As a change of pace from the normal coverage here on FNYTSF, I wanted to post some interviews from two people who work behind the scenes at a couple of the most successful hockey teams in the Federal Hockey League, a professional hockey league that could be compared to Single-A baseball, as players can get called up to the ECHL, from there, the AHL, and then lastly, and hopefully, the NHL. Nobody really thinks of the importance of minor league hockey here in the United States, though we spend a lot of time and money going to minor league baseball games. Up in Canada, however, it is reversed. The fact is, leagues like the FHL can provide the same entertainment that the NHL can, albeit in a much different (and cheaper) atmosphere. Why would I be writing about this, you may be wondering? Well, it is because of a few friends I have that happen to work for FHL teams—David Zohn and Rob Boertlein of the New Jersey Outlaws, and Chris “Gootz” Hoeler for the Danbury Whalers, who has a regular hockey column on this blog.
As promised, I bring you the latest installment of “Devin’s Den”, where I ask New York Rangers’ prospect Devin DiDiomete anything and everything, on topics ranging from, of course, hockey, to whatever else that may be happening. With the Connecticut Whale wrapping up their season, and trying to clinch a playoff berth (much like the parent-club Rangers), I only sent him five questions. When the season is over, or maybe this summer, we will have our next installment. In the meantime, if you have anything you would like me to ask Devin, please leave it in a comment below or email it to me. Also, make sure to follow him on Twitter. Below is our conversation:
Favorite actor? Denzel Washington
Favorite actress? Based solely on looks, Megan Fox.
Favorite band? I’m a sucker for any rap or techno.
Favorite book? The first and only book I have ever read cover to cover is Tough Guy, about Bob Probert.
Favorite vacation spot? Anywhere I can see hot girls in bikini’s. (laughs)
Favorite hockey moment? Team wise, going to the OHL finals with the Sudbury Wolves. It was a pretty crazy run. We finished below .500 and won the Eastern Conference over Plymouth in 6 games. Personally, either being drafted or signing my first NHL contract.
Q & A
GC: With the season winding down, and the Whale sitting in 8th place, what will you guys have to do to make that final push towards clinching a playoff spot?
DD: I don’t think we can worry about what other teams are doing. We just have to focus on the job at task and win our remaining games and there won’t be anything to worry about!
Email Q from Johnny Lis: Which team would be the biggest challenge for the Whale to face in the playoffs?
DD: It’s playoffs so anything can happen, but if I were to pick one team I wouldn’t want to face, it would be Manchester. They have a good combination of skill and toughness, but so do we!
GC: You recently reached your milestone 300th penalty minute. How do you keep your hands healthy after throwing so many punches?
DD: This year was the first time in my life I’ve hit the 300 penalty minute mark, and I think I could have made a push for 400 if I hadn’t got injured (hopefully my mom doesn’t read that or she would want to kill me!). My hands look like they’ve been through a meat grinder and back, but I do have to take care of them and I do that by icing them a ton and dipping them in hot wax; not sure what that does but it makes them smooth, and what lady doesn’t like smooth hands?
Email Q from Eric Welles: How has fighting changed over the years, if at all? How does it feel to be in a fight?
DD: I think guys are a lot more technical now. With how big some of these tough guys are, you can’t just sit back and chuck or you won’t last very long. To be honest, most of the time adrenaline takes over and I don’t feel anything until after the fight. There’s no better feeling than when the building is rocking and the fans are on their feet after a scrap, or maybe scoring feels better, but I don’t do enough of that so I wouldn’t know (laughs).
GC: Finally, to go off topic, what jobs did you have before you became a hockey player? If you were not one, what occupation would you like to have and why?
DD: When I was young, I cut grass for a few businesses in town. After doing that for a few summers, I realized that I should really work at hockey because “real” work wasn’t for me! I always wanted to be a professional hockey player so I didn’t really think about anything else. If I had to pick another occupation, I’d have to go with professional golfer (laughs).
I would like to thank Devin again for taking the time to do this interview. I also wish him and the rest of the Whale the best of luck in the remaining few games, and hope they can clinch a playoff spot!
Having interviewed New York Rangers’ prospect and current Connecticut Whale left-wing Devin DiDiomete two years ago, when I noticed that he was going to be immersing himself in the online phenomena known as Twitter, I asked if he would ever consider blogging. I told him that if he ever wanted to write anything and send it over, that I would publish it. Devin responded with, “I’m a character, not a writer. I’ve been out of school for too long.” but told me that he would answer any questions I had for him. We talked about trying something a little bit different, with not your usual boring questions that can only garner standard responses. These are only a few questions because this is just the first installment of “Devin’s Den”. We will be getting together again in a few weeks for a second one, and hopefully we can do a third one over the summer.
