Saturday, October 08, 2011
Written by Dave Sottile
Capitals' great Kolzig bullish on Grubauer
There’s no such thing as too many goaltenders as far as the Washington Capitals are concerned, and that’s good news for fans of their minor league affiliate in Hershey.
The National Hockey League franchise has quite a stash of goalies in its system as the 2011-12 season begins.
Even with the July trade of Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche, the Caps have five netminders they can be proud of, said new associate goalie coach Olie Kolzig.
Everybody knows Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth in Washington, plus Braden Holtby and Danny Sabourin with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. But Kolzig said no one should ignore Philipp Grubauer, who is turning pro this season with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.
“I think Philipp has the ability to play in the American League right now, but unfortunately he’s in an organization where there is so much depth that there is no room for him to play in Hershey,” Kolzig said. “He has to go down to South Carolina, but he’s a very mature kid for his age. He’s very focused on what he wants to accomplish and he’s shown great strides in his game just since the prospects camp in July.
“It’s only a matter of time before he’s back up with the Bears. It’s a long season, and there’s always injuries and call-ups. For him, he just wants to get going, and the level of competition is pretty good.”
The German-born Grubauer doesn’t turn 20 until Nov. 25. He was a fourth-round pick by Washington in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and spent last season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs.
Kolzig said the netminder’s adjustment to pro hockey off the ice will help aid his on-ice learning curve.
“For these young kids, it’s not just about playing hockey,” Kolzig said. “It’s about learning those life skills. You’re on your own now. You’ve got to do your laundry, do the cooking, pay the rent. You don’t have billets to take care of that for you.
“For Philipp, it’s a good opportunity for him to get used to that along with the game of hockey, because the higher the level, the more the pressure. If he can deal with that stuff at the ECHL level, get it taken care, when he comes to Hershey, he’ll be that much more prepared. He’s going to be a guy I think is the dark horse in the organization. He’ll play in the NHL at some point in the future.”
Fans in Pennsylvania can get a close-up look at Grubauer and other Capitals prospects playing for South Carolina on Oct. 27. That’s when the Stingrays make their first visit of the season to Reading to face the Royals.
BACK IN THE SHOW AGAIN
The return of the National Hockey League to Winnipeg is one of the biggest story lines going into the 2011-12 season, and an intriguing side note is Claude Noel’s appointment as the Jets’ head coach.
It’s also a return to The Show for Noel, who had his only previous stint as an NHL head coach in 2008-09, when he took over the Columbus Blue Jackets after Ken Hitchcock was fired. Noel is no stranger to MTS Centre, having spent last year in Winnipeg as bench boss of the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose.
One person eager to see how Noel fares is Mark Thompson, play-by-play broadcaster for the ECHL’s Reading Royals. Thompson was broadcaster for the ECHL’s Toledo Storm in 2002-03 when Noel was in charge there.
“Claude’s the smartest guy I’ve ever been around,” Thompson said. “What he was doing in the ECHL, I have no idea.”
Noel’s team won 47 games that season. The next year, he moved up to the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals and won the Calder Cup.
“Unbelievable hockey mind,” Thompson said of Noel, with whom he keeps in touch. “Unbelievable person. That ’02-03 season … was the greatest hockey year for me because it really just fortified so many different elements of learning about the game through him.”
As a player, Noel – a native of Kirkland Lake, Ontario – spent five seasons with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. He was the leading scorer on the 1979-80 team that won the Calder Cup. He has been an assistant or head coach for most of the past 20 years.
“He has a better capacity to analyze a player’s potential than anybody I’ve ever been around in my life,” said Thompson. “And not only to know what that potential is, but how to maximize that potential.”
Thompson described an almost Zen-like ability that Noel has, without saying much at all, to get a player to recognize his own shortcomings and work to correct them. He also has a keen ability to defuse tension in a locker room.
“I’ve seen him walk in before when the tension is just terrible,” Thompson said. “Guys are ready to beat the crap out of each other (and Noel can) walk in and say something and all of a sudden it’s light and airy. And you’re just like, ‘What just happened right there?’ He just came in, said one thing, a comment, a joke or something, and just pulled the air right out of the building.”
In the former Atlanta Thrashers, Noel inherits a team that failed to qualify for the NHL playoffs for four straight seasons. He seems well-suited for the challenge.
“They don’t have many (great) players,” Thompson said. “But I’ll be fascinated to see, because his thing is getting more out of less.”
PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
The Reading Royals follow a rather laborious process as they assemble their ECHL roster each season.
Larry Courville – Reading’s head coach and director of hockey operations – and assistant coach Tim Branham spend an amazing amount of time on the telephone.
“Most of our recruiting is word of mouth,” Courville said. “If I’m looking to bring in a player from college or the junior ranks, I call the coaching staff from where the player played the year before.
“Tim and I call every single Division I college coach. We speak to them about all their senior players that are moving on from their program, what level they should fall at. We do that with the Western, Ontario and Quebec junior leagues in Canada as well as the Canadian CIS colleges.”
Courville said the legwork insures the Royals always have a stockpile of possible players to add should the need arise.
“We make a list of guys that we think fit our program and we narrow down what we need from there,” Courville said. “After we get the info from the coaches, we pass it along to our NHL affiliates in Boston and Toronto to see what they have on file.
“The NHL teams have a database with a company called RinkNet. If their scouts have seen a player, they have a report on him. They help us with the recruiting process by letting us know which level a player should be playing at, and that helps.”
Of course, those reports only serve as a guideline. It’s not as simple as crossing off one name and moving on to the next if someone isn’t available.
“We use our criteria, too,” Courville said. “A lot of it depends on a particular need. Are we looking for a power-play guy? Are we looking for a guy who plays well defensively? How is his character? Does he have issues off the ice?”
Courville and the Royals must be doing something right. Since he took over as head coach on Jan. 6, 2009, his record is 96-71-7.
PREPARING FOR THE WORST
When NHL recalls, injuries and illness invariably strike during the AHL season, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes wants his Penguins to be ready.
“We treat everybody the same, and our mentality is whoever is in the lineup, we have to find a way to win games,” Hynes said. “You have to find a way to produce. We try to work with all the guys (so they’re ready if needed).
“When you have a full lineup in the American League, some of your bigger players might play more minutes, but you try to work with all the guys. Eventually when there’s turnover, and there always is, the guys are ready for it. They’ve seen all types of situations and they know how to play. They have confidence that they can execute.”
Hynes said having his players prepared to fill different roles is the key to riding out stretches where the team isn’t close to full strength.
“We talk about that all the time,” Hynes said. “Part of being in the American League is your roster is going to be in flux, and there’s no control over it.
“We try to work with guys individually, and maybe a guy isn’t penalty killing the first 10 games, but he might be at some point down the road, so we spend time and work with him. Because if he does get involved in those situations in games, he has an idea what he can do.”