Archive for October, 2012

Scheifele hits his stride with Colts

- October 29th, 2012

Winnipeg Jets 2011 first rounder Mark Scheifele is off to a great start with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.

Although Scheifele was hoping to nail down a spot on the Jets’ roster this season, he’s clearly benefiting from some additional seasoning back in junior.

I recently caught up with Scheifele and he was his energetic self, preferring to talk about his teammates and linemates and downplaying his personal success.

That’s not a surprise, given what we learned about the seventh overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft last fall.

He’s the genuine article and his main focus is on helping his team get better, while working on his game and doing whatever he can to prepare to become a full-time NHLer, whenever that time comes.

Here’s my story on him:

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/10/29/jets-scheifele-finding-stride-in-ohl

During our conversation, there were a number of items that didn’t make it into the print story, so I figured I would share those with you in this space.

Before I do, here’s one final quote from Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who is keeping busy watching many of the Jets draft picks while the lockout drags on. He watched Scheifele earlier this season and noticed a key difference from last fall:

“Certainly, you see the strength has increased in his overall game, in his skating, his corner work, in holding off defenders,” said Cheveldayoff. “Those are things you want him to continue to do as he goes down the growth path. He put in a real hard summer of work and we monitored him very closely and he was very willing to put in the time. It’s been a good process for him.”

And now, back to Scheifele, who is second in the OHL scoring derby with 8 goals, 15 assists and 23 points in 15 games this season for the Colts, who are 11-3-0-1 and are first in OHL in points with 23 points (one more than the Owen Sound Attack, who have 22 but hold a game in hand at 10-2-0-2).

on team growth this season:

“It’s been good. We had a rough first week, then we had an eight-game winning streak. We have a really good core group and the young guys are great too. It’s a really good atmosphere in the room and everyone is enjoying it for sure.

on taking on more of a leadership role:

“I definitely embraced that. Being a guy who has been on the team the last two years, you have to take on a leadership role. Off the ice, you know you have to show them how to be a veteran and what it takes to be a pro. Then on the ice, you need to work your hardest on every shift and doing whatever it takes to help the team win, to help the young guys buy into the system as well.”

on his comfort level in third OHL season:

“I definitely have that confidence. Coming in as a third-year guy, you have a familiarity with the coaches and a lot of the players.”

on his six-point night earlier this month in a win over the Ottawa 67s, where he went out of his way to give props to linemates Zach Hall and Anthony Camara:

“I’ve never had a six-point game in my life. It was a really fun night and it definitely brought my confidence up. But the biggest thing was that we got the win.”

on where he’s at in terms of development:

“There’s a lot of hard work that needs to be done to be in the NHL full-time but I’m willing to put it in. It feels like it’s coming along really good. I keep working hard at bettering myself to become a more all-around player. It’s really helping me out. I’m learning a lot each and every day.”

on going to St. John’s to join the IceCaps for the Calder Cup playoffs last spring:

“It was really good and really beneficial. I was able to learn a lot from the pro’s there and learn about what it’s like in the AHL. Especially in the playoffs, you learn what it takes to get to that spot and to want to make it to the NHL. I learned a lot in that stint I was with them and it was a lot of fun to go that far in the playoffs as well. We obviously lost to a tough team in Norfolk but that was a good series. The entire time I was up, I had a lot of fun and the guys were great.”

on his 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship experience, that included three goals, six points and a bronze medal:

“I learned a lot last year. Being an 18-year-old, you learn a lot from the older guys and you learn it takes a full team effort and it takes a lot of hard work to get that gold medal. You get a lot of experience doing it one year and the next year , you come in more confident, knowing what’s expected and knowing what it takes. The biggest thing, if I make that team, I’ll be ready to contribute and do whatever it takes to win that gold medal.”

 

 

IceCaps lose in shootout, but Burmistrov shows off skill

- October 5th, 2012

STEPHENVILLE, Nfld. — A packed house was on hand at the Stephenville Dome to witness a game that delivered some highlight-reel moments as the Syracuse Crunch defeated the St. John’s IceCaps 3-2 in a shootout on Friday night.