Devin is the type of player you would classify as the dictionary definition of “fan favorite”. All Whale season ticket holders are nodding their heads reading this, and a few told me after I said I would be doing this series with Devin that he is one of the nicest players you could ever meet. But on the ice, his smile and handshake turns into a snarl and a punch in the face. In 62 games this season, he has racked up 296 penalty minutes, his career high in any league (you can view some of his fights here). He also has six goals, which leads me to compare him to current Rangers’ forward Brandon Prust, as the player who may not be the biggest, but he’ll fight anyone in the league, and even chip in a goal every now and then. While playing for the Charlotte Checkers in 2009/10 for the ECHL on a brief stint, Devin somehow managed to get 128 penalty minutes in just 15 games (next time, I’ll have to ask him how he accomplished such a feat!).
Since 2004/05, Devin has been playing professional hockey. He started out with four seasons in the OHL, playing alongside current Rangers Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh for the Sudbury Wolves, and Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos for the Sarnia Sting. We can only hope that Devin will be playing in New York Ranger blue next season, to join his old teammates on the greatest stage of all.
Favorite movie? Old School
Favorite TV show? Entourage
Favorite food? Steak with mushrooms and spinach
Favorite player growing up? Steve Yzerman
Favorite team? Toronto Blue Jays
Favorite hobby? Working on my wash board (laughs)
Q & A
GC: I’ve heard from many Hartford season ticket holders that you are a funny guy. What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you as a professional hockey player?
DD: Over the past couple of years, I have got the label of being a prankster; always hiding guys shoes, clothes, taping wallets and keys together with pounds of tape, sewing guys pant legs together, cutting guys sticks before practice so it breaks on their first shot—but someone this year is beating me at my own game. For the last month, at least once a week, my one shoe and one sock go missing. [My teammates] always manage to come up with better hiding spots than me, so they go missing for days on end. Needless to say, I’ve had to walk out of the rink in two different shoes a few times this past month.
GC: Another thing I have heard is that you are very personable with fans. Obviously some players are not, so how do you feel players should treat the fans? How would you describe Hartford fans?
DD: I appreciate all the support my fans give me, so I feel the least I can do is give them a little bit of my time or sign some autographs for them. I always remember going to games growing up and being so pumped to talk to players or get a fist pump from them on the way out to the ice. I want to try to bring some of that excitement to all my fans.
GC: Being a heavyweight fighter, what are your keys to success for winning a fight? Do you have any safety tips for young players who may want to begin fighting?
DD: I would say I am more of a pest than a heavyweight fighter. I love feeling when I get under someone’s skin so bad that they want to rip my head off—it means I’ve done my job and they are more worried about me than our more skilled guys. As far as tips go to the young guys out there, hit the other guy more than he hits you. When in doubt, knock ‘em out and ask questions later.
GC: I have to ask this because there seems to be a lot of fans on both sides of this. What name is better, Whale or Wolfpack?
DD: (laughs) I don’t want to answer that question. Some people have taken the name change to heart, but I will tell you one thing: the new jerseys look a lot better!
GC: With all this talk about head shots in hockey swirling around, what are your thoughts on the subject?
DD: I like what they are doing. I don’t think there is a place in hockey for the dirty elbows and dirty shoulders to guys’ jaws. Concussions are a serious issue and each year it seems like more and more guys are missing time due to dirty hits. If they take the instigator rule out of the game, I bet you would see a lot less cowardly plays because it forces guys to stay honest and they might think twice before doing something dirty or cheap.
Devin also had some kind words to offer for Connecticut Whale defenseman Wade Redden:
DD: I have nothing but good things to say about [Wade]. I’m sure he would much rather be in New York, but I think everyone here wants that. He has impressed me with his good attitude and work ethic. He’s a great role model for the younger defensemen and a great leader in the locker room. Having played almost a thousand NHL games, he brings much needed experience and leadership and I think he has done a great job of staying positive throughout this season.
I would like to thank Devin for taking the time out of his busy schedule to contribute to my blog. This is definitely one of the most interesting hockey interviews I have ever conducted (right up their with the Dale Weise one last season, when we ended up talking about Farmville), because it is not your typical “blah blah blah” responses. Make sure to look out for our next edition, coming out in a few weeks! And make sure to follow him on Twitter if you haven’t already clicked the link @deeds2424. He is new to this so take it easy on him!
UPDATE: Read Vol. 2 of “Devin’s Den” here.
