Wednesday, December 14, 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."

Joel Ward, Teacher?

Ward with the UPEI Panthers (photo by

Joel Ward definitely has not taken the conventional path to the NHL. Undrafted, he spent four seasons in the OHL before then going to college in Canada, completing four years at University of Prince Edward Island and earning his BA in sociology.

His choice of a sociology major is interesting in itself. Most college hockey players opt to major in business, coaching, or sports management. Very few choose to go the social science route, but Ward did. After practice one day, I asked him about it.

"I just liked (sociology) from day one. I had a good (professor) my first couple of years. I just liked it, just kind of kept going with it, and enjoying the classes. Sure enough, I was close to graduating with my major in it," Ward said. "Now after hockey I can maybe finish up and see if I want to do something with it."

If Ward ended up going back to school for another degree after hockey, what would he do?

"I was going to minor in teaching and become a teacher," Ward said. "Something to do with kids I'll be in the field of."

But for now, Ward uses what he learned in sociology classes to interact with his teammates in the locker room. "I can bring it into this room and dissect this room a little bit."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How the Caps can reach out to women

 Some of my high school girls' hockey team during a practice. I'm 7th from right.

As we all know, I'm on Twitter quite often. Earlier this evening, I saw a tweet from the Anaheim Ducks advertising a girls' hockey clinic in partnership with USA Hockey.

After I had a little rant Wednesday night about the still-controversial Scarlet Caps, the wheels started turning.

Why don't the Scarlet Caps take a page from the Ducks and host a hockey clinic?

I know that some women enjoy the Hockey 'N Heels event, and that's just fine, but personally, it's not for me. As someone who played hockey for my high school girls' team, I don't need to pay money to stand on a carpet in the middle of Kettler's ice having a current Capital teaching me how to shoot a puck. I already know how to shoot a puck. I did it several times a week in high school.

What Scarlet Caps needs to do is reach out to the women who already know how to play hockey, or even participate in local women's leagues. This is an area of the market that Scarlet Caps has missed out on while focusing on women who are just beginning to learn about hockey and want to learn the basics.

So why not host clinics for women and girls? I, for one, would enjoy that type of event. Sweeten the deal by having clinics led by Capitals/Bears coaches (players would be great but not necessary), and I'd be willing to shill out money to be learning from some of the best coaches in the world while actually playing the game on my skates and learning how to become a better player.

After I retweeted the link from Anaheim and brought up the idea of having women's and girls' clinics sponsored by the Capitals and Scarlet Caps, I got a lot of responses from women who thought it was a great idea. A selection of the responses appear below:

"That would be so much fun."
"Completely agree. A clinic for the girls, a clinic for the ladies who DO play, and one for the wannabes. There's some perspective."
"Get a bunch of people and email Ted about it."

Well, the last response is sort of what I'm doing by bringing attention to it. I think it would be a great outreach for the Capitals, and a smart way to market to women. The idea of a clinic treats women as equals, as opposed to the sort of mentality that says, "Here, put on some heels, and stand on this carpet in the middle of the ice while a man teaches you to shoot a puck into a net, because you wouldn't know how to do it otherwise." 

A women's hockey clinic would truly bring women into the action instead of sitting on the sidelines. It's an approach with which I hope the Capitals would agree.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Miskovic ready to take on new role

photo by Caps in Pictures
At this time last summer, Zach Miskovic wasn't having such a great training camp in Washington. In fact, he wasn't having one at all. In last year's July development camp, Miskovic sustained a hit by the massive Joe Finley during an intersquad scrimmage, and Miskovic injured his left knee.

The injury didn't require surgery, but it meant that Miskovic didn't even set foot on the ice again until he'd already been sent down to Hershey's training camp in late September 2010. He played in 58 games with the Bears last season (missing some time due to a different, unrelated injury mid-season).

After a healthy summer this year and a new one-year contract to extend him through the 2011-2012 season, Miskovic has renewed focus. Finally getting in a normal off-season training routine during the summer was "really exciting" for Miskovic. He says he feels good and is ready for the season, and is looking forward to see how Hershey's recent changes pan out.