The IceCaps got a first period power play goal from Hunter Tremblay (who buried a rebound after a heavy shot from the point by Zach Redmond) and a nifty even-strength marker from Carl Klingberg, who showed some nice finish and converted a nifty feed from Derek Whitmore, who had two assists in the contest.

“(Whitmore) was coming right out of the penalty box and he made a nice pass. I was basically just shooting for the net,” said Klingberg, who roofed his shot high to the blocker side.

Klingberg was the lone IceCap to beat Riku Helenius in the shootout and the Crunch managed to beat Eddie Pasquale three times, including a sweet move from Brett Connolly — who provided some razzle-dazzle on a move that Marty St. Louis probably taught him last season as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Connolly also showed off his NHL-calibre shot to get the Crunch on the board in the second period. Matt Taormina had the other goal for the Crunch.

Many of the eyes in this one were on flashy forward Alex Burmistrov, who made his IceCaps debut and played in an AHL for the first time after spending his first two seasons as a pro in the NHL.

Although he was kept off the scoreboard, Burmistrov didn’t disappoint.

The skill level was outstanding and he had several quality scoring chances in the contest, including a short-handed breakaway in the final minute that he simply couldn’t sneak past Helenius.

“I tried to go low blocker, that’s what I practice a lot but it didn’t work,” said Burmistrov, who also missed on his shootout attempt. “In the shootout, I had him, but I lost the puck. I checked my stick afterward and it was broken. It’s tough.”

Burmistrov was feeling a bit of frustration due to his inability to produce a goal, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.

In the first period, D-man Derek Meech hit Burmistrov with a slap-pass in the crease but the redirection went up and over the net.

Burmistrov said his legs were heavy in what was his first game action in roughly five months and he did take a pair of penalties, one for slashing and another for high-sticking. On that second minor, the Crunch scored the game-tying goal.

“The first one I just tried to get the puck from him and on the second one I passed the puck and just tried to get out of the way and the guy got my stick right in the face,” said Burmistrov, who clipped the Crunch D-man as he moved the puck to the right wing. “But it’s nice to play a game and get going, get ready for the season.”

I spoke with Burmistrov after the game and will have an in-depth piece on him in Sunday’s paper and at www.winnipegsun.com.

Be sure to check out my piece featuring Top-5 prospects on the farm and five others that are on the horizon, which includes my opinion, plus some important scouting reports from Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who was in Saskatoon on Friday as the Saskatoon Blades were thumped 10-1 by the Swift Current Broncos and shared his thoughts in a telephone interview in the afternoon.

Here are some other things that stood out about Friday’s game between the IceCaps and Crunch:

* Redmond had a steady game on the back end and was paired with Julian Melchiori. That duo looked good together.

* Winnipeggers Jason Gregoire and Kevin Clark played on a unit with veteran centre Aaron Gagnon and created plenty of chances of their own.

* Pasquale had a solid effort between the pipes for the IceCaps. Connolly whizzed a perfect shot high to the blocker side on the first goal and the second was a PP marker that came on a rebound and looked to be knocked out of the air.

* There’s a lot of depth on the back end and it looks like several quality players are going to have to go down to the ECHL until the NHL lockout comes to an end.

* Forward Ray Kaunisto went crashing into the boards after trying to nail a Crunch D-man with a big check. He left with an upper-body injury and will be re-evaluated.

* Winger Norm Ezekial got into a tilt with Crunch tough guy Eric Neilson and showed plenty of heart but came away with a bloody nose. Ezekial is feisty and you can bet he’ll be heard from again.

* The third and final game of the Mary Brown’s Cup exhibition series goes Sunday afternoon in Clarenville and the IceCaps are expected to make their first cuts and trim down a roster that has been at 41.

Crunch defeat IceCaps in 1st of 3-game exhibtion series: rapid reaction

- October 4th, 2012

CORNER BROOK, Nfld. — On a personal note, I must confess it was nice to be in an arena covering hockey, despite the NHL lockout taking the latest steps, with the league banging the first two weeks of the regular season.