It’s a shame that the blame for this disastrous season of New Jersey Devils hockey will rest on the shoulders of a man who once was a fan favorite as a player for this team, one who scored nearly 350 goals while wearing the red, white, and black [and green]. John Maclean is in his first year as a head coach in the NHL, and he is finding out that games are not like the AHL, where it’s okay if the team loses, as long as the players learned something along the way. In the NHL, the big show, games are about winning—something the Devils have done only five times out of 20, and only once on home ice.
The blame can really be thrown in any direction: an aging Brodeur, a shoddy defense, an injury plagued start to the season, or perhaps even a cancerous acquisition in Ilya Kovalchuk, but nevertheless, it is John Maclean who will take the blame, for even though you can use any one of these aforementioned excuses, this team should not be this bad. They have not even been bad, that has been an understatement. Devils teams of the past who were based on 95% defense and 5% offense still found a way to average more than two goals a game, something that the Devils have not even come close to. They have scored a minuscule 36 goals in 20 games—it’s a miracle they have even won five games with that number. In return, they have also given up 65 goals, an amount that does not lead the league, but might as well since it is so disproportionate to their amount of goals scored.
Their goaltending, which has always been their one, true consistency, is in shambles. Martin Brodeur has been injured twice now, including this recent spell that will have him out the next two weeks. His stats this season are 4-10-1 with a goals against average of 2.74. I could jump on the wagon and say Brodeur was never that good to begin with, his numbers a product of a trap defense that had him facing only 20 shots a night, but for now, I will leave that alone as more attention does not need to be brought upon it from someone who is not a Devil’s fan—they can now see it for themselves. What does Brodeur have left to play for, exactly? He has three Stanley Cups, four Vezina’s, and almost every single goaltending record in the book. The drive towards those records reflected a player only playing for personal statistics found on the back of a hockey card, and not playing for his team, something that is so evident when looking at the amount of games he would play during the course of the season, an amount leaving him so tired that his team would be bounced out of the first round of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion. But that’s okay, he’s still the winningest goaltender in history. Keep telling yourself that, Marty.
Johan Hedburg, the Devil’s backup whose signing was praised as the next best thing since sliced bread, has been atrocious this season. His record is only 1-2-1, but his GAA is a bloated 4.53, and the Devils look like they will now be relying on call-up Mike McKenna to hold down the fort until Marty the Magnificent can make his gallant return. With no amazing prospects in the farm system, aside from Jeff Frazee who is said to be solid, the Devils are empty in the goaltending department, and should consider drafting one this season with their first round pick. But they will have to choose wisely, because one of the picks will be taken away by the NHL as punishment for the Kovalchuk fiasco.
As for Ilya Kovalchuk, I already said previously that the Devils had 27 games last season to see what he would bring, in terms of putting extra fans in the seats and developing chemistry. What they got was a point per game player, but nothing outstanding. He continued to be his same old self, being lazy on defense and pretending to not know what backchecking is. The truth is, to write about Ilya Kovalchuk would be cause for a separate article as his season has been a microcosm of the Devils: all promise, and all fail. Remember during the preseason when the Kovalchuk-Zajac-Parise line was tearing it up and scoring two goals a game? Remember when The Hockey News picked the Devils to finish in fifth? Parise’s injury cannot be why this season has gone by the wayside. Kovalchuk is a six-time 40 goal scorer—you don’t score 342 goals before reaching age 28 by being terrible. No, the blame will rest on the shoulders of coach John Maclean, who has not been able to motivate this team.
It is worthy of mention that last night, as the Devils were having yet another loss handed to them, Maclean could be standing on the bench with his arms crossed and shaking his head, the obvious frustration strewn all over his face. But unfortunately, shaking your head does not translate into anger with your players. I am not one to advocate a coach having a conniption, but if there is a team in the league that needs such a wake up call, it would be the Devils. Had it not been for the New York Islanders losing twelve in a row, and the Edmonton Oilers stuck in the middle of a rebuild-and-learn season, the Devils would be occupying last place all by themselves. But still, this team is not so bad that they should be playing like this.
Jacques Lemaire coached this team to their best regular season in franchise history last year, winning 48 games. What thanks does he get? He was booed out-of-town because fans were sick of defensive hockey. “Give us run and gun!” they said, begging Old Lou for an offensive minded coach, and this preseason, fans got their wish when the Maclean-lead Devils were tearing through opponents on the score sheet. But when the regular season started, that all went away. The team did have the offensive tools in Parise, Kovalchuk, Zajac, Elias, Rolston, and Arnott, but the defense was just not there to protect the team’s 38-year-old goaltender. The goals against mounted while the goals for went down, to compensate for the lost defense. Maclean is now left there with no options to go to. He cannot spark his superstar, because Kovalchuk is now in one of his frustrated moods, and he cannot wait for Parise to return, because it will be too late.