Thinking of new players on the Bears roster like Christian Hanson, Ryan Potulny, and Jacob Micflikier, Miskovic said, "I think the team's looking great. Obviously Washington and Hershey want to put together the best team there that they can and I think they brought in a lot of skilled players that can bring a lot to the table. I'm looking forward to start."

Last year, Miskovic had said that his sophomore season greatly benefited from having defensive veterans like Brian Fahey, Sheldon Souray, and Lawrence Nycholat as mentors. Now with those players leaving Hershey, Miskovic, 26, has to become somewhat of a veteran himself.

"I've talked with [Hershey head coach] Mark French and [assistant coach] Troy Mann about [taking a mentorship role] and they expect me to step in and be more of a leader on the back end and help some of the younger guys that are coming up, since I know the system. I think I can be that," Miskovic said. "I'm excited for that potential role and we'll see how it plays out. We've got a lot of good defensemen that have come in and I'll work hard to be in that [leadership] position."

In particular, Miskovic may serve as a mentor to Dmitri Orlov, with whom Miskovic was paired during Sunday's drills. It's a pairing that has the potential to be a real game situation for the Bears. Already Miskovic has chemistry with the Russian rookie, despite the obvious language barrier. 

"It's fun to play with him," Miskovic laughed. "Obviously communication's a little difficult at times, but he knows how to play the game. It's just reading off one another and see what happens."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Invitee Frazee Intent on Earning a Contract

 photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds

I did a little research on invitee Thomas Frazee back in development camp. After his exit meeting in July, Frazee knew he was coming back for rookie camp. Development camp wasn't a walk in the park for any player in attendance - Washington is notorious for having one of the most difficult camps in the league - but Frazee was happy to get an invite back to Washington in September.

The big, high-scoring forward compares himself to San Jose's Joe Thornton. "I like to set up my linemates and try to make everyone around me a little bit better. I think I'm a bigger guy who can skate and make plays," says Frazee. "I always looked up to Joe Thornton when I was little."

But even Joe Thornton was probably intimidated in his first NHL camp, and it was no different for Frazee. "[Development camp] was pretty nerve-wracking," Frazee said Wednesday. "I think as I settled in, it got a lot better." 

His quick adaptation to camp could have been a result of having Caps coaches and management directly in the mix with the prospects. "It was really cool to see Bruce [Boudreau] and George [McPhee] right in there with us, talking to us all the time, telling us what we need to do to get better," he said.

Frazee has had to adapt quickly many times in his career. He spent his WHL career with five different teams: Portland, Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, Regina, and Kamloops. Playing so many different systems may have helped him to pick up the Capitals' systems more quickly.

"When you come to an NHL camp, the tempo is so much faster and the guys are so much better. It's different everywhere you go, but it does help that you've learned a bunch of different systems along the way," Frazee said.

Frazee does admit to being a little starstruck in his first training camp experience, expressing his excitement to go to Philadelphia and play in the rookie game at Wells Fargo Center. "It's gonna be really exciting, especially playing where the Flyers actually do play regular season games."

That excitement extended to the Capitals facility as well. "It's really cool seeing everything here on 24/7 on HBO and being here, it's a really cool experience," he said.

Frazee has been recruited to the University of Calgary Dinos, but if all goes according to plan, he won't be heading there come Fall. "I have every intention on playing pro, wherever that is, wherever they tell me to go," he said. "I'm just kind of being told what to do here and hopefully everything turns out for the best."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Capitals' Eakin Making Strides

 photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds

At the conclusion of this summer's Capitals development camp, Cody Eakin wasn't sugarcoating how he felt about his performance at the week-long camp. "I’m not in the best shape; there’s no excuse for it," Eakin said.

Though he did have a bit of an excuse: his season had just finished five weeks prior. While other players were in the gym doing their offseason training, Eakin was still on the ice, competing for a Memorial Cup.

Even though Eakin didn't stand out as much as he had in previous development camps, Coach Bruce Boudreau stood behind the rookie. "I’m not at all disappointed in Cody," Boudreau said. "Sometimes we forget he just finished playing five weeks ago. I thought he competed hard, but I think he’ll be better in September."

