Category Archives: NHL

Paul Swindlehurst: A Brit in Chicago

A few weeks ago, the British hockey world was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of our own, Paul Swindlehurst of the Dundee Stars, had been invited to hit the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Image found on twitter - original photographer unknown

Image found on twitter – original photographer unknown

An Original Six team, the ‘Hawks lifted the Stanley Cup twice in recent years, in 2010 and 2013, and are undeniably one of the strongest teams in the league right now. So for a local lad to be invited to join them for their rookie tournament is a pretty big deal. Rookie tournaments are an annual thing, taking place every year before the NHL pre-season begins. Designed to give the NHL scouts a better look at some of the future players, the Blackhawks played in against rookies from the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators in a round-robin series of games.  While the actual results are largely unimportant, the opportunity for these youngsters is enormous. Players from the AHL farm team and some of the newer youngsters already rostered to the NHL team are joined by a selection of undrafted players who are specifically invited by the team scouts.

One of those invitees this year was Paul Swindlehurst.

After spending some of his teenage years training in Canada, Paul returned to the UK for the 2011 season, joining Swindon Wildcats in the EPL, before making the move to Dundee.  A regular in the Under 18 and Under 20 National Teams, Paul also took his place on the Great Britain senior team for their World Championships this year.  It was presumably during this time that he was spotted by the Blackhawks’ scouts.

Defenseman roster for the Blackhawks Prospect Tournament 2014

Defensemen rostered for the Blackhawks Prospect Tournament 2014

While Paul didn’t make the roster for the first of the three tournament games, vs Toronto Maple Leafs, he was rostered for the other two, paired with Justin Holl for the game against Pittsbugh, and with Dillon Fournier against Ottawa.  In Pittsburgh, Paul even notched an assist!

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All three of them are now training with the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, Rockford Icehogs, in preparation for their pre-season, which starts on Thursday 2nd October. It’s looking like Paul will be wearing #32 for the Icehogs.

We’ll be following him with Rockford over the next couple of weeks, but no matter what happens, it’s clear that Paul is making way for other Brits to play professional ice hockey in North America.  Even if he gets “relegated” down to the ECHL, it’s still something to be proud of and proves that Britain can produce players that can compete with the best in the world.  With Paul bringing Britain to the attention of professional North American scouts, it’s only a matter of time before the next players follow in his footsteps.

From the Icehogs Flickr Account

From the Icehogs Flickr Account

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Hurricanes Development Camp (Preview)

 Haydn Fleury is selected seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Haydn Fleury is selected seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Last year I discovered the wonder of the Hurricanes Development Camp for the first time.  For a week, I was bombarded (in the best possible way) with tweets, instagrams, YouTube videos and Facebook posts about these potential new Hurricanes players.  In addition, the Canes organization were good enough to give us “Open Ice with Ryan Murphy”, a six part documentary following the Canes’ 2011 Draft Pick through the whole week.

This is just a preview of the whole series.  They’re all available to watch on YouTube or the Hurricanes’ website.

I’d barely heard of Murphy before development camp, and the videos, but he soon ended up high on my list of favourites.  The Open Ice documentary gave us a look behind the scenes that you don’t always get from a lot of NHL teams.

This year, development camp is due to start next week, and a tweet from the Canes revealed that there will be a new series of Open Ice this year (my guess is that it will be with Josh Wesley, but we’ll see).

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This year, the team has 25 skaters and 3 goaltenders invited, although it seems that Alex Nedeljkovic, this year’s 2nd-round draft pick – has broken his thumb and won’t be there.  Of those, 9 are listed as “camp invitees” which means that they were noticed by the Hurricanes at some point, but hadn’t been drafted.  Last year, Sergey Tolchinsky was an invitee, who signed with the Canes not long after Development Camp, so it’s clear that the organization isn’t just inviting people to round out the numbers – they’re serious about finding new young talent.