If the Devils want any hope at salvaging this season, they will need to fire John Maclean. When they get healthy, they are just one large winning streak away from coming close to contention, and then one more from surmounting the deficit they have created. It may sound crazy, but the Devils are not done yet—every season we sit back and say that this is the year they miss the playoffs, and every year they make it. This season we said nothing, and look at what has happened. The Devils are one team that can still salvage this season, but they will need a new coach. There are not many options out there, but I can think of one that absolutely makes sense, and that is Bob Hartley. The ex-Avalanche and Thrashers head coach has Stanley Cup experience, has coached Kovalchuk in the past, and most importantly, plays a defense-first style. Devils fans may shudder at that phrase “defense-first”, but look at where it got you: three Stanley Cups and the top of the league’s respectability (before angering the league with the Kovalchuk situation).
In a very surprising move this afternoon, the New York Rangers have announced that both Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko, two of the team’s promising young defensive prospects, have been assigned to Hartford (per SNY). Both defensemen showed a lot of promise during the preseason and this will cause the angst of many fans looking forward to watching them this season.
Both Joe and I agreed that at least one of them would make it, with him leaning towards McDonagh and me taking Valentenko toward the end of camp. Because of this move, Michael Sauer and Steve Eminger will make the team. Sauer has played very well himself, and Eminger will be the team’s seventh defenseman.
Though I am disappointed, this is the right move from the Rangers standpoint. This was the first professional camp for both McDonagh and Valentenko, and though they both showed promise, there is no harm in them getting more seasoning down in Hartford. If there is an injury, one of them could then be called up. Neither could be used as a seventh defenseman because it is not smart to have a rookie sitting for long stretches of time. The veteran Eminger, should he last the entire season, will probable play around 30 games, so I would much rather have the rookies get 82 games in the minors than only a small amount in New York.
I do have my doubts about Eminger’s abilities, though. There is a reason why the 2002 first round pick has been on five teams in seven seasons prior to this one. He has also never played a full season and his +/- rating has never been anything to write home about. But even if he falters as the team’s seventh, a rookie still would not get called up in his place.
With rumors around involving the Rangers, I really do not know how to read them. Michael Sauer was involved (with Phoenix, supposedly), but he has made the team because he played well. I would imagine that they would have dealt him already if he was going to be moved at all. My guess is that the Rangers will bring in a cheap, veteran defenseman to be in that seventh role because I do not think the team feels confident with having Eminger.
It is great that the Rangers are fielding a very young, and almost entirely homegrown defensive corps, but they may be too young and need some more stability on the back-end. The season begins six days from now and I would not be surprised if we saw a transaction or two between then and now.
Michael Sauer is 23 years old and has three games of NHL experience with the Rangers during the 2008/09 season. He was also drafted by the team in the second round of the 2005 draft.
In other news, the Rangers also sent Mats Zuccarello and Dale Weise back down to Hartford as was expected after last night’s game.
Let me start off my saying that I am no fan of Sean Avery, and I am actually counting down the days until his antics are no longer plaguing this team, but what happened to him last night in a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils shows why the league and their referees are members of the Mickey Mouse Party.
We all know Avery’s game– getting under the skin of the opponent and causing them to take penalties and get agitated, throwing them off their game. Avery did this to perfection last night, with two of his favorite targets, David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk. However, the obvious league bias prevented the situation from working to the Rangers favor.
Avery met with Clarkson, who in turn dropped his gloves wanting to fight him, but just like a game last season, Avery did not drop his, and Clarkson was left standing bewildered yet again. Then as Avery was heading to the penalty box, he crossed paths with Ilya Kovalchuk, who dropped his gloves as well. Avery would then drop his and attempt to fight the superstar, but the referees jumped in, and so did David Clarkson.
Kovalchuk landed punches, and Clarkson tried desperately to get to Avery while the referee held him down. When the altercation was over, Avery had not landed a single punch, but received the most penalty minutes out of the trio, with a double minor for roughing and a ten minute misconduct. Kovalchuk would get only two minutes, despite being the first to drop his gloves, and Clarkson got absolutely nothing. A third-man-in offense is always a game misconduct, no questions asked, but he got away Scott-free.
But we are all used to this kind of treatment, and incensing as it may be, it could not come as a shock to anyone– what happened next would.