Boudreau explained how Eakin could look so out of shape after finishing up his last year of junior hockey. "Hockey is such a draining sport to keep going at the same level that you’ve been at, for 12 months is difficult," he said. "I'm not making an excuse for [Eakin], because he didn’t have a bad camp at all, but at the same time, maybe the expectations from everybody else around him are so great that I think he’s going to come and tear it up."

"Tear it up" he didn't, but coming into this week's rookie camp, Eakin was more prepared to compete for a roster spot. As Boudreau said Monday, "His goal, being a graduate of junior hockey, was not the [development] camp, his goal was this camp." 

After development camp, Eakin was happy to get into a more consistent offseason routine, spending five days a week in the gym, instead of just resting as he had in the weeks between the Memorial Cup and development camp. He arrived a few days early and joined informal skates with some of the team's veterans ahead of official camp.

Sunday, Eakin spoke about how his own disappointment in development camp propelled his offseason training routine. "I think development camp scared me the most, obviously not having a lot of time before that and coming in not in the best shape," Eakin said. "The whole summer, that was in the back of my head giving me the extra motivation."

His improved conditioning and focus has been immediately noticeable at rookie camp.  "He's in great shape. You can tell he's determined. He's here to fight for a job, and he's putting his best foot forward," Coach Boudreau said. "You can see a little bit more determination on his face."

While Eakin looks good so far in practices, Boudreau knows that it will probably take a few preseason games to tell if he's ready for the NHL.

"He's going to be a good one," Boudreau said. "It's just a matter of is it going to take a little time, or is it now?"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Tragic Day

I don't know if he was fan or friend, but shortly after the Capitals took the ice to skate this morning, a man in the stands waved and yelled Alex Ovechkin over to the tunnel that splits the Kettler bleachers. 

At first I thought he was asking for an autograph. But the two briefly exchanged words, and Ovechkin leaped back onto the ice and shouted over to Stanislav Galiev and Dmitri Orlov, who had just gotten onto the bench.

Ovechkin spoke with them for a moment, and Galiev, who had been standing, immediately sat down on the bench. Ovechkin left the ice and went back to the dressing room. A few seconds later, Orlov and Galiev followed him to the dressing room.

The news of the plane crash that killed most of the KHL team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, coaches, and of course flight crew had just hit Twitter about 10 minutes before the Capitals began their morning skate. The man had been telling Ovechkin about the tragic accident.

The Russians took a few minutes in the dressing room to collect their thoughts, perhaps make some phone calls back home, and they returned to the ice about five minutes later.

Ovechkin, I think, put on a brave face for the two young Russian rookies. During a scrimmage, he was his usual self, hollering after scoring a goal. Galiev was visibly upset throughout the skate, but seemed to be comforted by the recent arrival of friend Cody Eakin, who joined practice for the first time today. Orlov was reserved, but focused his attention on the task at hand.

Ovechkin did leave the ice much earlier than his teammates. He returned to the bench in regular clothing while the skate was still going on, and spoke some more with Galiev and Orlov, as well as Jeff Halpern. While he was talking with them, Halpern was shaking his head in disbelief.

All three Russians had friends or national teammates on the flight. Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Vokoun also had friends on board the plane.

Right now, it shouldn't matter if these players ever made it to the NHL or not. These men were fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, and friends. In a truly horrific offseason, we mourn the lives of those lost today.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Focus on Prospects: Patrick Wey

 photo by USA Hockey
Name: Patrick Wey
Position: D
Shoots: Right
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 210 lbs
Birthdate: 1991-03-21
Hometown: Mt. Lebanon, PA

I've noticed that more attention is generally given to prospects that come out of Canadian major junior - think Cody Eakin, Stanislav Galiev, even John Carlson several years ago as a member of the London Knights. But the Capitals possess strong prospects that are currently playing college hockey. Like Patrick Wey.

Wey was selected by the Capitals in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in the 4th round at 115th overall. He enters his junior year at Boston College this fall. As a freshman at BC, he was part of the Eagles team that won the 2010 NCAA Division I championship. He was also part of the bronze medal-winning Team USA in the 2011 World Junior Championships.

After being invited to WJC camp the previous year only to be sent home, Wey said that making the 2011 World Junior team was "unexpected." "Going into the camp, I didn't really expect to have a great shot at making the team," he said. "As it turned out, I made it, and it was a tremendous experience."