The St. John’s IceCaps dropped a 4-1 decision to the Syracuse Crunch on Thursday night at Pepsi Centre is what was a typical, shake-off-the-rust, yet pretty intense exhibition game featuring two teams expected to make some noise in the American Hockey League this season.

We understand that most AHL teams are bursting with optimism at this time of the year and figure to be feeling better with the arrival of several players who would normally be ticketed for NHL duty.

As far as the game goes, it was anything but a blowout.

Syracuse scored first as Mark Barbeiro found Cory Conacher with a slick backdoor pass that IceCaps goalie Chris Carrozzi had virtually no chance to stop.

Ben Maxwell replied for the IceCaps late in the second period, banging home his own rebound after a big shot from the right point by Paul Postma during a power play. Maxwell looked pretty good, but he missed a glorious opportunity for a second goal.

Didn’t get the official saves, but Carrozzi looked pretty sharp in his 30 minutes and change of work, giving up only one goal before leaving the crease to Brandon product Tyler Plante with just over nine minutes to go in the second period.

Plante gave up a pair of goals, the first of which was the result of some miscommunication behind the net and saw him scrambling before the Crunch finally pushed the puck in for a short-handed marker.

The third goal by the Crunch came shortly after a power-play expired, while the fourth went into an empty net for the second shortie of the contest.

With nothing to lose in an exhibition game, liked the concept of pulling the goalie with just over two minutes and facing a two-goal deficit. But after losing the draw, the Crunch found the yawning cage and it was basically light’s out.

Liked what I saw from NHL veteran Brian Sutherby, who was very involved, blocking shots, taking the body, killing penalties, moving the puck on the power play. Sutherby is coming off a back injury that limited him to 15 games with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL last season and is determined to show he can still play. If Sutherby can stay healthy, I think there’s a chance the Jets take a look at him once the lockout ends. Could replace some of the grit lost with the departure of Tanner Glass to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Spencer Machacek, who played on a line with Patrice Cormier and Sutherby, likes what he’s seen from the NHL vet so far.

“It’s huge anytime you get a veteran like that,” said Machacek, tipping his hat to IceCaps GM Craig Heisinger for making the move to bring Sutherby in for a look on a pro tryout offer. “I remember playing against the Manitoba Moose, they always had a couple of older guys. He’s a team guy. He was blocking shots, getting in a fight, that’s what our team needs.”

Postma showed plenty of poise with the puck (no surprise there), unleashed a few big slappers from the point and also caught my attention with a thundering check in the neutral zone that sent a Crunch player flying.

I asked IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge about the hit after the game and he made it clear that he liked what he saw, but doesn’t envision Postma suddenly turning into a banger.

“What I saw out of him in that instance is that he looked like he was starting to get a little frustrated, with guys finishing checks on him and he had a little sandpaper and a little edge there,” said McCambridge. “I like the fact he finished his check, but he’s an offensive guy who is going to carry the puck and make sure he’s good in his own zone. He skated well and thought he moved the puck pretty good.”

There was a scary moment during the third period as Crunch centre Vladislav Namestnikov hit IceCaps forward Ryan Schnell from behind and into the boards. Schnell was shaken up and his status will be updated in the morning. Namestnikov got a five-minute major but the IceCaps were unable to convert.

Prospect Ivan Telegin showed a few flashes, but also took an undisciplined penalty and had a few defensive lapses in the contest. Love the upside, but it seems likely that Telegin will need significant time in the minors to round out his game. He’s a powerful skater who is going to put up points. But, the patient approach is almost always the best route to take. There’s no need to rush Telegin, who figures to have a bright future ahead of him.

The IceCaps and Crunch continue their three-game exhibition series for the Mary Brown’s Cup on Friday in Stephenville and we’ll be there to check it out.

We’ll give the last word to McCambridge, on his take of the overall showing:

“There was some rust on everybody out there,” said McCambridge. “But as a group, we had a close look at some guys we didn’t know much about. We’ve got a game under our belt. (Friday) we’ll have a different lineup and assess from there.”

