warriors, but failed to record a single point and went -1 for the night.  He also had zero shots on net.

      Who knows what is going through Gustafsson's head right now, but perhaps it is a good idea for him to step back and re-evaluate himself and what he expects out of himself.  If he decides to come back at some point, he's able to - the Caps are suspending his contract, not voiding it.  With his attitude lacking at training camps, he needs to make a decision about whether or not hockey is something he really wants to do.

      Monday, October 4, 2010

      Is There Such a Thing as Career AHLers? The Case of Alexandre Giroux

      photo by AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward

      It was tough for Bears fans to say goodbye to AHL All-Star winger Alexandre Giroux, but I know at least I wished him the best in his quest to finally break into an NHL lineup - in Edmonton.  This summer, Giroux accepted a one-year, one-way deal with the Oilers, and he went into camp in the hopes of surviving cuts.

      But today, it was announced that he didn't survive.  He's been put on waivers, and if he clears, will be starting the season with new AHL affiliate the Oklahoma City Barons.  It was clearly a disappointing end of camp for the 29-year-old Giroux, who has gone through nine NHL training camps in his career without being offered a roster spot by close of camp. 
      "In four [preseason] games, I had one goal.  I'm a goal-scorer, I've got to score goals.  I'll work on it and we'll see."
      Not like he hasn't been working on it for the last nine years in the AHL.  Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 7th round of the 1999 NHL Entry draft, Giroux began his AHL career with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2000-01.  His rookie year, he racked up 27 points in 70 games.  His AHL numbers steadily improved through free-agent signings to several other clubs, but he always ended up in the A.

      He finally landed in Hershey in 2006, and instantly made an impression.  In the next four seasons with Hershey he broke several AHL records (including Brett Hull's record for most consecutive games scoring a goal), and in the 2008-09 season, was MVP of the league.

      But in 30 total games with the Capitals, he tallied four goals.  So why can't his success in the AHL translate to the NHL?

      One thing that Oilers coaches pointed out was that Giroux's skating was not very strong.  He can put pucks in the net, but it can be difficult to score when there are NHL defensemen in your way who are stronger and faster than you.

      The other issue with Giroux is that in his case, there is someone better available.  After the most recent cuts, the Oilers are still two bodies over the roster limit.  With powerhouse rookies like Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pääjärvi, and Taylor Hall, it may have just been a poor time to come into Edmonton.  Those are three forward roster spots that weren't filled last season, and while Giroux could have fit into the lineup at that time, the three rookies are ready for their NHL debuts.  A top line of Shawn Horcoff, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle combined for ten points in four preseason games.

      Giroux encountered a similar problem in Washington.  In an interview after his signing with the Oilers, Giroux talked about his and Keith Aucoin's similar problem (Aucoin was cut from Capitals camp last week):
      "Me and Keith Aucoin had a lot of points (in Hershey) and a lot of good stuff on the ice the last two years, but with Ovechkin and Semin and Brooks Laich there, it was hard for us.  I don't want to give up. I want to get better."
      Though "getting better" now looks to mean starting a new legacy for the Oklahoma City Barons, Giroux can at least take solace in the fact that this is not his last chance.  The Edmonton Journal predicts that should an injury occur in Edmonton, Giroux will likely be at the top of the list for a call-up.  If he can finally prove that his talent can also work in the NHL, he may be able to make that temporary call-up permanent.

      In the meantime, best of luck to Alexandre Giroux.  In my fan dealings with him, he's been nothing but kind and professional.  Hershey fans are rooting for him.

      Tuesday, September 21, 2010

      Capitals Sign Brandon Anderson

      photo by Bridget Samuels (bridgetds/Flickr)

      Just three days after being cut from training camp and returning to his team in Lethbridge, the Capitals announced today that goaltender Brandon Anderson has been signed to a three-year entry-level contract.  Anderson was undrafted and came into camp as a free agent.

      Last year, Anderson was a step away from being sent down to the Junior A league, sitting as the third string in Lethbridge, having played just 5 games in 2008-09.  However, two injuries in 2009-10 meant that he got his chance to play for 37 games.  Despite his own lingering injury, he proved to Lethbridge coaches that he deserved the position of No. 1 goaltender this year.  He's expected to start in Lethbridge's season opener this Friday, and apparently, Anderson also proved his potential to Capitals management this past week.

      Despite his youth and inexperience, Anderson showed promise during rookie camp.  He played half of the rookie game against the Philadelphia Flyers, and held the Flyers without a goal against him in the second period.  He let in two goals late in the third, but still played well against a Flyers rookie team with much more experience in the CHL and AHL.  After rookie camp, Anderson was invited to stay for training camp.  He participated in a practice with Group A on Saturday, but was returned to Lethbridge on Sunday.