Wey was held pointless in six games, but he is not the type of player to put up big points. A puck-moving defenseman, he's more stay-at-home than drive to the net to score. Though Wey was just +4 his freshman year, he only played 27 games, missing 15 due to illness and injury (a broken wrist and concussion topped off with mononucleosis before the Frozen Four tournament).

He bounced back strong his sophomore year, ending up +20 in 37 games. He added a goal and 7 assists to his stats that year. He continues to get more comfortable with the speed typical of higher leagues. Going into college from the USHL, Wey indicated that the speed in college threw him for a loop as he adjusted from major junior. His experience at the 2011 World Juniors shows that he has even further adjusted to a faster-paced game, as he held his own playing against the best in the world in his age group.

Wey possesses ideal size and speed to play at a higher level, and it's not unreasonable to assume that the Capitals will sign Wey after he graduates in two years. Depending on how well he's developed, he could transition quite well to the Bears, and possibly the Capitals.

Wey certainly has the motivation and energy to make it. After an afternoon scrimmage at this summer's development camp, Wey said that he couldn't even take a nap before the scrimmage, explaining, "I was so excited."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pre-Camp Updates

Galiev signs his contract, Neuvy hits DC

The QMJHL's preseason is already in swing, and Capitals prospect Sam Carrier has started with his new team, Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Drakkar played their first preaseason game on Friday, August 19, and Carrier made his debut in style - he scored one goal and two assists in a 6-2 win over Chicoutimi. 

He also wore an A on his sweater for the game, which may or may not indicate that he will be an alternate captain for the coming season. Drakkar played another game against Chicoutimi on Sunday, but Carrier did not play in that game.

The OHL and the WHL do not begin their preseasons until next week.

Over the past few days, a group of players consisting of John Carlson, Matt Hendricks, Jeff Halpern, Stanislav Galiev, Dmitri Orlov, and former Capitals goaltender Brent Johnson have been practicing at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Today there was a new arrival at the rink: Michal Neuvirth joined the group (about halfway through the skate) for the first time this summer, flying in from the Czech Republic earlier this week.

Hendricks led drills this morning, and they concluded their skate with a modified game of shinny, setting up goalposts on the opposite ends of one zone of the ice. Coach Bob Woods' son Brendan, who plays hockey at Wisconsin, also participated in the skate. Woods was a free agent invitee to Capitals development camp in 2010.

After the skate this morning, Stanislav Galiev tweeted that he had signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Capitals.

A few photos from today's skate are here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

T.J. Syner Makes Up for Size with Strength

photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds
T.J. Syner, a free agent attending UMass-Amherst, is an interesting player in this year's development camp. He possesses staggering speed and is built like a football player, with one exception: he's 5'6".

Looking up to smaller players who succeed in the NHL like Martin St. Louis has given Syner the motivation to make himself the best hockey player he can. "The guy's done unbelievable as a career, especially for his size," Syner says of St. Louis. "Going out there and being able to battle like he does every night just amazes me. I definitely look up to him and the style he plays."

Syner has explosive speed, and works hard to keep it that way. Before coming to camp, he says he "did a few power skating lessons just to get back on the ice." He worked with a coach near his hometown who also coaches figure skating, which might explain Syner's smooth stride. He's also very strong, which is important for a smaller player, as it makes him that much more difficult to knock off the puck.

His speed is also valuable on special teams, and UMass head coach Don Cahoon feels comfortable putting him on the ice in all situations. Last year, Syner scored four power play goals and one shorthanded goal. 
The one area where he's been trying to improve is his scoring. While his point total has increased each year at UMass-Amherst (27 points last season), Syner is looking for his upcoming senior year to be the best yet in a big way. His coach has urged him to shoot more so the scoring will come.

"I've been trying to make steps, hopefully a bigger step next year, [my scoring] only increased a little bit each year," Syner said. "I played a lot last year and hopefully I'm going to get that same opportunity this year. It will play a big factor, a little bit more confidence, and definitely shooting the puck more, and hopefully produce points."

Syner is also looking to remain a mentor for younger players coming into the UMass program. A co-captain last season, Syner hopes to have a captaincy role again. Even if not, he's happy to play the role of an older player leading by example. 

