Marty St. Louis revisits roller coaster year (Bygone Bolts)

Martin St Louis Lightning

Martin St. Louis used to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning until he threw a tantrum. Photo by Charles Schelle

Your former Lightning captain checked in with his new team, the New York Rangers, and pretty much wrapped up everything in a tidy six minutes, trying to move on past the trade itself.

Part I of the interview goes over some personal points for the former Lightning captain, talking about the importance of the Mothers Day win, how he grew closer to his teammates and how he started training earlier so he could take some vacations. That last part is thanks to him being part of a mid-June run for the Stanley Cup that didn’t quite finish the way he hoped.

For whatever reason, Part II of the interview is hard to find on the site, so here it is. It yields the more interesting tidbits of the interview. NHL.com summarized parts of both interviews, including this part about how having Dan Boyle on the Rangers is as important for his dad since Mr. St. Louis is close friends with Mr. Boyle. It’s a touching part about coping and the importance of friends:

[Dan’s] parents are really close to my parents,” Martin St. Louis told Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com in a lengthy interview published Thursday. “I think my dad was really excited to have some close friends come on the team, I guess. Obviously with what he’s gone through, I think that’s going to help him tremendously this next year to have these close friends to him close.

Also in the second part, St. Louis, he said how he would try to catch Boyle’s games on TV.

“Watching him from a distance, you understand what he brings to the game and I look forward to be able to work with him again,” St. Louis told Blueshirts United.

Both were undrafted, came into the NHL–Boyle with the Panthers, St. Louis with Calgary–before coming on board with the Bolts, St. Louis pointed out.

Cerny finished up with asking him considering all the championships and awards, what keeps him going in his career:

“My motivation is to win. To be able to win here on an Original Six team in New York, it would be a great ending to my career. I’m going to focus on that, and this is the time where you get to prepare yourself to be ready for that challenge.

“As we know, it’s a tough, it’s a long year, and the work you put in the summer really sets  yourself up of how you want to play this year. Teams, you need good starts. Individually, you need good starts. You really have to focus on the things that are going to make you do that. So, I try to do that and put my time in during the summer and get ready for another big year.”

It’s nice to hear interviews with St. Louis that starts to move on from the trade and what led up to it because frankly, Lightning fans have long needed to move on.

Asides from the content itself, I’m impressed with how comfortable St. Louis looks in this offseason interview with Jim Cerny. I really like the set used of arena seats at the Rangers’ training complex, and this type of informal interview is greatly missed on the Lightning site. We get some of it from the bloggers roundtable, but not from the players themselves.

I always think there could be more in terms of content on the Lightning site, and I’d be happy to provide it. But some of it includes minor tweaks—full-length press conferences and more post-game interviews.

The master in the hockey biz at doing these is Mike Vogel, who keeps the players in Washington relaxed while keeping a professional tone. I miss his running mate Brett Leonhardt in these interviews, but the man realized his dreams and showed that he could be more than a video editor in the media department and actually be a video coach in the NHL.

BYGONE BOLTS

Marty’s teammate Dominic Moore had a strong showing for his Smashfest ping-pong tourney raising $140,000 for concussion and rare cancer research. You know it’s huge when Harry Potter shows up. NHLPA

In another mid-summer interview, Brad Richards tells Blackhawks media and fans to hold up on penciling him in as Patrick Kane’s second-line center. Bob Verdi | Chicago Blackhawks

Cory Sarich, a former Lightning defenseman, ended up sustaining broken vertebrae in a serious cycling accident and is expected to leave the hospital soon.  Mike Brehm | USA Today

Retired goalie Mathieu Garon will join the list of instructors for the Lightning Made hockey camps. @LightningMade | Twitter

While this isn’t former Lightning news, I wanted to fit this in about Jeff Vinik’s team laying out a timeline for the redevelopment of Channelside. The more cross-promotion and use between the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Chanelside, the better. Good to hear that some programming and improvements will be made immediately before the structure is reworked. Richard Mullins | Tampa Tribune

Purcell pandering to Edmonton fans not all that hard (Lightning Links)

Teddy Purcell

Teddy Purcell’s back is turned toward Tampa now as he will start soon in Edmonton.

Lightning news and non-news went through a quick spurt the past couple days, and hey, we all need to produce copy in the middle of summer.

Three bygone Bolts, Teddy Purcell, Keith Aulie and Benoit Pouliot, met with the Edmonton media to give their warm hellos before it reaches 100 below freezing by September.