There are a couple of names missing from the full roster, including Tolchinsky, and the 2012 draft picks Erik Karlsson (not that one!) and Collin Olson.  Tolchinsky is staying in Russia for the World Junior Camp there; Karlsson is playing in Sweden this season and it was considered unnecessary for him to travel for his third development camp; while poor Olson is a victim of there being too many goaltenders.  Perhaps with Nedeljkovic no longer attending, he’ll get a chance.

Obviously, like most people, I’m interested in how this year’s draft picks perform on the ice.  With Hayden Fleury being a defenceman, it’s unlikely that he’ll make the NHL this year (it would be unusual for a #7 pick to make it in any position) but all eyes will certainly be on him and his draft pick teammates.

For me personally, I’m very keen to seen how Brock McGinn and Daniel Altshuller do.  McGinn is the younger brother of Jamie McGinn (Colorado Avalanche) and Tye McGinn (Philadelphia Flyers), and with an impressive 85 points last season with the Guelph Storm, he could well be a permanent addition to the Checkers this season.  Altshuller was drafted the same year as McGinn – 2012 – and has also been playing in the OHL since then.  His save percentage last season with the Oshawa Generals was 0.917% with a GAA of 2.56 – which is comparable to both John Muse and the newcomer to the team, Drew MacIntyre.  I don’t know if Altshuller will be ready to join the Checkers this season, but it surely can’t be too far off for him now.

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with the news from development camp.  As always, I’ll probably be quicker to update on Twitter than here, so feel free to follow me there @CarolinaKaniac.  But if nothing else, I’ll be back next weekend with a recap of what’s been going on in Raleigh.

Carolina Hurricanes: New Season, New Look?

http%3A%2F%2F25.media.tumblr.com%2Fad2ba87752d7d1ae69c98feebe94280f%2Ftumblr_mpl8efMf9M1qzew87o1_r1_500I don’t often talk much about NHL on here, simply because there are other people who I believe do a much better job than I can.  But yesterday gave Hurricanes fans a pretty nice treat, with three re-signings that I doubt anyone will be disappointed in.  So I wanted to talk a little about what I’m hoping for in the new season.

Standard disclaimer applies: I’m not an expert in this field, but I know what my heart wants from  the team.

Talking to a fellow ‘Canes fan before the signings were announced, I mentioned specifically that I wanted to make sure that Chris Terry and Zach Boychuk got a proper chance in the big show this season.  In my eyes, they both more than proved themselves, both in the Hurricanes AHL Affiliate, Charlotte Checkers, and on the occasions when they came up to cover injuries.  With Terry’s new one-year, two-way contract, I believe that this is the start of a mostly NHL-filled season for him.  Boychuk is still RFA, but I’m keeping everything crossed that this changes in the next few days.

The second and third re-signings yesterday made me equally happy.  Ron Hainsey and Nathan Gerbe both came in last season on one year contracts, and both slotted into the team fantastically.  Hainsey provides a steady, dependable force on the blue line, and Gerbe is an underestimated forward who brought us moments like this:

We still have a lot of UFA and RFA players on the roster, both in Charlotte and Raleigh, and I’m not naive enough to believe that they’ll all get signed.  Sadly, I don’t think that Joni Pitkanen will be coming back, but the rest of them, I don’t know about yet. I’d like to see Manny Malhotra re-signed.  He’s a solid forward who works well with some of the younger players, and he’s the kind of person who seems to make everyone around him want to work harder.  I’m also hoping that Andrei Loktionov is re-signed.  We didn’t get to see a huge amount from him, but what we did see, I liked.

Down in Charlotte, the ones I’m most hoping are re-signed (other than Boychuk, of course) are Michal Jordan (who proved his worth in the World Championships when he played for Czech), Nic Blanchard and Brett Sutter.  I would have added Mike Murphy to that list, but he’s already signed in Austria for the new season.

Which brings us onto the major issue that’s been plaguing the Hurricanes for months – Netminders.