Following the game, Avery told reporters in the locker-room that the reason why he was given the misconduct was because the referee told him, “He’s a superstar and I can’t go after a superstar.” Now, many would not take Avery’s word on this, but why would he put himself in an even worse situation by lying? Considering what happened, I fully believe him, because we all know he is a marked man who has had a target on his back for the majority of his career in the NHL.
By saying that, the referee is admitting that certain players are above the law; that even if a certain superstar is the one that initiates a fight, if you are not of superstar caliber, you cannot fight him or attempt to. This incident should be investigated by the NHL, but I highly doubt it will even get so much as a sniff.
Sean Avery’s career with the Rangers has been nothing but a whirlwind of emotion. When he first came to the team during the 2006/07 season, he was a godsend. He invigorated a dull Rangers team with his agitation of opponents, aggressive style of play, and even goal scoring ability, as he recorded 20 points in 28 games. His next season was even better, when he netted 15 goals and 18 assists and also 154 penalty minutes.
When Avery left for Dallas the season after, and got into trouble for his infamous locker-room comments, it was all downhill from there. The league was waiting years for him to do something they could nail him for, and they did. Although allowing him back in the league, they would make sure that he would be all but welcome. For two seasons now, the Rangers have put up with a league bias against them, and this has even carried over into a meaningless preseason game.
So my question is, is it worth it? Is it worth keeping a marked man on the team and dealing with a brutally obvious league bias all for the thirty seconds of entertainment he gives us every time he plays the Devils?
Avery does not play “his game” every night, but when he does it is effective. However, that effectiveness has slipped to detrimental for the New York Rangers and now if he plays his game he will be targeted and penalized. It is a lose-lose situation for both he and the team, because if he doesn’t play his game, he is all but useless and what he brings to the table can be mimicked by any forward in Hartford.
This is a tricky situation for the Rangers– there is not a team in the NHL who would trade for him, and they do not want to ruin the locker-room of their AHL affiliate Hartford Wolfpack. But they may have to take that chance, and place him on an AHL-bound line where he can play out the rest of his contract.
Sean Avery used to be an advantage to the Rangers and it was a joy to see him play, but times have changed and now Avery’s mere presence will result in more harm that good. The Rangers already rid themselves of one detriment in Wade Redden, and now it is time for another.
Hockey analyst and Sportsology creator Russ Cohen now becomes the person I have interviewed more than any other, with this being our fourth time. Russ has always been kind enough to answer all of my questions and we decided to do another interview exploring the upcoming 2010 NHL Entry Draft that will be upon us June 25.
Russ is also allowing me to run a hockey trivia challenge, that starts tomorrow, using his book 100 Ranger Greats as the medium. For the next three weeks, every Tuesday I will post trivia questions that can all be answered by reading the book. Participants must email me their responses before the next round is posted and the leader after three weeks will win a brand new copy! It is sure to be a lot of fun.
Below is our conversation:
GC: Who do you think the Rangers will take in this year’s draft, and why?
RC: I think the New York Rangers will select goaltender Jack Campbell. Henrik Lundqvist continues to break his own career mark for games played with the Blueshirts and five year’s into his career he has some knee problems. If you consider that most of the Rangers great goaltenders lasted right around 10 years then this year’s draft has to yield a potential franchise goaltender for the team. Goalies take a long time to develop so the time is now. This is a piece I wrote on Campbell.
GC: There is so much talk about who will go first overall in this year’s draft. Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall seem to be the leading candidates, but who do you think the Oilers will take with the first overall pick?
RC: I think the Oilers will take Taylor Hall. He has exceptional speed, he’s a clutch scorer, he can play in every situation and he makes players around him better. He can play in the NHL next season.
GC: What Rangers prospects have a chance of making the team this season?
RC: Derek Stepan has that kind of talent. If he decides to turn pro and not return to the University of Wisconsin then he will certainly get a long look in camp. What’s important to note is the fact that if he could make the team without playing in the AHL then he will be learning on the job and you shouldn’t expect a huge offensive season out of him. I think Bobby Sanguinetti has the talent and he seems to be playing with more of an edge. He had a rocky road with the coach last season so he has to impress him in camp or he won’t make it even though he has the talent to do so. If Evgeny Grachev has a great start in Hartford he could get a late season promotion.
GC: Do you expect there to be many trades at this year’s draft, and do you see the Rangers making any?
RC: Toronto will be trying to move defenseman Tomas Kaberle for sure. I think one of the Montreal goaltenders; most likely Carey Price will be available as well. I think the Rangers might have interest in Kaberle. There will be some lesser talented players moved as well, there always are.