      Coach Bruce Boudreau indicated that Anderson improved during the camp, and that's no surprise.  Anderson had the chance to work with goaltending coach Arturs Irbe, a former NHL goaltender himself as well as an IIHF Hall-of-Famer.  In an interview with a local Lethbridge paper, Anderson said that he learned a lot from working with Irbe, and plans to continue to work on things Irbe discussed with him. 

      Anderson said that he was disappointed when he wasn't drafted, but is obviously thrilled to have the Capitals offer him a contract:
      "Not getting drafted was a bit of a bummer.  But then getting the invite to the Capitals camp there and you know, I guess I made the most of my opportunity and I thought I played well there."
      His coaches are also happy with the outcome of camp.  Lethbridge Head Coach Rich Preston says that the signing gives them even more confidence in Anderson's abilities, and they were excited to see him signed to an NHL contract as an 18-year-old free agent - a rarity in the CHL.

      Anderson's growing confidence is already evident.  All he said about stopping shots from stars like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom was that it was "pretty tough."

      Other news and notes:
      • Tom Poti was signed to a two-year $5.75 million contract extension today.  Poti had been signed through the end of the 2010-11 season, and the new contract now has him signed through the 2012-13 season.
      • Several cuts were made after today's training camp.  David de Kastrozza, Anton Gustafsson, Jake Hauswirth, Nikita Kashirsky, Dmitry Kugryshev, Ashton Rome, Patrick Cullity, Joe Finley and Todd Ford were assigned to Hershey training camp, which begins this weekend.  Samuel Carrier, Brett Flemming, Stanislav Galiev, Philipp Grubauer, and Garrett Mitchell were returned to their CHL teams.
      • The Capitals roster for the preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets has been released.  Cody Eakin, Andrew Gordon, Marcus Johansson, and Mathieu Perreault are among those seeing action tomorrow night.
      • Group A (featuring the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble) came away with the Duchesne Cup today.  All three groups were 1-1, but Group A scored the most goals over all games, and thus were crowned the winners.

      P.S. Told ya to keep your eye on Anderson.

      Thursday, September 16, 2010

      Rookie Camp Day 5: Rookie Game

       celebrating the 4-3 win (photo by me)

      The rookies took the ice for the last day of their week of camp, and they hit the ice wearing brand-spanking-new Capitals sweaters.  Not the red practice jerseys of development camp, but actual home Capitals jerseys.  They certainly looked the part as they faced the rookies of the Philadelphia Flyers, and many of them lived up to the tremendous hype.

      The same guys we've been talking about all week were the ones who impressed in the 4-3 win over the Flyers.  2010 third-round draft pick Stanislav Galiev opened up the scoring in the first period, with assists from Dustin Stevenson and Marcus Johansson.  

      Mike Testwuide answered midway through the second period, going high glove side on Philipp Grubauer.  A few minutes later, Brandon Anderson relieved Grubauer in net so the two could get some equal work.

      A major presence on the power play unit was defenseman Josh Godfrey.  Setting up on the point, Godfrey unleashed his tremendous slapshot, beating the Flyers goalie not once, but twice, on two separate power plays in the second and third periods.  We hadn't seen much of Godfrey's offensive prowess before, but Coaches French and Boudreau say that his shot is why he was drafted.  French adds that his hard shot is "probably NHL-level now" but "his five-on-five play has got to be better."

      After Godfrey's goals, the Flyers came back, with Eric Wellwood and Marc-Andre Bourdon scoring on Anderson, and leveling the scoring 3-3 with less than five minutes to go in the third period.

      With less than two minutes remaining, Cody Eakin led a breakaway into the offensive zone, swept around the back of the net, and potted the game winner unassisted.

      But in the locker room after the game, Eakin was the picture of modesty.
      "It was a perfectly executed controlled breakout.  The goalie didn’t play it, so I just kind of wrapped around to the back end and it squeaked through."
      Despite the goal being recorded as unassisted, Eakin credited his teammates for the setup.
      "It was kind of lucky, but it was a good chip by Mitch [Garrett Mitchell]. It was a good breakout, and it led to a good opportunity."
      Coach French gave a little bit more credit to Eakin.
      "Cody scoring the winning goal there, he’s the type of guy we saw last year in the Calder Cup  that relishes those big-time opportunities.  When you need him he seems to come through; I thought he was excellent in the second and third period."
      Eakin's looking forward to showing his chops in the upcoming preseason games.  He knows it's "a long shot" but says,
      "I’m here, I want to prove that I can play here."
      Marcus Johansson didn't score any goals, but assisted on two goals and was a critical member of the power play.  Coach Boudreau also pointed out that he was "strong on faceoffs and on the puck" and was "the most consistent player we had all night."  But Johansson said that he learned a lot from playing a game as opposed to just practice:
      "Well of course you learn more in games, that’s what you’re practicing for.  I try to play my game as much as I can to learn about time and to be at the right point at the right time."
      On possibly making the roster, Johansson added:
      "I'm going to work hard for it."

