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Mid-summer heats up as 2009-10 looms

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, July 25, 2009 | 7/25/2009

With the summer season hitting its second phase, national evaluation camps are hitting the radar as players ramp-up for the 2009-10 season. Miami University sophomore Connor Knapp will be one of four goaltenders and 43 players overall in Lake Placid, NY for USA Hockey's U20 Evaluation Camp running from August 8th-17th. The Americans will play three intra-squad scrimmages before a four-game set ensues against a team of Russian hopefuls. Dmitri Kugryshev (WAS), Kirill Petrov (NYI), and Andrei Loktionov (LAK) will be among the Russian shooters testing Knapp. Drafted players Nikita Filatov (CBS), Dmitry Kulikov (FLA), and Igor Bobkov (ANA) will not participate, nor will top '10 eligibles Kirill Kabanov and Evgeny Kuznetsov. A reader recently questioned Knapp's inclusion on the USA invite list, suggesting that he can't be a serious contender since another freshman ended the year as Miami's starting goaltender. I'm not sure that's a valid argument. While that was the case in Oxford, Cody Reichard was definitely more experienced as a 22-year old freshman compared to the 18-year old Knapp, and thus got the call for Miami down the stretch. A 6'5 EJHL product and former Rochester high school standout, Knapp went 13-5-3 with a 2.09 GAA to earn CCHA All-Rookie honors as a "true" freshman and recently performed well at the Sabres Development Camp. The invite is warranted when looking at it from that angle. Over the border, Tyler Myers, Zack Kassian, and Luke Adam will be in Saskatoon for Canada's National Junior Team Development Camp from August 5th-10th. The camp roster consists of 41 forwards and defensemen, and four goaltenders. Red/White scrimmages will be held on August 8th and 9th. A veteran of Hockey Canada's Program of Excellence, Myers returns after he and Keith Aulie (CAL) performed as the top shutdown combo for the 2009 gold medal winners. The 6'8 Calgarian struck gold a year earlier at the U18's in Kazan, Russia. Kassian, 18, played with Brayden McNabb on Canada's 4th place entry at U18's in Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN this past April. Last summer, he was an U18 gold medalist at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial. The camp will be the first world junior invite for Adam. The 19-year old forward serves as the sole representative from Hockey Newfoundland & Labrador. A week prior to the U20 activities, Bob Boughner and his U18 Summer Team staff will host 38 2010 drafts eligibles and a pair of 2011's in Calgary for Canada's Hlinka selection camp. Team USA has already finalized their U18 Select Team roster for the tourney that will be held in Slovakia and the Czech Republic from August 11th-15th. In Europe, German hockey association DEB concluded their summer camp in preparation for the 2010 Olympics. In a competitive setback, bench boss Uwe Krupp was without the luxury of any NHL players in his five-day gathering.
The candidates from the National Hockey League – Robert Dietrich, Christian Ehrhoff, Marcel Goc, Philipp Gogulla, Thomas Greiss, Jochen Hecht, Christoph Schubert, Felix Schütz and Marco Sturm – will not join the camp due to insurance reasons after discussions between DEB and the players.
Back on North American soil, the Sabres selection of Marcus Foligno continues to draw positive press. A blue-collar, Buffalo-born player getting drafted by the same team that his father once wore the "C" for makes for a story worth following.
Mike, who is also the head coach and general manager of the Sudbury Wolves, said it was his son’s physical play and competitive spirit that made him stand out on the ice this year. “Everybody knows he’s a physical player,” the coach said. “He’s the type of guy who wants to win, he cares about his teammates, and he knows the physical game is his strength.” Marcus said he will be bringing his energy and strong work ethic to the Sabres organization. “Knowing you have your teammates looking at you to make something happen, to just spark them up and give the energy back to the team,” he said. “There’s nothing better than trying to put up points in the NHL and it’s one thing I’m capable of. I just need to keep working hard as the off-season goes on ... to develop into an NHL player.” Marcus said his goal for the remainder of the off-season is to continue getting bigger and stronger. “This is a player that has worked very hard to accomplish this first step of making it to the NHL, and he’s paid the price both on and off the ice,” the Wolves’ head coach said. “I think Marcus is really motivated right now to accomplish the dream of playing in the NHL.”
Mid-July also saw the annual Stanley Keg tournament play out in Montreal.
Held in the vibrant city of Montreal, the Montreal Stanley Keg is a summer hockey tournament that features eight teams of professional players from across North America. The trophy is an actual beer keg with a cup (similar to the Stanley Cup) mounted on the top, and the winning team gets its members’ names engraved on the trophy. The tournament is held at the beautiful 4 Glaces Sportplexe Pierrefonds facility and runs from July 17th – 19th, 2009.
NHLers Jason Pominville, Alex Burrows, and Guillaume Latendresse skated for the same side in the no-contact 5-5 summer staple. Other notables in the shinny included 2008-09 Portland Pirates Mathieu Darche and Kenny MacAulay, and Harvard's Danny and Michael Biega, brother of current Sabres defensive prospect, Alex. Marc-Andre Gragnani was a member of the winning side last season. Another summer happening of Quebecois flavor involves former Sabres property, Benjamin Breault (2006, 7th round). After completing five years of QMJHL service, the 5'10 offensive forward has signed on with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.
7/25/2009 | 0 comments | Read More