"We had 13, 14 freshmen last year so I kind of played that [leadership] role all last year," Syner said. "Every freshman looks up to a senior coming in, so you definitely gotta play the role and hopefully being a captain again, they'll look up to you and you just got to set the example for them."

Syner will be heading into his senior year with an NHL development camp under his belt - another learning experience to impart on younger players. Not to mention a boost of confidence that may just help him score the goals he's looking for. With one day left to go, Syner has found camp difficult but rewarding.

"It's been awesome; it's tough. I'm going to be honest, it's a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. The skating's been really hard and challenging, but it's a great way to get in shape," Syner said. "This overall experience has been unbelievable."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Observations from Scrimmage #2

Just a couple of quick notes as today was the second scrimmage and also the shortest day of development camp.

  • Travis Boyd is unbelievable. He has incredible hockey sense and vision way beyond his 17 years. He has the innate ability to see exactly how a play is forming, and set up several chances and goals.
  • Dmitri Orlov is very strong and makes great hits, but if he has the puck, he carries it way too far into the zone, nearly to the crease sometimes. It leaves just one defenseman back at the blue line, and if a breakaway forms the other way, Orlov is totally behind the play and in trouble. He has to learn how to reel in his excitement for contributing offensively and find a balance between contributing while remaining defensive-minded. I'm sure the coaches will try to get him to adjust that aspect of his game.
  • Someone I may try to talk to at some point is T.J. Syner. He's very small (probably 5'6") but he's incredibly fast and very strong. I'm not sure if he's contributed any points in scrimmages (scoring is not being announced in the rink after goals), but he has an interesting skill set.
  • Garrett Mitchell's shootout goal was gorgeous. A Twitter follower compared it to Matt Hendricks' chosen shootout move, and I don't disagree. He scored the lone shootout goal to win the scrimmage for Group A.
  • Philipp Grubauer has been getting better every day. He was very sharp in the scrimmage. He stopped all shootout attempts, even boldly slapping away with his stick Stanislav Galiev's attempt. (a wonderful YouTube user got video of the whole shootout, catching Mitchell's lovely goal at about 0:48 and Grubauer slapping the puck right out out Galiev's grasp at 1:19)
  • There were two fights in today's game, both involving Scott Wietecha. He fought both Garrett Mitchell and later, Danick Paquette. The fight with Mitchell was fairly tame, just a little bit of grappling, and the two were separated. The fight with Paquette was much more spirited. Paquette, in his area of expertise, was not hesitant to throw punches. Paquette got the take down, and Wietecha had to go to the dressing room for repairs. When he returned, his right eye was already massively swollen and it looked like he also had a cut above his eye.

Danick Paquette met the media after the scrimmage, and went to the main focus area in front of all the cameras and lights. As he approached the microphone, he was slightly awed that he was getting the attention, and said (my audio was not on at the time), "I feel like President!"

And now, presented without further comment: Danick Paquette.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cody Eakin Reveals What He Told Steffen Soberg

Quick update on the Swift Current Broncos front: I was able to ask Cody Eakin if he had indeed talked to Steffen Soberg about Swift Current. Eakin did, and spoke at length about what he told Soberg about his own experience with the Broncos.
"I told him a little bit about it. I told him it's a great city, a great town, and it's a really good place to play and come up through juniors. He said he likes the idea and he's thinking about going there. I think he's got a chance to be the number one goalie. Like I said, it's a great place to play, and a great community, great atmosphere, and great camaraderie with the team."

The Growth of Hockey in Illinois: Conor Allen

photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds

Being from Chicagoland, I was pleased to look at the full development camp roster and see a Chicago native attending Capitals camp: defenseman Conor Allen.

Since I've been living in DC for eight years, I always enjoy chatting with a fellow Chicagoan. I was able to speak with him today, unbeknownst to me, our entire exchange was caught on video and is now on the Caps' website and I'm quite embarrassed at monopolizing Allen.