      Other notes and observations:
      • Samuel Carrier was solid on the blue line, but needs to work on his passing play.  On some passes he had trouble hitting the tape of his teammate.
      • Bruce Boudreau's honorable mentions after the lengthy discussion of Eakin and Johansson (and Godfrey) were: Philipp Grubauer, Dustin Stevenson, Brett Flemming, and Patrick Cullity.
      • When asked about Joe Finley, Mark French did express doubts on his playing at the AHL level next year.  He said that Finley needs to "play at a higher pace" in order to make it in the AHL.
      • At several points, Flyers rookies were trying to get under the skin of Marcus Johansson - chirping at him after whistles, playing him a little more physical.  Johansson never engaged, and always shrugged it off.  In post-game interview, he proved himself extremely smart and mature.
      • Alex Ovechkin stuck around for the rookie game after the vet skate in the morning, and came into the locker room after the game ended to congratulate the guys and chat with them for a few moments. The captain was all smiles, and according to Jared DeMichiel's Twitter, Ovechkin and Mike Green took the rookies out for a sushi dinner.

      Sunday, September 12, 2010

      Rookie Camp Day 1: Catching Up with Dustin Stevenson

      Stevenson is on knee, center, blue sweater (photo by me)

      Dustin Stevenson started off our interview with "Sorry if I smell bad."  Think I'm going to like this kid. 
      (And for the record, I couldn't smell anything.  Probably because I was so cold at that point that all my senses were dulled.)

      Rink Rebel: You were the first player from the SJHL to be signed by the NHL, so how did that feel?

      Dustin Stevenson: Oh, it felt great.  It's everyone's dream, I think, it was my dream for sure, to sign an NHL contract.  I didn't think it was going to happen this soon, but it definitely felt real great.

      RR: Most of the guys here are from collegiate hockey, KHL, CHL, how do you think your game would differ from that?

      DS: I think I had good coaching where I played so I feel like I'm right with everyone in this camp, I don't feel out of place at all.  There are some good players here, and there's definitely a little bit more skill, but I feel like I fit in.

      RR: Bruce had singled you out saying you had a good development camp, what did that do for your confidence?

      DS: It helped my confidence a lot.  I mean especially for this camp, now coming back I kind of know where I fit in and where I sit with the guys and it definitely pumped the confidence up a bit.

      RR: Obviously I understand why you picked the contract over your scholarship to St. Lawrence, but do you feel disappointed in a way that you had to forgo that scholarship?

      DS: [shakes head] Not at all.  I don't look back on that decision at all, I think this is the best for my development, and that's a decision that me and my family made as soon as I got offered a contract.  So no, I'm not looking back on it.  I'm happy with the decision I made.

      RR: People tend to compare your style to Chris Pronger, is that accurate?  Or who do you think your style of play is like?

      DS: I guess it's fair to compare me to him, I'm not sure really, I just try and play my own style of game, but I guess I can see we're both kind of tall, puck-moving defensemen.

      More interviews to come on Thursday!

      Rookie Camp Day 1: Catching Up with Philipp Grubauer

      photo by Dan Janisse, The Windsor Star

      On day one of Rookie Camp, the guys went through various drills and then off-ice weight training. After all that work, I got a chance to speak with goaltender Philipp Grubauer for a few minutes about his upcoming OHL season.  
      Rink Rebel: Are you looking forward to your season with Kingston?

      Philipp Grubauer: Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to it, I think we have a good team, and we should be going back to the championship with this team.  Everybody has to do their job, and I'm looking forward to this year.

      RR: And you'll also be in the WJC with Germany, are you looking forward to that as well?

      PG: Yeah, I think we have a pretty good team as well there... So we should stay in the group [Germany is in Group A with USA] and our goal is getting a medal this year.

      RR: During your playoff series with Barrie, you got run over by Darren Archibald. When you got up you had sort of a smile on your face, so what were you thinking?

      PG: Yeah I mean I kind of knew it was coming to that point, we won that game 6-2 and there was only one minute left so they tried to do everything to disturb me. It was kind of funny to me because I knew it was coming.

      RR: You had a shutout against your former team Belleville just a couple days ago, how was that feeling?