7/9 Recap: Grey takes it to Blue in final minute

Written By Kris Baker on Friday, July 10, 2009 | 7/10/2009

The Sabres Development Camp shifted to scrimmage mode Thursday at Dwyer Arena with a civil war match-up between Team Blue and Team Grey. Two 30-minute halves were played, and yes, there was a Dan Murphy sighting. For those who don't want to read, Grey took a 5-4 win thanks to an Igor Gongalskyi penalty shot goal in the final minute. Grey Roster G - Enroth, Lamoureux D - Myers (6), Southorn (5), Adams (52), Fienhage (26), Kostka (8), Crawford (44), Butler (37), Weber (red) F - Jokinen (22), Gongalskyi (27), Legault (9), Turnbull (21), Tropp (10), Lagacé (29), DeSousa (38), Gogulla (13), Gerbe (20) Blue Roster G - Eno (31), Knapp (30) D - MacKenzie (28), Biega (26), McNabb (6), Generous (55), Persson (28), Schiestel (5), Gragnani (4), Brennan (61) F - Fine (12), Orpik (27), Adam (19), Gallimore (76), Foligno (8), Byron (37), Kennedy (29), Payerl (36), Whitmore (22), Schutz (14) Grey Lines: Gerbe - Turnbull - Legault Weber - Myers Gogulla - Tropp - Jokinen Kostka - Butler Lagacé - Gongalskyi - DeSousa Crawford - Fienhage Southorn - Adams Blue Lines Adam - Kennedy - Whitmore Brennan - Generous Byron - Foligno - Orpik Gragnani - Persson Fine - Schutz - Gallimore Schiestel - Biega Fine - Byron - Payerl McNabb - MacKenzie Also saw Adam - Byron - Orpik as well... Forwards Zack Kassian, Tyler Ennis, and Brayden Irwin did not participate. ------------------------------------------------ It was a tough start for Blue netminder Nick Eno. Just 30-seconds in, Travis Turnbull fed a puck to the front of the net, where it found Maxime Legault. Legault chipped a backhand past Eno to give Grey an early 1-0 lead. Turnbull motored all afternoon to put on one of the day's top performances. He made some smart defensive plays with his stick and was charging hard on the forecheck. On the other side, Eno appeared nervous and shaky in the first ten minutes as he battled some pedestrian shots. Moments after Legault's tally, Grey's Nick Crawford would punch a shot through from the left point. An opportunistic Jacob Lagacé was there to belt the puck in and give Grey a 2-0 advantage. At 22:25, Felix Schutz capitalized on a funky dump-in bounce to get Blue on the board. Grey starter Jhonas Enroth exited the crease to play the puck, leaving the net wide open for the German to half the lead. Blue would tie it up seven minutes later when Tim Kennedy's sharp pass was tipped by Burke Gallimore over Enroth's right shoulder to make it a 2-2 game. The contact elevated once the players cycled through a few shifts. Like Turnbull, Marcus Foligno set a good pace skating into every check with good contact. Many of his workmanlike bumps came in open ice to knock the man off the puck. The stronger hits started after the 20:00 mark when Brayden McNabb stepped up and shouldered Lagacé to the ice. From there, a forechecking Turnbull had a nice collision with Matt Generous in front of the blue cage, while Maxime Legault took two solid runs at Andrew Orpik. The pops culminated with Chris Butler popping TJ Brennan's helmet off after a nice corner take-out. The only thing close to resembling a dust-up came late in the half with Nathan Gerbe taking a few shoves at fellow Beantown collegian Alex Biega after a whistle. There were two penalties called in the first half. Like last year, the offended player would take a penalty shot in lieu of earning power play. Unlike last year, the penalty shots were performed with the offender on chase from the far blue line. Tim Kennedy was called for hooking Justin Jokinen. Eno stopped the attempt for Team Blue. Later on, Kennedy would ring the post on Enroth as Chris Butler (tripping) was closing in. The second half gets underway with Legault and Foligno continuing to finish their checks. Legault put a real solid hit on Michael Fine on the very first shift. Overall though, the physical tone was much more subdued than the first 30-minutes. After Luke Adam failed to take Adams wide, Grags got called for a trip of Chris DeSousa at the other end of the rink. DeSousa deked left on the penalty shot, but couldn't lift the pick over Connor Knapp's right pad. At the 18:30 mark, Gerbe would get the first goal of the half but roofing a Turnbull feed through minor traffic over Knapp's right shoulder. Five minutes later, DeSousa would break down the left side and pump a slap shot cleanly past Knapp to put Grey ahead 4-2. Knapp looked like a goaltender with a lot of potential. He gets square to the shooter and covers a lot of net. I'm curious to find out how new his pads are, given some of the excessive rebounds they were kicking out. The unforgiving pads twice bounced pucks right into the slot that I think would normally be controlled. A minute after the Desousa tally, a Team Blue line of Adam-Byron-Orpik combined to get some down low pressure near Lamoureux that resulted in a goal. It was unclear who scored it, but it closed the gap to 4-3. Blue would tie the game 4-4 when Schutz hit an oncoming Dennis Persson, who in turn buried a low wrister past Lamoureux. Schutz would get called for hooking Igor Gongalskyi in the final minute of play. The Russian forward skated in on his penalty shot and buried the puck five-hole on Knapp to give Grey the 5-4 win. Additional game