I saw that either a Lightning fan or a blogger (both I suppose as one) tweeted how Purcell didn’t make Lightning look all that good. Well, just like my Edmonton weather hyperbole, it’s a good throwaway one-liner to make, with some truth to it.

Here’s what Purcell had to say about the surprise trade and the fans, as told by the Edmonton Sun:

“This is a little bit different, it’s not like this down in Tampa,” Purcell said of the media coverage. “It’s going to be fun for us to come in and embrace it and come and help these guys as best we can.

“We had dinner (Monday) with the management and the coaches and they said to have fun with it and embrace it. They said how good the fans are, how patient they’ve been and how they’ve been waiting for the team to get back in the playoffs and be successful again. It’s going to be really exciting, it’s going to be a lot of pressure, but as an athlete, you want to embrace that pressure.”

The media coverage? There’s no comparison whether by volume or quality. Tampa is fortunate to still be a two-paper town, which means two beat writers and a sports columnist from each paper pitching in every now and then. TV stops by when they can and even what seems like a crowded press conference in Tampa is small unless the Canadian media decides to rush down and cover Steven Stamkos returning, only to be in town coincidentally for the Martin St. Louis trade.

For the fans, it’s not a fair comparison. Even with all the losing, the Oilers are still a team that lives on its heritage of its five Stanley Cups. Given its run of eight (!!) consecutive years of missing the playoffs and still finding a pretty good crowd in a 40-year-old arena, that’s pretty good. In the Lightning’s brief existence, the longest the franchise went without making the playoffs was for six seasons, from 1996 to 2002.

I’d call that pretty patient. I don’t think Lightning fans should ever be like “Hey, wait until we miss the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons! We’ll sell out every night!” Because even one or two seasons with poor attendance will bring Canadian relocation vultures, just as they’re circling the Florida Panthers.

Pouliot wasn’t quoted about fans, but instead, the expectations of playing in a Canadian city.

“I did play in Montreal for two years. Loved it. Loved the pressure,” he told the Edmonton Journal.

What Lightning fans should care to watch with these Tampa-happy Oilers is if Purcell can finally learn to shoot more, as the Journal also discusses:

Purcell said he get yelled at a lot for not firing the puck more often — he recorded 156 shots in 80 games last season — “but there are lots of guys here who can make plays, so I’ll shoot more.”

For the record, Purcell has taken 776 shots in 400 career NHL games — he’s no Taylor Hall, for example, who has fired 797 in 246 games.

That same article also talks with Aulie, who essentially says he’s happy to be there, which is more than most players let alone playoff hungry fans can say.

LIGHTNING LINKS and BYGONE BOLTS

Hockey businesses registered in Florida

To do business in Florida, a lot of paperwork is needed, as with any state.

I was interested this week knowing what businesses registered with the Florida Division of Corporations have the word hockey in them and what they do. You won’t see the rinks on here as most of them have ice or ice arena in their registered business name.

So, here are all of the business who registered with the word “hockey” with the state of Florida. It’s amazing how little available there is for some of these businesses as far as official websites, but enough about the owners or business activity can be found online.

Hockey 24/7 Inc.

Registered to Tim Kyrkostas of Wellington. Kyrkostas is in charge of the Palm Beach Blackhawks junior hockey team, runs various camps and was a former skating coach for the Panthers.

Hockey Enterprises Inc

Registered to Mathieu Comeau of Boynton Beach, it appears this business was entangled in a franchise legal battle with a company called Total Hockey Training Centers (not to be confused with the Total Hockey equipment stores.)  Court documents, including this one, can be found online.

Hockey Ghost and Hockey Ghost Holdings

This company was just created June 10 to Joseph Eysie of Boynton Beach. According to a trademark filing, Hockey Ghost will be a database system  and use “virtual reality immersion.” Sounds like an advanced data training tool. According to his LinkedIn page, Eysie is an energy consultant for Tactical Energy Solutions, which specializes in building standards for natural gas and other utilities.

Hockey Gems, Hockey Jewels

Registered to Tarie MacMillan of Wimauma, formerly of Brandon and Madeline Griffin of Wimauma. No records can be found what this business does. Griffin’s LinkedIn profile lists her as a volunteer sled hockey coach. I lumped these two together because both registrations have the same Wimauma address.

The Hockey Group

This one is in my neck of the woods, registered to Larry Davenport of University Park. Larry is a former captain of the Boston University Terriers and was inducted into BU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008. He also played for the Toronto Marlies. He shared some of his photos of his glory days on Facebook. Here is a little bit more on him. His wife is Michelle Crabtree, a broker for Michael Saunders & Co. His name has traced back to a Facebook posting concerning a meeting with a mouth guard manufacturer called Quantum Difference while in Ft. Myers. Best guess is he invests in various hockey businesses in the background.