      PG: It was an awesome feeling to get that shutout, because you're getting back to the old building, playing against your friends, and it was just an amazing feeling to show them that we can do it in Kingston too.

      RR: Goalies are kind of known for their weird little quirks, I don't know if you've watched Braden Holtby prepare his crease, but do you have any quirky little things that you tend to do?

      PG: I think I have my own game routine, every player has, but I don't do anything special.  Just a nap before the game, I always eat pasta, but that's pretty much all I do.

      I should have more exciting interviews after the rookie game on Thursday. Dustin Stevenson interview is coming up next.

      Thursday, September 9, 2010

      Rookie Camp: Guys to Keep Your Eye On

      Rookie and training camp rosters were released today, and while everyone knows names like Cody Eakin, Dmitry Kugryshev, and Marcus Johansson, there are the unknown guys that are poised to impress.

       photo by Getty Images

      David de Kastrozza
      The University of Maine alum was signed by the South Carolina Stingrays this past March.  He joined the team after the signing, and in the three games he played, he registered two assists.  At 6'3" and 205 pounds, the winger is best known for his physical presence (particularly in front of the net), and despite his size, he's a skilled and agile skater.  de Kastrozza was responsible for a Team Red breakaway goal during the final scrimmage of this year's development camp.
      Similar to: Brooks Laich

      photo by Norwich Athletics

      Nikita Kashirsky
      Another college alum, forward Kashirsky was a standout on the Norwich University Cadets, earning accolades like RBK first-team All-American (twice), ECAC East's "Player of the Year," and a spot on the ECAC all-conference first team.  Kashirsky grew up in Bethesda, but also played in Moscow - he is a close friend and former teammate of Alex Ovechkin.  Kashirsky joined the South Carolina Stingrays after graduating from Norwich in 2009, and with his skillful puckhandling and knack for scoring, helped them towards the Kelly Cup that year.  Last year, he split the season between the AHL's Springfield Falcons and Manitoba Moose.
      Similar to: Alexander Semin
      photo by goaliej54

      Dylan Yeo
      The 5'11" defenseman debuted in the ECHL in 2007 with the Victoria Salmon Kings (with whom he was named ECHL's Defenseman of the Year for 2008-09), and spent 23 games over 2 seasons with the Manitoba Moose during callups.  In 2009, the South Carolina Stingrays signed him, and in 49 games played, he earned 30 points.  He also spent 4 games in Hershey last year after being called up.  Yeo tends to be more offensive, perhaps due to his height, but he's certainly strong at 210 pounds.  Yeo also has other talents - during his time with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, he once sang "O Canada" before a game.
      Similar to: Mike Green

      photo by Lethbridge Hurricanes

      Brandon Anderson
      The only goaltender attending rookie camp who has not been drafted or signed by the Washington Capitals, Anderson is an 18-year-old undrafted free agent currently with the WHL's Lethbridge Hurricanes.  He played his first full season as the No. 3 with the Hurricanes last year, but is still inexperienced and had a shaky start to the season, later improving to a 3.49 GAA and .892 SV%.  His stats, however, can also be attributed to an injury that nagged him last season.  Hurricanes coaching staff believe in his potential - next year, he is expected to be the starting goaltender in Lethbridge.
      Similar to: Too early to tell!

      Note: The fan becomes a member of the media - I've been awarded credentials for rookie and training camps, so expect some in-depth content here and on The Fourth Period's website during camp!  If you have questions for any attendee, let me know in the comments.  I may ask them!

      Sunday, September 5, 2010

      Focus on Prospects: Caleb Herbert

      This is the third installment of my countdown to rookie camp series.