notes: - Schutz was strong the whole way through. He had some points, but also made some straight line plays through the D to get to the net. After performing well together last season, he and Orpik reprised their trapping ways for a shift by pinning Myers and Weber deep. The play resulted in a scrum in front of Enroth and a near goal. At another point he almost forced Weber into precarious waters near his own goal due to his strong pursuit. - Weber and Myers were an interesting duo. Both players have executed better. Myers got dinged for a turnover early on, but balanced it out with some break-ups and a otherwise good passing. - Early on, Fine took advantage of a tentative Mark Adams by picking the puck cleanly from the high-schooler to spark a break the other way. - The least experienced of all the camp players, Adams continued to demonstrate his best asset - skating. A few times he weaved in and out of neutral zone space to advance the puck. He has a natural inclination to follow the play when he does skate it in, but I suspect he has the recovery wheels in his bag. He'll gain the necessary strength as he grows, but for now looks to have a decent set of tools in place. - Along with Adams, Nick Crawford is a guy I'd like to see get his shot off quicker. It doesn't always have to be a wind-up. Off-speed shots to the cage are often just as effective as 90MPH blasts. Crawford played his usual safe game today. - Corey Fienhage had his physical brand of hockey on display. That side of his game is something to build around, and again I'll point out the good footwork that makes it happen for him. His best contact came in the first half when he put a very authoritative finish on Tim Kennedy in the corner. The package is definitely in place. The #1 thing I'd like to see him improve in the next three years is the time taken to make a decision. He needs to corral the puck, have his head up, and find a taker. The fact that he's hard to move will help limit turnovers against smaller players, but keeping up with the pace will be key moving forward. - Persson showed decent mobility in the opening half, once picking a good spot to fill a lane deep with the puck. Lacking options while skating it up the left side, Persson glided into the corner where he dumped it off and smartly retreated to his blueline post. - Philip Gogulla had a quiet outing statistically, but I thought he was productive in playing his game. He keeps the puck when he gets it, and looks good coming down the wing with his big, wide stride. Like a condor. - Adam showed good awareness and two-way dedication. He has all the scorer's tricks. He knows when to elevate the puck, and is open to using defensemen as screens. He missed a great opportunity to wipe out Mike Kostka as the defenseman was looking up to knock a puck out of the air. - Late in the first half, Biega made an on-the-spot stick-lift and immediate clear from in front of his own net to prevent a Grey forward from scarfing up a Jordon Southorn rebound. - Paul Byron held his own all afternoon. He was pesky without the puck and in good control with it. He likes to bump guys despite his smallish frame and generally works hard to make his plays. - Justin Jokinen was responsible for one of two very nice cross-ice passes in the neutral zone that are worth the recall, but he'll need to keep sharpening his d-zone awareness in the WCHA. Offensive skill set certainly present. - Foligno made a really nice play in the second period to intercept an up-ice attempt clean out of the air. The 17-year old got rid of it quickly in an effort to push himself towards the net, in effect clearing a path behind him. - Matt Generous skated hard with the puck, made good decisions from the point, and played a sound defensive game. - Drew Schiestel also skated very well, at one point looking like he could take the puck coast-to-coast, but instead he pulled up before hitting the hole. I didn't see him tested defensively. - Aside from the big hit on Lagacé, McNabb looked solid. He showed good reaction to the play, and was quick to move it out of his end. - Lamoureux is a gamer who surprisingly holds his ground rather well for a small netminder. With the game built on down-low pressure and traffic, Lamoureux sets well and lets his d-men do their jobs. As noted yesterday, he really does like to ditch his stick of it means making a save as evidenced by the two occasions on Thursday. - Aside from the goal, DeSousa was more involved in the second half. I noted one weak clearing attempt, and another spot where he maybe could have looked to get into the zone. I know you can't be north/south all of the time, but this one play is where I'd like to have him tried to kick an extra gear to assert himself into a scoring play. In his defense, he may have been near the end of a shift. - Gragnani is staying back in his defensive posture. There was one play late in the scrimmage where his partner was sucked towards the boards and he was late to read it, leaving the middle wide open. Other than that, he looked in control out there. - Adam Payerl was persistent on the forecheck. He did a good job of putting himself into the right spots in both zones. There's no flash to his game, but he's a hard worker who has acquitted himself well this week.
7/10/2009 | 8 comments | Read More