GC: The very private Glen Sather gave a very in-depth interview with Larry Brooks of the New York Post last week. What is your response to this and what do you think he has in store this off-season?
RC: I think he’s trying to add another scorer to play alongside Marian Gaborik. I think they will search for toughness on the blueline as well. They don’t have a lot of cap space so far, but that could change, so that’s why he was essentially saying don’t look for a big free-agent signing. With all of that said it’s nice to say that you want to keep going with the youth but the past few years the Rangers traded some of that youth, and it didn’t get the team anywhere, so it’s hard to put much stock in that statement as well.
GC: Rangers fans seem to be clamoring for Ilya Kovalchuk (obviously) and now more recently Anton Volchenkov. Tomas Plekanec has had his name thrown in the rumor mill as well, even though I do not want him. Which of these free agents do the Rangers have the best shot at signing? And would you personally make a move to acquire any of them?
RC: Tomas Plekanec was almost invisible in the series against Philadelphia so stay away from him; he’s just too soft, even though he has solid scoring ability. Anton Volchenkov could help this team at the right price. He’s the only one of the three that I would have interest in. If Kovalchuk was going to become a Ranger he would ask for $100 million that they don’t have. I’m not sure where he will sign but I’m sensing he might take less money to stay in New Jersey when it’s all said and done.
I would like to thank Russ for taking the time to conduct this interview!
Towards the end of last season, the New York Rangers called up one of their prospects, and most Ranger fans were anxious to see him being given a shot. Unfortunately, Dale Weise did not get a chance to see live action, but he did get the idea of what being a Ranger is all about.
Dale is currently a member of the Hartford Wolfpack, but is a hopeful to make the Rangers roster out of training camp next season. He saw time on Broadway during pre-season hockey last year and impressed fans with his ability to play physical and show a nose for the net.
In two seasons with Hartford, the twenty-one year old right-winger has notched 39 goals and 34 assists for 73 points and has amassed 178 penalty minutes.
This afternoon, I had the chance to interview him by phone in a rather spur-of-the-moment occasion. Most times interviews take place after nearly a week of correspondence, but this was completed in just about an hour.
Dale was happy to answer all of my questions that included asking some quick hits about his favorites, as well as serious questions about his playing style and what he expects to accomplish. The conversation also ended with a topic that I never expected to see in a hockey interview. Below is our conversation:
Favorite movie: Right now it would have to be the second Trailer Park Boys movie.
Favorite TV show: Family Guy.
Favorite actor/actress: That’s a tough one. Megan Fox.
Favorite food: Cereal.
Favorite hobby: Besides playing hockey, working on my tan.
Favorite hockey team growing up: Montreal Canadiens.
Favorite hockey player: Keith Tkachuk.
GC: Describe to Rangers fans what your style of play is like, and what we can look forward to seeing.
DW: I’m a player that can do a little bit of everything. I can hit, fight, stand up for teammates, and I can score. I think I’m a guy that can play on the top line or on the fourth line. I just think I’m a guy that can fit in anywhere to make the team better.
GC: Even though you did not get a chance to play, what was your experience like in being called up last season?
DW: That was awesome. Even though I’m obviously disappointed that I didn’t get to play, it was great to be a part of it. The situation we were in where every game was important and our season was on the line was very cool to be a part of. Even in the pregame skates and on the bus rides you could see it was really serious. Being a part of it was just the best thing for me.
GC: And how intense was John Tortorella during all of this?
DW: He was pretty intense. (laughs). He’s probably the most intense coach I’ve ever seen.
GC: Can you tell us what your off-season plans are like in regards to getting in shape for another season of hockey?
DW: Probably pretty close to everyone else. I have a personal trainer I go to Monday through Friday, and usually we go an hour in the gym and work with weights and on the core and legs. The next hour we’ll be pushing sleds and we do a lot of running and lunges. Other than that for five days a week, that’s pretty much it for me. I also like to get in my backyard and shoot pucks when I get the opportunity and in a couple weeks I will start skating twice a week and that’s about it.
GC: What do you plan on accomplishing by the end of training camp?
DW: Hopefully I’ll have a roster spot locked down. I’m going there with the mindset that I’m there to play on the team. I don’t know what’s going to happen with free agency and who they’re bringing in, but I feel that I’ve put in my time in the American Hockey League and developed the way that they would be happy with and I think I’m going to come in and win a spot.