But I digress. Thinking about the two other Illinoisans in the Capitals system, Zach Miskovic and new signee Danny Richmond, it occurred to me to ask Allen, younger than those two, if he personally has seen youth hockey grow in Illinois, particularly since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

My suspicions were correct. "Everyone loves hockey right now, it's amazing," he said of the effect the Hawks' Cup win has had on hockey involvement in Illinois. "Illinois is getting stronger and stronger every year. We have a great triple-A system, club hockey, the only problem is we don't have a college to go to." No university in the state of Illinois has an NCAA Division I hockey team (though the University of Illinois has hinted at someday adding a Division I team).

Conor Allen, who opted to head east to play hockey at University of Massachusetts Amherst, is a full-on product of Illinois hockey. He played with Team Illinois and the Chicago Blues, a Tier II hockey system that offers a full youth hockey program. 

Allen spent the 2009-2010 season in nearby South Dakota with the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede, where he scored 15 points (7g-8a) and was a +9. He was twice named Defensive Player of the Week during the season.

Allen just completed his freshman year at UMass-Amherst, scoring six points (2g-4a) in 31 games. But he won't be signing an NHL contract anytime soon; he chose college hockey for a reason. 

"When you grow up in the United States, you idolize the college hockey route and the players. Education, especially in my family, is a big deal. All my brothers and sisters went to school; my dad's a professor," Allen said. 

"And nowadays you can make it to the NHL playing college hockey. You play great hockey and get your education for free. It's really a great way to do it, and you also get the experience of being a college student which is really valuable."

Allen is set on returning to college next year, but he's looking to get some NHL exposure while completing his education. "It's always good to get exposure, live like a pro for a week, and feel it out. Hopefully I can keep the relationship going, and someday be a Capital."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Soberg Shows Off at Development Camp

photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds

Soon after becoming the first Norwegian goalie ever to be drafted in the NHL, Steffen Soberg had to face another draft - the CHL Import Draft. Capitals goaltending coach Dave Prior instructed Soberg to go the CHL path to get the best coaching and development possible to turn him into a professional-league goaltender.

It's the path Michal Neuvirth took after coming over from the Czech league, before winning two Calder Cups with the Hershey Bears and moving on to the NHL.

Soberg said that he had some offers from teams in Sweden, but turned them down in favor of doing what the Capitals wanted. "That would be easier for me [to play in Sweden], not moving that far away," Soberg said. "But Dave Prior thinks that [the CHL] is the best place to develop as a goalie. I trust that."

Soberg went sixth overall in the CHL Import Draft to Cody Eakin's former club, the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL. Eakin had been captain of the Broncos before his trade to the Kootenay Ice, and I asked Soberg if he had spoken to Eakin yet about the experience in Swift Current.

"He said I was going to be the first goalie to play a lot of games." [Ed. note: I took that to mean that Eakin told Soberg he'd be the No. 1 goaltender.] "They're going to test me there," Soberg said.

When I asked about his U18s tournament, he seemed very proud of his achievements during the tournament. "That's one of my best tournaments ever. I [faced] like, 50 shots every game," he said. "When you get a lot of shots it's more easy to come into the game, and I like that. Everything was working and everything went great. It was a good tournament."

It seems that Soberg thrives under pressure. He likes being tested and likes to be a big part of the game. Even with a weak team in front of him, he's able to perform and not completely shut down. The CHL is a league in which games tend to have a lot of shots and a lot of goals per game, so Soberg should do well in that environment.

I recorded a video of Soberg making saves during a drill. I noticed that he tends to rely on his leg pads a good deal, and his reflexes are good.

Samuel Carrier and the Death of the Lewiston MAINEiacs

photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds

After development camp practice Tuesday, Samuel Carrier and Samuel Henley left the rink at Kettler Capitals Iceplex walking side-by-side. This year's camp is a reunion of sorts for the two.

They had been teammates for two seasons, but now, their team no longer exists.

On May 31, 2011, the owners of the QMJHL voted to fold the Lewiston MAINEiacs, based in Lewiston, Maine. The team will return (somewhat) as an expansion team in Sherbrooke, Quebec for the 2012-2013 season. 

The group relocating the team to Quebec, owned by former NHL goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, would not have been able to relocate the team in time for the 2011-2012 season, and so the team had to completely disband via a special dispersal draft.