Development Camp Notes 7/7-8

Written By Kris Baker on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | 7/08/2009

After two days of development camp practice sessions, the stage is slowly being set for a Friday scrimmage. Fans looking to catch an early glimpse of 2009 first round pick Zack Kassian have been disappointed due to the winger's absence from a foot injury. Tuesday's main rink activity began with the forwards going through a series of drills emphasizing skating, agility, and puck handling. After starting with simple accented crossovers both forward and backwards, the group moved to biscuit control. Three pivots through two zones, backwards arcs, and so on. Meanwhile on the second rink, the goaltenders and defensemen were being put through through similar sets. Roughly 45:00 later, the groups would split for shooting work on both sides. Wednesday's main rink session saw half of the squad focus on puck movement drills. Three-pass breakouts. D-to-D, up-ice and go with 2-1s, and 1-1s. The session would close with a 3-3 shinny (with goalies) between the bluelines that has proven to be the closest simulation of game action thus far. I've seen more of some than others to this point (and it's only been practice sessions) but here are some basic observations from Tuesday and Wednesday drill work. I've tried in include every player in camp. There isn't much to focus on with players like Chris Butler, Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, Marc-Andre Gragnani, and Mike Weber. They're participating in full, doing what they do well. Gerbe looks to be working on his shiftiness by adding more flip-passes to himself to his budding repertoire. Kennedy looks well-oiled galloping with the puck. All five will help dictate the pace of the scrimmages. Interesting line combos from Wednesday's practice included Adam-Foligno-Kennedy (note Kennedy at RW and not C) and Whitmore-Byron-Gallimore (note Byron at C and not W). Fine-Payerl-Orpik rounded out the forward run, while Schutz skated between rearguards Weber and Butler in short-lived drill work. D combos for left/right purposes included Southorn-Kostka, Crawford-Myers, Adams-Fienhage. Tyler Myers is bigger and better. The bulk of his passes have been crisp. Now it's time to add a little mustard to his shot. Still, he's going to be a stay-back, shutdown guy who plays simple offense. His reach and skating ability transcend any level of competition, making a transition to the bigs this fall a very real proposition. He's already thrown out a first pitch at a Bison's game. Can any other Sabres blueliner make that claim? Tyler Ennis stands out with his exceptional crossover and stick skills. It's been well documented, but it's worth another mention because he'll challenge soon. His direction with it relative to his body is impressive - it's on a yo-yo - an essential skill for a smaller player when taking a guy one-on-one. Marcus Foligno has impressed with a first class effort. He's not a hands guy, but it shouldn't matter if he keeps grinding his gears, striding low and hard on every shift. He's going to make his cake in front of the net where he'll score a few gutty, ugly goals before his career is over. Definite blue collar roots at play. Corey Fienhage is built for the rugged NHL. He's very fluid and uses his excellent size in 1-1s to lean and rub players out. Elements of Derian Hatcher with better feet. Very no-nonsense. Even looks mean in drills. Aside from enjoying the physical contact (I compared him to a safety's patrolling mentality in the back field when he was drafted), he's good at getting in front of shots. For his efforts, he was stung inside a shin guard on both days. From the point, he's shown his hard rising right-handed shot on a couple of occasions. He's set to blossom in Grand Forks. Andrew Orpik has steadily improved his feet. He had a good camp last summer, and looks more AHL-ready this go round. Similar vibes are coming from Maxime Legault. Good mobility, good technique, good frame, good hustle, good depth. Despite recording the first fall of the day on Tuesday, Jacob Lagacé's approach is beginning to conjure up images of J.P. Dumont with less body fat. He's not the biggest player and he's not the most gifted skater, but he knows what to do with the puck when near the net. Facing Crawford, he labeled a low wrister past Lamoureux. Good instincts. Mark Adams can certainly move well. Like Nick Crawford last year, he's keeping his stick on the ice and playing things simple as he adjusts to the