Hockey International LLC

Registered to Brett Strot of Bradenton, and has ties to the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex. He runs hockey schools and camps  via Hockey International and his story can be read on the Bradenton Times and on my employer’s website at the Bradenton Herald by colleague Richard Dymond.

Hockey Ministries International Inc.

This business is based in Montreal, on Montreal Canadiens Avenue of all places. They say the Canadiens is a religion in Montreal, but I think this is for another faith: Christianity. This international business operates hockey camps that weave in Christian values while also providing chapel services in various hockey leagues in North America.

One of the key people registered to the business is former NHL goon Stu Grimson, who despite his fights, is a devout Christian. Other people registered include Ralph Loader, Phil Hendrickson, Donald and Christy Liesemer and Dan Seekings. All of those people are either in Canada except for Stu in Tennessee and Paul in Massachusetts. The registered agent is based in Miami.

Hockey’s Helping Hands

This is a non-profit registered in Tampa to a well-to-do businessman. Bernard R. Skerkowski is the chief financial officer for a company called TransGenex Nanobiotech. Even Businessweek has a bio on him. The organization appears to award scholarships. A Facebook posting for St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island, shows his son Matt Skerkowski awarding three $1,000 college scholarships to students there.

Hockey Skills Shooting Academy Inc.

Registered to Alan Geffin of Ft. Lauderdale, this hockey academy operates at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.

The Hockey Source

This listing is still active, but according to records, this was an ice and roller hockey store in Tamarac.  The address listed, 11426 W. Sample Road, shows that it is a Play It Again Sports now.

Highly Inactive

There are many, many more inactive businesses that have hockey in their name that seem to have interesting names.

One that struck me was Hockey Puck Diner at 2605 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. It went out of business in 2004. That address shows as Rose Radiology today, which is interesting because Dr. Manuel Rose is both the official team MRI doctor for the Lightning and other teams here, but he also owns the Clearwater Ice Arena. The diner, however, was not listed in his name.

Staying in Clearwater, another business simply called The Hockey Rink was registered to Brian Gonthier in 1998 and 1999. The address showed as 11225 US 19. The land has a church on it beside a Sears Outlet today. Was there a movement at some point to build an ice rink there?

A Ft. Myers doctor, had registered a trademark Hockey Headcase in 2004 for helmets, but never materialized.

The bane of hockey button repair in Florida

Having hockey in Florida is a blessing. Having several well-stocked pro shops to buy gear in Florida is a blessing. Getting your gear repaired, however, causes me to curse.

Part of all of this is simple geography. Though I have a rink and a pro shop about 30 minutes away, both the rink and myself are far enough away removed from the bulk of the rinks in Tampa Bay where services are more readily available.

Even when I lived in Maryland, it was a challenge to find the right person to fix hockey equipment that had plenty of life. I still had to drive an hour away for certain repairs. Fortunately, I worked an hour away, too.

I hope you like equipment minutia because this is going to be a thousand-word ride on the bane of buttons.

The most challenging repair to have done down here seems to be suspender buttons. It would be great if I didn’t need to use suspenders but between not having an ass and having a gut, the pants slide down when playing. Can’t wear them too tight either, or else I can’t breathe.

I sold these Mike Smith Lightning pants after I found out they lacked suspender buttons.

I sold these Mike Smith Lightning pants after I found out they lacked suspender buttons.

I actually sold off a pair of Lightning pro-return goalie pants because I realized after I bought them they didn’t have suspender buttons. Knowing how hard it was to get that installed, I didn’t want anything to do with them.

When you’re a kid, the guys at the shop always tell you to remove your insoles from your skates to prevent rust, mold and boot breakdown. They should have engrained a message about removing suspenders, too. It was never a habit for me to remove them, mainly because it can be a pain in the ass to get the button through the tight rubber loop again. It still is for at least one of my pants.

What happens is that these buttons, which are installed as rivets, rust. They will either break off or rust through the fabric and fall out.

The first try to fix it yourself is by going to Jo-Ann Fabrics or a similar store to find these buttons, sometimes called bachelor buttons or jean buttons. That attempt failed. I hammered them in crooked and they wouldn’t stay in. I also needed a washer, too, to help it to stay. I gave up after a while and just connected both loops on one existing button on the right side until that fell off.