      photo by

      Name: Caleb Herbert
      Position: C
      Shoots: Right
      Height: 5'10"
      Weight: 180 lbs
      Birthdate: 1991-10-12
      Hometown: Bloomington, Minnesota
      When Caleb Herbert got the news from his agent that he'd been drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 5th round (142nd overall), he was at work.  Selling parking tickets to cars coming onto a beach in his hometown.  It seemed a fitting situation for a humble high school grad from Minnesota.  "It was an awesome feeling," Herbert said.
      For the past three years, Herbert played with Bloomington-Jefferson High School's team.  Known for his speed, he was a standout on the team, scoring 55 points in just 25 games played in 2009-10, and he finished the regular season with a +37.  But while Herbert comes from high school hockey, he's no stranger to professional hockey situations.  In the summer of 2008, he was on Team USA in the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament.  He scored two goals in the final game of the tournament, and helped USA to a 6-5 win over Switzerland.  For his efforts, Herbert was named Team USA's Player of the Game.
      Graduating from high school earlier this summer, Herbert is getting ready for the next step in his hockey development.  He was snapped up in the 2009 USHL Entry Draft by the Sioux City Musketeers with the 172nd pick.  He'll spend one year in Sioux City, as he's committed to University of Minnesota-Duluth starting 2011-12.  On his college selection, Herbert seemed excited about his team:
      "The [University of Minnesota] Gophers didn't really cross my mind.  I just had an interest in Duluth.  I really liked the coaches there, they're getting a brand new rink, and their program is on the rise, so I think it's a good time to go in there and work hard, and hopefully move on to the Capitals after that."
      Herbert had a lot to learn at this summer's Capitals development camp, but coach Bruce Boudreau indicated that he was impressed with Herbert's quick learning.
      "Skill-wise, Caleb is doing really good.  When you've only played high school hockey, the structure isn't what it is at this level.  He had a little trouble catching on a little bit on the- not on the drills, but on the way we play because it's more go go go."
      With NCAA rules about signing NHL contracts, we likely won't see Herbert in the Caps organization for another 5 years.  But in 5 years, he'll still be only 23 and will have gained valuable experience at a collegiate level.  Look for him to make a splash in the world of college hockey.

      Thursday, September 2, 2010

      Focus on Prospects: Samuel Carrier

      Second in my series counting down to rookie camp, we have Samuel Carrier.  Let me know if there's someone you want to know about.

      photo by Harry How/Getty Images
      Man I love this awkward photo shoot

      Name: Samuel Carrier
      Position: D
      Shoots: Right
      Height: 6'1"
      Weight: 186 lbs
      Birthdate: 1992-04-28
      Hometown: Varennes, Québec

      To set the tone for this post, I'd like to share someone's first-hand experience of Samuel Carrier.  Twitter friend Sarah (of went to a QMJHL preseason game of the Lewiston MAINEiacs as they played the Victoriaville Tigres.  She promised to keep an eye on our Sam to see how he played.  I'll let her take it away:
      "[Carrier] got elbowed from behind by [Tigre] Vincent Marcoux into the half wall.  He fell down, stood up, turned around and punched the guy in the face."
      Now THAT'S what I like to hear.

      The feisty French Canadian was the 2010 6th round (176th overall) pick of the Washington Capitals, and seemed delighted to be coming to the team.  He's said that he enjoys watching Mike Green, as Carrier is also an offensive defenseman who enjoys occasionally joining in on the rush.  And like Green, he too is valuable on the power play due to his offensive skills.

      Carrier was drafted by the Québec Remparts in the first round (10th overall) of the 2008 QMJHL Entry Draft.  He had set several records with his Midget team (he has the record of most goals by a rookie defenseman in a single game, as well as landing in the top 5 of most goals by a rookie defenseman in a season).  But yet Carrier's offensive instinct didn't seem to kick in until last season.  He spent his first QMJHL season with the Remparts (home to Dmitry Kugryshev and head coach Patrick Roy).  But despite the talent there, he didn't exactly have a breakout rookie season.  Although he had some success in Midget, in 56 games with the Remparts in 2008-09, he scored only 9 points.

      After the season's end, Carrier was traded to a struggling Lewiston team in a multi-player, multi-pick deal.  His first season there in 2009-10, he seemed to hit his stride.  In 66 games, he scored an enviable 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists).  Five of those ten goals came on the power play.  Carrier helped the MAINEiacs to the playoffs last year - a team that was last in the Central division the season before Carrier arrived.  The MAINEiacs didn't make it past the first round, but Carrier did score a power play goal in the series against Drummondville.

      Hockey's Future stresses Carrier's youth and inexperience when they point out areas where he needs improvement.  He sometimes is out of position chasing after the play (though it's not like we haven't seen that before; see #8 on this list) but he is effective along the boards in the defensive zone, puckhandles well, and has a heavy, accurate shot from the point.  Carrier may not ever make the NHL, but he was still draftable due to his potential:  
      "Carrier is by nature an offensive player from the backline and has some skills and creativity that set him apart from prospects his age - which is why he was drafted.  He is still young enough to develop the complimentary elements to make him a successful attacking defenseman and potential power play specialist at the NHL level."
      Carrier is only 18 and therefore will return to play with the MAINEiacs this upcoming season, but he seemed to take a lot from this year's development camp.  While not making a huge impression like Johansson or Kuznetsov, he was solid on the blue line and took the experience very seriously.  He showed maturity in his approach to camp, but I also loved Carrier's naïveté - in an interview on a Potomac cruise for the attendees, Carrier admitted that he "didn't know" there was a river in Washington:

      Ah, to be young and Canadian.