quick flow. It will be interesting to see how his heads up game heats up in a scrimmage setting against a faster, stronger peer group. Not a ton brewing with Crawford. He has a quiet, steady demeanor and just focuses on the basics. I expect the same in the pick-up. It's good to see Luke Adam back to full capacity. He looks to be in good shape and ready to strap it on. There isn't marked improvement to his skating, but he's going just as hard and his goal scoring touch is still in tact. That's good enough. Coming down the left side, he's shown a slight preference for the short-side. Known for getting in low, his accuracy from the dots has been understated. Phil Lamoureux - shoot high. Jhonas Enroth - shoot low. Both have been faring well against the shooters. Enroth flashing leather, and Lamoureux ditching his stick in Hasek-ian style on a few occasions to make some nice stops. I've seem more of them than Connor Knapp and Nick Eno. Knapp got torched a few times in a breakaway session, but it's not a performance indicator at all with it coming at the tail end of a long session. Knapp is on my Thursday radar. Jordon Southorn continues to demonstrate a three-zone skill set. He moves well laterally and plays the chest, but can be beaten by solid handlers. He's made a couple of nice decisions to break-up 2-1s over the past two days, only to get jocked by Justin Jokinen and Tim Kennedy with slick underneath moves during 1-1s. Jokinen looks a shade bigger than when he entered Mankato last fall. He relies greatly on his stick at the moment. One thing I'll be looking for next season is confidence in the size he's building up. Paul Byron's playmaking ability has been pretty sharp in the limited work. He ducks in and out of spots, initiates contact when playing the puck, and has put the puck on the stick of his mates in scoring position. Similarities to Tim Connolly's vision and distribution. Corey Tropp continues to exhibit the game of a projected third-line player. Nice hard turns, real good with the puck in pivot drills, good hands. It all translates well to what we've seen him do with the Spartans. No need to be concerned with him missing time last season. Brayden McNabb has shown tendencies of a steady, collected defender. It's been a limited viewing situation thus far, but he looks just as sturdy in person as he did on this monitor over his WHL season. Plenty of room to fill out, too. T.J. Brennan and Drew Schiestel are two other guys whose progress will come out in scrimmage environment. I've had limited viewing to this point, but Schiestel is a great skater who is still improving his defensive game. Brennan has gotten better year-over-year while sacrificing his rush-joining lusts for a stronger defensive foundation. Philip Gogulla and Dennis Persson are in this bucket as well. I only watched them in skating drills on Tuesday. Both looked to be going through the camp motions with ease at that point, and will be looked at more on Thursday. Alex Biega looks a year older. Same as last year - excellent skating, head up, good leverage. Drew MacKenzie continues to show a good two-way set of skill as well. Also from the 'more of the same' file - Mike Kostka, Felix Schutz, Derek Whitmore, and Matt Generous. All smart players who show their experience in the camp environment. Schutz is often nonchalant in his approach. The oldest play in camp, Whitmore got dumped on his can by Butler at the right post during a 3-2. Invitee Chris DeSousa is showing why he's there. Some players dance, and others go right at the defender with a "go through" mentality. Again, consistent with prior viewings. Michael Fine has a well put together frame for the pros. Longer upper body with a good center of gravity. He's not standing out for one special thing, but he's right in line with the players who the Sabres chose on draft day. Even if he remains in Soo, he'll be a player worth tracking next season in the OHL. Adam Payerl made some crafty plays in tight during Wednesday's session. He's a heady guy who works hard. Igor Gongalskyi seems to skate better when he has the puck on his stick. You can see that he's worked on his fundamentals since his OHL days. Burke Gallimore has been an adequate line filler. He has shown offensive wherewithal, especially as the middle-man on a solid tic-tac-toe play with Byron/Whitmore, but I'm not feeling the same overall energy level as the other invites. Brayden Irwin looked well engaged on Tuesday, but I didn't see him on Wednesday.
7/08/2009 | 6 comments | Read More