The dispersal draft took place on June 3, just a few days after the league announced the decision to fold the team. It was a tough situation for all the players involved as it was, but the QMJHL also completely botched how they handled the dismantling of the MAINEiacs.

Some of the players, active on Twitter, said that they had no idea what was going on in the days between the folding and the dispersal. No one in the league was in communication with the players, and the players were understandably panicked about their futures. 

Cameron Critchlow, captain of the MAINEiacs, was also one of the more candid players, tweeting on June 1, "Wants to send the #qmjhl a big @#9* off and let the god damn boys know what's going for crying out loud what a joke."

Tuesday, I spoke with Sam Carrier, who was selected second overall in the dispersal draft by Baie-Comeau Drakkar, about the situation in Lewiston.

"It was pretty tough. No one knew what was happening," Carrier said. "The news came out one or two days before the dispersal draft. It was weird. It was the first time I'd seen that. Every player was like, 'What's going on?' We were talking on Facebook and Twitter, and nobody knew, so it was weird."

But Carrier is looking to move on with his new team in Baie-Comeau. He said that the Drakkar brass called him before the dispersal draft, and he met with them at the junior draft. Drakkar's head coach, Mario Pouliot, was Carrier's coach in Midget AAA (at Collège Antoine-Girouard), so his transition should be a fairly smooth one having previously worked with Pouliot.

Carrier does know some of his new teammates as well, saying that he has trained with a couple of them in the past.

He's hoping to further improve his game next season, after making strides last year with Lewiston. In 14 playoff games, he scored 15 points, and was a huge part of Lewiston's push in the postseason. Carrier feels he also improved on the other side of the game.

"I think my defensive side of the game improved a lot, just looking at the stats. Last year I was -9 and then this year I was +40," said Carrier. "It's a huge step for me, and I want to continue with this."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Get to Know the Invitees: Thomas Frazee

photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds

Name: Thomas Frazee
Position: C
Shoots: Right
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 205 lbs
Birthdate: 1990-03-31
Hometown: N. Vancouver, BC
Roster # at camp: 95

While I did not see Frazee (no relation to Jeff Frazee, the New Jersey Devils goaltending prospect) skate today, the photographer providing the picture for this post did, and she noted that she was impressed with him. So I did my usual background digging.

Thomas Frazee is truly a journeyman in the WHL, playing for five different teams over the span of six seasons, finally spending his last WHL game as a Kamloops Blazer. He split the 2010-2011 season between the Regina Pats and the Blazers, putting up 71 points for the season.

With his overage season done, Frazee, undrafted, is hoping to become the Capitals' next Brandon Anderson - a free agent earning a contract based on camp performance. At 6'4", he certainly has the size to play professional hockey. But as a 16-year-old prospect for the Portland Winter Hawks, it seemed to coaches that he didn't have the heart.

In Portland's 2007 camp, Frazee was sent home for "off-ice reasons," which Frazee said amounted to his "attitude away from the ice, and being a better person." Portland GM Ken Hodge said of his dismissal, "I don't think Thomas has figured out the road to success. It's been easy for him, without a lot of accountability. We want him to commit to himself, and a commitment to the hockey club would fall into place."

By Frazee's overage season, he seemed to find his motivation. Though his point totals steadily increased with each junior season, he outdid his 2009-2010 season by nearly 20 points in 2010-2011. Finally touted as a quality power forward, his stock has risen as he continues to improve.

Frazee has good scoring ability, but is also not afraid to drop the gloves every now and then, with two registered fights last year.

It seems that Frazee has matured and is ready to work his way into professional hockey. I'll keep an eye on him as the week goes on.

Get to Know the Invitees: Jacob Gervais-Chouinard

Instead of the usual "Focus on Prospects," I changed it up a bit to introduce you to the development camp free agent invitees. We all know the guys the Caps have drafted, but who are the others at camp?

I'll start out with the only free agent goaltender attending this year's development camp, Jacob Gervais-Chouinard.

 photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds

Name: Jacob Gervais-Chouinard
Position: G
Catches: Left
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 160 lbs
Birthdate: 1992-03-21
Hometown: Sherbrooke, QC
Roster # at camp: 80

First, the basics. Gervais-Chouinard just wrapped up his second season with the Val D'Or Foreurs of the QMJHL. Last season, he acted as number one goaltender for Val D'Or, appearing in 54 games with a GAA of 3.45 and save percentage of .882. Gervais-Chouinard was included in the QMJHL's Three Stars of the Week in March after backstopping two Val D'Or wins with one shutout, a .961 save percentage, and a .96 GAA.