IceCaps ready for games with Crunch

- October 3rd, 2012

CORNER BROOK, Nfld. — Arrived in Newfoundland late Tuesday night and caught the on-ice sessions of St. John’s IceCaps training camp on Wednesday morning.

The top farm team of the Winnipeg Jets is now three days into camp and players are eager to see some game action against guys who won’t be prospective teammates, that much was clear during a spirited scrimmage at Pepsi Centre.

The final result was a 4-3 win for Team White, which was powered by the skill of Russian forward Alex Burmistrov, who looks nothing like a guy who is going to be mailing it in because he would prefer to be in the KHL playing for his hometown team and taking home a larger pay cheque.

Burmistrov scored a pair of goals, one on a deflection and another on a penalty shot, but he was stopped during the shootout — which went into sudden death and needed eight rounds and 16 shooters to complete.

As pointed out by IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge, the skill is obvious but it’s the work ethic and positive attitude that’s really shining through right now.

The true test will begin once the regular season — and the bus rides — begin, but Burmistrov is passing the test so far and I don’t foresee any problems for him during his first stop in the minors.

At the end of the day, he loves the game and wants to continue to improve. Motivation won’t be lacking and with strong leadership down on the farm, Burmistrov should be a point-per-game player and that confidence should only help him once the NHL labour issues are finally solved.

Ben Maxwell had the other goal for Team White. Eric O’Dell and Will O’Neill (with the clincher) scored in the shootout.

Team Blue got goals from Carl Klingberg, Brian Sutherby and Ivan Telegin, who added the lone goal of shootout.

Mark Dekanich got the win, Eddie Pasquale the shootout loss.

The IceCaps face the Syracuse Crunch on Thursday at Pepsi Centre in the first of three exhibition games to be played in Newfoundland.

The current Crunch rosters features 15 members of the Norfolk Admirals squad that swept the IceCaps in the Eastern Conference final and went on to capture the Calder Cup.

In case you hadn’t heard, the top farm club of the Tampa Bay Lightning moved to Syracuse during the off-season.

“We’re playing against a team that knocked us out last year and it’s a good test for us,” aid IceCaps winger Jason King, who is excited to play a pro game in his hometown.

Other takeaways from my first look at the IceCaps:

* RW Norm Ezekial immediately caught my eye. The former Barrie Colts tough guy works his tail off and just might be another one of those diamond in the rough finds by IceCaps GM and Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger. Ezekial oozes grit and finished all of his checks. Figure that will continue in games and he’s a prime candidate to drop the gloves vs Crunch. Might have to start in ECHL due to the trickle-down of players because of the lockout, but he’ll remain on the radar. Underdog story to keep your eyes on.

* Goaltending is going to be rock solid. Eddie Pasquale emerged from a three-man system with experienced guys David Aebischer (a Stanley Cup winner) and Peter Mannino last year and showed strong development and now he’s going to be asked to compete with former AHL All-star Mark Dekanich, who is coming off an ankle injury but is an elite netminder at this level and might have been the Columbus Blue Jackets No. 1 last year due to struggles of Steve Mason. Instead, former Moose stopper Curtis Sanford played those minutes. Spoke with Pasquale and he’s excited about working with Dekanich. Be sure to check out my story on him at winnipegsun.com later today and in Thursday’s Sun. Plan to speak with Dekanich over the next few days as well.

* There’s a lot to like on the blue line as well. Can’t emphasize enough what it could mean for Derek Meech and Paul Postma to be down here, second-year pro Zach Redmond is excited to take the next step in his development and rookie Julian Melchiori should fit right in. Dean Arsene is a winner and an important veteran presence who should help show many of the youngsters the ropes and show them what it’s like to be a pro on and off the ice.

* For those wondering, Jason Jaffray is back skating and taking some contact after enduring neck fusion surgery late last season. Had a nice chat with him today and while he’s made significant progress, he won’t be appearing in any pre-season games and is doubtful for the season opener. However, Jaffray is excited to be back on the ice and expects to have a big season.