GC: This next question comes from my friend Mike, who is a Wolfpack season ticket holder. Of course we hope that you will be playing on the Rangers next season, but if you happen to be in Hartford, what do you think about the possibility of having an outdoor hockey game at Rentschler Field?
DW: I think that would be awesome. Honestly, I would be all for that. I don’t plan on being down there, but after the two years I’ve spent in Hartford, it’s been awesome and I have made some real good friends. The people who come to the games and all the fans we have are awesome. I would be all for it. I’d love to play in an outdoor game.
GC: Finally, if you were not a hockey player, what job would you like to have, and why?
DW: I think if I was not a hockey player, I would be a farmer. I spend a lot of time on my girlfriend’s farm and I like the lifestyle. I’m more of a laid back, simple life kind of guy.
GC: Now that you’ve mentioned farming, I just have to ask, do you play Farmville on Facebook?
DW: No I do not. I don’t really get into the games. I just go on there to talk to people and that’s about it.
GC: Well good for you for not getting caught up in that insanity. I wish I never started my farm. It was fun but it’s a pain now.
DW: (laughs) I watched a South Park episode the other day and it was all about people being crazy on Farmville. I thought it was pretty funny.
GC: I want to thank you so much for the interview, and I really hope I will see you on the Rangers next season. I will buy your jersey and say I was the first Ranger fan to interview him before he made it big!
DW: (laughs) Thanks. No problem man.
By Joe Aiello
Heading into the 2010/11 season, the New York Rangers must look to a new philosophy when re-evaluating their team. Given quotes by head coach John Tortorella and Assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld, this looks to be the case. The Rangers must finally cut ties with disappointing defenseman Wade Redden. Freeing up his $6.5 million cap hit will allow the club to add additional pieces so they can take a step in the correct direction. I have said this from the beginning that Redden will not play in the AHL, but I can see him being put on loan to a team in Europe.
On the back-end Michal Rozsival is not going anywhere. Given the warranted praise he received by Tortorella at the end of the season, his jobs looks to be safe. Rozsival logs a ton of minutes and on a defensive squad, which is young, he plays an important role. Can a comparable defenseman that can log Rozsival’s minutes at a lower cap hit be had? I think not. I would not be shocked if some teams in need of a defenseman come calling the Rangers during the NHL Draft looking to make a trade. The Rangers will listen given cap implications, but they will not get rid of Rozsival for nothing.
Captain Chris Drury is going nowhere, Ranger fans. He does not deserve any breakdown, as he is impossible to move. I will say this; Drury will be a good captain on a young team. If there is anyone who threatens his power in terms of a veteran presence, his power goes up in flames. This is why Vinny Prospal will be playing elsewhere come next season. Prospal was a different player after his injury last season and the Rangers are looking to get younger. I would not count on him being back, even at a low price.
Expect restricted free agent defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi to be back in Ranger blue. If the Rangers had any desires to cut ties with Girardi he would have been moved at last season’s trade deadline. The Rangers personnel envision a shut down pair of Staal and Girardi to be anchoring the Rangers defense for years to come.
Come the first of July, the Ranges must set their targets on three glaring needs. They must get a physical defensive presence, if Ryan McDonagh chooses he does not want to play in the NHL for the Rangers this season. Anton Volchenkov would be a perfect fit, but don’t expect it to happen. The must also sign a veteran backup that can easily handle twenty games. I fully expect Martin Biron to be the Rangers backup heading into next season. Have you fellows seen Johan Hedberg play last season? If you are calling for him to be a Blueshirt, then I imagine not.
Who the Rangers must sign come July 1 is rather obvious. In the NHL, a team needs a one-two punch to be successful. The Blackhawks have Kane and Toews, the Penguins have Malkin and Crosby, the Flyers have Richards and Carter. Well, the Rangers have Gaborik and nobody.
They must set their targets on Ilya Kovalchuk and sign him. His high cap hit will not have the grueling effects for years to come that some think. If Wade Redden is off the books then it is completely manageable. Chris Drury and Michael Rozsival come off the cap in two seasons and will combine for $12 million in cap room. Signing Kovalchuk will give the Rangers the one-two punch in Gaborik and Kovalchuk they have never had in recent memory. Given the young prospects that are on the rise in the organization, it could be the start of a turn around. The Rangers cannot afford to rebuild while in Henrik Lundqvist’s prime.
The Rangers need to fix their club from within the organization, but by adding a key scorer in Kovalchuk, can help anchor them towards the right direction. By re-evaluating their club and addressing major needs heading into the 2010/11 season, the Rangers can get back to respectability. Overhauling the roster by ten to twelve players season in and out is not the way to go. By adding on to what the Rangers have in a rather young core I expect next season to be met with better success than last.