In June, Gervais-Chouinard was traded to Rimouski Oceanic, as Oceanic's top goaltender aged out at the conclusion of the past season. He's expected to step in to Rimouski's number one goaltending spot and start the majority of games.

Gervais-Chouinard led the Foreurs into the playoffs, ending the regular season ranked  14th of the 18 QMJHL teams. But ultimately, the Foreurs were swept out in the first round by the Quebec Remparts. Gervais-Chouinard's performance in the playoffs was pretty rough - a 7.19 GAA and .784 save percentage in three games played.

But Gervais-Chouinard was playing behind a weak team in Val D'Or, a team that had just one roster player who averaged over a point per game. For perspective, the Memorial Cup-winning St. John Sea Dogs had four point-per-game players this past season.

With Gervais-Chouinard now in Rimouski, things should start to look up for him. He's got a better team in front of him, in the middle of the pack league-wise at 10th in the Q.

In terms of playing style, he's got flashes of brilliance. He has the ability to make fantastic leg pad saves, but is weak on his low glove side. Not to mention he was majorly gassed after sprints today. Considering he doesn't have a lot of weight on his frame, it could be the reason for his exhaustion. Bulking up would greatly help him with his playing performance.

I'll keep you updated as the week goes on, but he was down on the other end of the ice from where I was standing, so I didn't get to watch him as much as other goalies. I'll also update if I get the chance to chat with him.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Focus on Prospects: Travis Boyd

photo by Dan Hickling

Name: Travis Boyd
Position: LW
Shoots: Left
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 185 lbs
Birthdate: 1993-09-14
Hometown: Hopkins, MN

With their sixth round selection (177th), the Washington Capitals selected Travis Boyd of the U.S. National Development Team Program (NDTP). In 60 games this past season with USA, he scored 13 goals and 25 assists for a total of 38 points. His discipline is beyond compare with just 16 PIMs in those 60 games. He also participated in April's IIHF U18 tournament, with six points in six games, earning a gold medal with the USA team. 

Boyd is committed to attending the University of Minnesota beginning next year.

Boyd began drawing buzz as an 8th grader playing on his high school's hockey team in Hopkins, Minnesota. After leading his team in scoring with 46 points his first year, he was invited to join the U.S. NTDP. He couldn't turn down the invitation, considering the opportunity to play for his country the chance of a lifetime.

In post-selection interviews, Boyd compared himself to Claude Giroux. Scouting reports wouldn't disagree, saying he's a "shifty player that has great hands and a keen ability to read the play in front of him." While he doesn't have a very heavy shot, it is accurate. He has good vision, great playmaking ability, and is a skilled passer.

He showed off those exact talents in one game during the U18 tournament, an 8-1 USA win over Slovakia. Boyd scored a shorthanded goal during the game, and one observer marveled at the play that led to it.
Travis Boyd’s shorthanded tally was a thing of beauty. He out-raced a defenseman to the puck in the Slovakian zone, out-muscled said defender, put the puck to his backhand, and with one hand on his stick let it glide right into the net. It was a great goal and that was probably the straw that broke the Slovakian camel’s back.
As he prepares to head to Minnesota, Boyd says his main focus is getting stronger and faster. One weakness scouts see is his skating. While he does have maneuverability on the ice, his speed could use some work. He needs to put some weight on his relatively small frame, and he plans to work on skating with training coaches to improve his speed. 

Minnesota coach Don Lucia agrees with Boyd's conditioning plans. "He can play on the power play on the half wall and can kill penalties," Lucia says. "I think as he adds strength that he will be able to play in any situation that we have going into the next few years."

When his name was called on Saturday, Boyd was thrown for a loop. "I didn't really expect Washington, I never talked to them." Not that he's not happy to come to DC and be a part of the Capitals organization. "It's awesome because Washington's a great place, good team, I'm happy to go there."