Development Camp details formally announced

Written By Kris Baker on Thursday, July 2, 2009 | 7/02/2009

From Sabres.com: The Buffalo Sabres announced today they will be holding a summer development camp from July 6-10 at Dwyer Arena on the campus of Niagara University in Lewiston, N.Y. There will be on-ice sessions open to the public from Tuesday through Thursday from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. each day, and on Friday from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Below is the full camp roster. An participant missing from the list is goaltender Brad Eidsness of North Dakota, who ironically was replaced by the keeper he inherited the Sioux gig from, J.P. Lamoureux (Alaska - ECHL). Andrew Orpik who just completed his senior year at Boston College will also not attend. Other notables include edgy LW Igor Gongalskyi (Fresno/Stockton - ECHL), a former junior mate of Andrej Sekera in Owen Sound, and big forward Brayden Irwin (University of Vermont), a teammate of 2007 pick Drew MacKenzie and repeat invitee after a decent showing last summer. Also, 2008 draftees out of the WCHA, Corey Fienhage (North Dakota) and Justin Jokinen (Minnesota State), will be participating in their first Sabres sanctioned activities after not attending last year's camp. Forwards Luke Adam Paul Byron Chris DeSousa Tyler Ennis Michael Fine Marcus Foligno Burke Gallimore Nathan Gerbe Phillip Gogulla Igor Gongalskyi Brady Irwin Justin Jokinen Zack Kassian Tim Kennedy Jacob Lagacé Maxime Legault Adam Payerl Felix Schutz Corey Tropp Travis Turnbull Derek Whitmore Defensemen Mark Adams Alex Biega TJ Brennan Chris Butler Nick Crawford Corey Fienhage Matt Generous Marc-Andre Gragnani Mike Kostka Tyler Myers Drew MacKenzie Brayden McNabb Dennis Persson Drew Schiestel Jordon Southorn Mike Weber Goaltenders Nick Eno Jhonas Enroth Connor Knapp JP Lamoureux
7/02/2009 | 12 comments | Read More