[Editor's Note by Greg Caggiano] This will be a new column from writer Joe Aiello who will be taking some of the load off of me by helping to cover the New York Rangers from here on out.
The vast majority of New York Rangers fans have written off this season as a failure, and that they will not make the playoffs. I am part of that majority.
There can be a bright side to this, however, and that is all of us wanted a rebuild at some point in time and this season is close as anything to a rebuild that any New York team can accomplish. We got to see the development of Michael Del Zotto and Artem Anisimov, along with the further development of Marc Staal.
What needs to happen the rest of the way is as follows, and keep in mind I am not yet looking ahead to the off-season, just what I want to see accomplished in the remaining ten games.
1. Fire John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan. Both of their tenures with the Rangers can be classified as one thing- a joke. A complete and utter circus is what these two have been responsible for. Remember when Tom Renney was in charge, and Mike Pelino and Perry Pearn were his assistants? We knew clearly what everybody’s job was. Pearn ran the powerplay, Pelino ran the penalty kill.
What exactly does Mike Sullivan do? No one knows. Tortorella made it clear at the beginning of the season that he wanted only one assistant, and to paraphrase his own words, “Too many assistants yelling different things on the bench can be confusing to the players.” First of all, that is nonsense. I can’t think of a team in recent history to win a Cup with only one assistant. Even when Tortorella won the Cup in Tampa Bay, he had two assistants: Craig Ramsey and Jeff Reese. The real reason for only one assistant coach? Control. Tortorella wants complete control with no staff to question him. Sullivan has served no other purpose besides being an unthinking robot. That is exactly what Tortorella wants.
The biggest joke of all was when he finally gave in to have Jim Schoenfeld become that second assistant, but he doesn’t stay on the bench during games. Perfect sense, to have the only person in the organization with a brain when it comes to coaching stay away from the bench during games. I was one of the many people who lauded Tortorella’s hiring, but it’s over now. The players have been tuning him out for months, and after the last two efforts, there is no chance at recovery.
2. Jim Schoenfeld for interim coach; Graves and Leetch as assistants. Schoenfeld coached ten seasons in the NHL and only twice did he have a losing record. He was excellent with the kids when he coached Hartford for two seasons from 2005-2007, when he led the team to 48 and 47 wins, respectively. He would only be for the interim, and a replacement would be hired in the summer.
As for Graves and Leetch, I would not want them as part of the staff for a long period of time, but the remaining ten games this season would be a good oppurtunity for them to get their feet wet. They are at MSG for every home game anyway, so it would make sense to give them a shot at assistants. I think Graves would be the perfect assistant for any head coach, so who knows, maybe he would fit in with the next regime.
3. Rest Lundqvist. There is no sense in injuring Lundqvist in the last ten, meaningless games, so let him try to win his 30th game (to be the only goaltender in history to start his career with 30 wins for the first five years) and after that, sit him. Call up Chad Johnson and have him split time with Alex Auld.
4. Sit Redden and Rozsival. This will be everyone’s dream come true- a defensive corps comprised entirely of homegrown players. Even with their improved play of late, there is no reason to not call up a combination of Potter, Sanguinetti, and Heikkinen. Give them extended playing time and gradually phase out Dan Girardi as well.
5. Rest Gaborik. Even with all the excitement he provided us this season, Gaborik is obviously playing with some type of hindrance. Give him a few games to try and get 40 goals, then sit him to let him rest up for the off-season, or give him an early jump at a potential surgery, if he were to need one.
6. Call up Parenteau and Locke. It is more than likely that P.A Parenteau will not be returning next season because the Rangers have unfairly not given him a shot, when players like Voros and Shelley find themselves in the lineup. However, he hasn’t be brilliant either, so give him ten games in the top-six to show what he’s got. Maybe he is good after all, and would re-sign next season if the team could guarantee him some regularity on offense.
Corey Locke, meanwhile, has enjoyed tremendous success in his career in both the AHL and OHL. At 26 years old, and only one game of NHL experience, time is running out for this older rookie to get a spot in any NHL team’s lineup. With 29 goals and 49 assists this season in Hartford, this should be his chance to show he can perform at the NHL level.
7. Give Drury more minutes. The only way Drury can get traded is if he plays well. Granted, he has a no trade clause that he probably wouldn’t waive, but it’s worth a shot in putting him on the top line (or at least top two, with some consistency) and giving him max amount of minutes to try and put up points. It’s the only way he will be attractive to other teams, since he has such an egregiously bad salary.