Charlotte have John Muse under contract (he’s not contracted to the Hurricanes), and Raleigh now has four netminders; rookie Daniel Altshuller, Justin Peters, Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward.  I strongly suspect that at least one of them won’t be with us in October.  I don’t know a lot about Altshuller, but I can’t imagine him heading straight into the NHL, even as a backup.  It’s more likely that he’ll be the backup for whoever starts in Charlotte.  Which leaves us exactly where we have been since all three of our NHL level goalies became healthy.  One of them will have to go.

Peters is UFA this season.  Khudobin only just signed for 2 years.  And Ward has two more years left on his contract.  While my heart hates me for saying this, I believe that Ward is the one we need to lose.  Khudobin has proven himself as a starter, and I can’t see the point in paying two goalies as much money as we would be if the starting position was shared between him and Ward.  Peters has come up through the Hurricanes system, and to lose him now would almost be a waste of the development that has been put into getting him where he is.  He’s not ready to be a starter in the NHL yet, but I’d be more than happy with him as the backup for Khudobin.  I think the two of them work very well together and would make a good netminding team.

Cam Ward’s contract is a painfully high one.  I can’t see any other team taking him on at that amount.  The options to me seem to be that we retain a portion of his salary, or we buyout him out.  While I love Cam as a person, and I realise how important he is to the heart of the team, I also know that as a netminder, he’s not as good as he used to be, and not as good anymore as we need him to be.  He’s been injured too many times, and each time it seems to take him longer to get back.

The biggest change this season, though, will be behind the bench.  Our new head coach, Bill Peters, has already impressed quite a few fans and I believe that he can push the guys on the ice in a way that they need.  We have a good position in the draft (as everyone points out, the last time we had a #7 pick, we did pretty well!), with a lot of prospects out there who would fit in well.  We have some amazingly talented younger guys on the team – Ryan Murphy, Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner – and a good core, centered around the Staal brothers.

I know people say this every year about their teams, but I believe this year is going to be a good one for us.  Last year, when things were going well, they were going very well.  But when they weren’t, it was heartbreaking.  Hopefully, with the new coaching team, and a new general manager, those issues we faced will be resolved, and we’ll have a lot more of the good times than the bad.

San Jose Sharks #20 Sam Tageson

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I’ve been thinking about this story since I first heard about it back in March.  I didn’t have a blog then, so I kept my feelings confined to 140 characters.  But a tweet yesterday reminded me of it, and I realised that there are probably hockey fans in the UK who haven’t heard about Sam and his brief but meaningful contract with the Sharks.

Sam Tageson is an 18-year old who has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which is a life-threatening condition.  Through the amazing power of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he was offered the chance to spend the day with the San Jose Sharks, a team he’d supported all his life.

It wouldn’t surprise anyone to know that the Sharks organization treated him fantastically – meeting the players, eating meals with them, having some ice time with them, talking to the media – but that wasn’t enough for the Sharks.

Sam signed an official one day contract with the team, effectively making him a full member of the Sharks for that day.  He then practised with them, even scoring in a 1-on-1 against goalie Alex Stalock.  But at game time, fully dressed in his own #20 kit, Sam joined the team, skating through the iconic shark head onto the ice.

For their game against the Florida Panthers , Sam was kitted up and skated out onto the ice with the team.  He stood on the ice with them for the singing of the National Anthem, and when he was shown on the scoreboard, there was a standing ovation from every person in the building.

Despite all that, it still wasn’t the end.  Top Deck, who produce the official NHL trading cards, created a special Rookie card – usually saved for first-year NHL players – for Sam. And Reebok have created a Sharks player tee with Sam’s #20 on it, which is for sale, with all proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

If you’re in the San Jose area today head on over to Stevens Creek Sports Cards, where Sam will be signing some of the cards and will be collecting donations for Make-A-Wish.

This is a perfect example of what a difference a professional sports team can make. Granting Sam’s wish won’t have cost them much, but on top of helping Sam to smile, they are also continuing to raise both funds and awareness for the charity.

I know other teams and groups are doing similar things, and I’m in awe of all of them, but the Sharks and Sam Tageson have made such a huge impression on me that I felt the need to talk about it here.

For more information, visit the Sharks website or Make-A-Wish.