( l to r: the kid, Chipchura, Kostitsyn, Latendresse)
Don't call me overanxious, I just wanted to be the first one to declare this:
IT'S HOCKEY SEASON, DAMNIT!
How do I know?
Two things: In today's Journal de Montreal there were six, count 'em, six pages dedicated to hockey - mostly to the Habs rookie camp and mini tournament.
Also, my daughter has survived the first two tryout sessions for the PeeWee BB Typhoons travel team - the final roster may be set tomorrow.
So from my standpoint, it's game on, big time!
Before I get to the Canadiens news, I thought I'd share some of what goes on during the kids camp.
This tryout is a weird one. Our town sits right on the Canada / U.S. border and the region of protected players actually stretches into the States. Why that is, is because each city or town with a team has so many miles of radius from which players are allowed to be culled from. Ours happens to extend over the borderline. Usually, that is of little consequence, as only one or two players may benefit by crossing over each year. This season however, the American age groups have been straddled back one year in order to be in sync with Canadians. This has left a group of 12 year old American girls with no team south of here to play for due to lack of participants. A dozen of them are trying out with us, possibly beating my daughter out for a spot.
Ask me if I'm happy about that?
On the first day, there were 33 girls going through the drills, including four goalies. Tonight we had roughly seven or eight players missing from the first day. I counted 25 skaters who are left to vie for the 4 defense and 9 forward positions remaining.
There are ten girls remaining from my daughters Atom A team that graduated to PeeWee this year and the bulk of the better players seem to be from the younger girls group as opposed to those who have a year of PeeWee house behind them. My daughters coach from last season is the same, and my kid adores playing for him. A likely scenario is that there are 5 openings at the very least and possibly 7 to 8 tops. My girl is far from a shoe-in at this point. This Dad is kinda nervous, worried.
My daughter has been doing well on the ice, and in a funny way, handling the pressure better than I.
Hopefully, it all works out tomorrow.
Now on to the Habs.
The rookie camp has been open for a few days now and tonight is the start of the rookie tournament versus the Leafs, Panthers, and a team from York University. The York squad was a last minute addition as the Ottawa Senators bowed out of this years annual ritual as they were not able to come up with enough North American prospects to ice a team. I know you might be thinking that is a joke - it's not. Most of their prospcts are overseas and not under contract. They are not subject to the same retainment rights as skaters on this side of the ocean, thus there is no hurry to gauge them or get them under contract.
Of the team the Habs are taking to Toronto, 8 of the 25 players are training camp invitees. These teams are difficult to judge as not all of an organizations best prospects are there. As these games are of little benefit to prospects already pencilled into NHL starting lineups, certain players sit it out, making it somewhat hazy as to which teams have better talent on the way.
The articles in today's Journal concentrated on three players given the best shot at making the team. The feature article focused on last seasons training camp sensation Guillaume Latendresse, and that he feels he must put the past behind him and focus on the present. Latendresse clarified the concussion rumours he allegedly suffered during the Junior Team Canada camp two months back. He had created much consternation when he left camp early and the C-word was brought up in the media. The prospect assured the assembled media that he was simply suffering from severe headaches and suffered no concussion-like symptoms. As he had been there before in junior, he was confident he could make the distinction.
Latendresse went on to mention that new coach Guy Carbonneau has often spoken of a roster spot being left open grabs by a rookie. The burly left winger appeared much more mature in dealing with the mass of microphones while he stated his intention to seize his opportunity.
The piece in question went on to mention that it would hardly hurt Latendresse to make the most of his final season of junior eligibility and that Kyle Chipchura and Andrei Kostitsyn were the odds on favorites to make the team. The paper, in typical Quebec media mentality, did not fail to put in a good word for the constant progression made by locals Maxim Lapierre and Jonathan Ferland the past two seasons in the AHL. Both could be called long shots at best, but their stats do testify to an upgraded status. Their burden is that there are so many quality candidates ahead of them.
Carbonneau was asked who he thought may surprise in the coming weeks. The coach brought up Latendresse's name while leaving the door completely open to anyone and everyone. He mentioned how he had once stolen a veterans job and that Mike Keane, in the late '80's, had caught everyone off guard by making the team as a virtual training camp walk on.
Admitting that he knew only what had been told to him about Latendresse, he reiterated that the same challenge awaited Mikhail Grabovski and Chipchura.
The day's best piece concerned Grabovski speed of light adaptation to the Montreal media. The 22 year old who recently signed a three year deal seemed a little shell shocked at the throng of mics pointed his way. The Belarusian blue chip made sure to tell everyone that he felt ready to jump straight in the bigs and that his goal was to win the Stanley Cup. Trouble is, that was the answer to a question Grabovski was not asked. Though his command of the english tongue surprised many, his perception has a way to go apparently.
When asked which Habs prospect fans best keep an eye on, the Canadiens director of scouting Trevor Timmins unhesitatingly suggested Grabovski, as the most likely to surprise, before mentioning others. GM Bob Gainey it has been often told, is quite high on Chipchura as being the most NHL ready prospect.
In passing, I must mention that the name of Jason Wooley was nowhere to be seen. Columnist Yvon Pedneault brought up Jason Allison's name in regards to a "Koivu worst case scenario" as a player who is getting cheaper by the day and can produce PP points with ease.
In bringing up the former Leaf, Pedneault cautioned that Allison is a player who is totally oblivious to team concepts. Take that any way you will. He stated that last season, what made Allison attractive to many teams including the Leafs, was that his bonus clauses fell into a salary cap loophole. Players who have 400 games played but spent 100 days on the injury list the season prior are eligible for a particular bonus outside the cap.
Allison does not have the same luxury this time around and that may explain why teams have so far steered clear of him.