Of all things, that is what partially motivated me to go back to goaltending because my pants were still holding up. Turns out one button is literally hanging by a thread.

I couldn’t find anywhere online to order replacement buttons. The type you need that will last are attached to a square of fabric or in a V-shape that can be sewn onto the pants. The local pro shop would order them for me, though.

I blame some of these on me not being handy enough. I can sew a few simple things and have a needle my mom gave me that could work, but I have this in my head that I need something that is machine-quality so that it won’t rip off. As much as my employer thinks I am a robot, I’m not.

I actually ordered this from the pro shop last year or even two years ago and they either never came in or called me. This time it took three weeks for them to arrive. For whatever reason, they can’t do a single special order where I can get it mailed and I’ll pay. They put the order in with some other stuff they needed in the shop, thus the long wait.

Once I got it, it turns into a game finding someone who will install them. The shop doesn’t do it. I think the Brandon rink does, but that’s a hassle for me now. (The Brandon pro shop also does some goalie gear repair. Saw a guy drop off his kid’s catcher and they were willing to fix the binding.) The Ellenton shop doesn’t have a relationship or a recommendation with a go-to repair guy, which would help tremendously.

Anyway, the go-to places are usually a cobbler, a tailor and a luggage repair shop.

I lugged both my player and goalie pants along to a small shoe repair shop in downtown Bradenton. He’s able to do my player pants but not the goalie. See, certain machines have a lift to them to sew. The player pants, he explained, didn’t have padding where he needed to sew–the goalie ones did.

He sent me off to a place down the street that did muffler and upholstery repair, which is the strangest marriage of repair services I ever heard of. He was closed Friday, at least I think he was just closed for the day. He might be out of business.

This morning I found an upholstery repair shop tucked away in a Sarasota industrial shop that was open–they normally aren’t on Saturdays. I walked into Tepe’s and asked if he could do it. He took one of the pieces back with the pants to see if his sewing machine was able, came back successful. He did the other one just fine and it cost me $10 and I didn’t have to wait a week or more for it to be done. He didn’t even know what they were and had a big smile on his face holding them up when I told them they were goalie pants for hockey.

This has taken more than a month to get figured out and completed. My player pants should be finished by next Friday. I hope.

Asides from pants, I had goalie leg pads repaired twice before–twice in Maryland and once here in Florida. The guy in Ellicott City, Maryland did shoe repair and did an awesome job sewing a new strap on my old Vaughn Visions (Byron Dafoe’s Boston graphic). However, he more than a month, if not more, to get to them.

These TPS IceCaps I bought could use some work, but I don't care anymore.

These TPS IceCaps I bought could use some work, but I don’t care anymore.

Here, I had to go to some luggage guy  in Tampa who does these guys regularly for my Vaughn Velocity pads that I’ve since sold. His turnaround time was around two to three weeks, which is understandable because it had to be done by hand.  I highly recommend him–it’s called Luggage Service, 4121 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa. He also sells new and lightly used/repaired luggage and travel accessories.

Those old TPS Ice Caps I just bought a couple weeks ago to get back in goal need a few repairs, but I’m not really in the mood to get those things fixed. At this point, play in them until I get money to buy a brand new set, then repair them to sell.

I’m willing to go to Tampa for goalie pads repair, but something as simple as buttons on pants shouldn’t be a trek across Tampa Bay.

The silver lining is that I’m waiting for a cut on my foot to heal along with my shoulder to feel better after a tetanus shot, so I’m not in a rush to play.

Well, physically in a rush–my mind still wants me back on the ice. Enough so, I needed to bitch about buttons.

Lightning Links: Morrow says hello; Dandy Declan

As the summer drags on, the tropical rains move in but Lightning news is in bit of a drought.

This is why both beat reporters for the Bolts are on vacation.

As for me, I’ll be glued to my laptop a bit more for the next two weeks as I’m out with a lower-body injury. Basically, always remember to wear shower sandals. After playing Sunday night in Clearwater, I finished up my shower and as I stepped up on the tile ledge, another guy was coming back to use the toilet. I slipped, caught my foot on the edge of this channel where water is flushed through to clean, and sliced my foot. It was a great time to finally visit my doctor I’ve been meaning to see and get that tetanus shot.

Here’s the latest batch of links on players who earn legitimate injuries:

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Gratton and Steve Yzerman: The Fine Whiners

If the “24/7” series taught us anything, it’s that trash talking in the NHL is also pro quality.

Retired NHL referee Paul Stewart dished some dirty ice shavings in his relatively new Huffington Post blog (he’s doing double duty with the awful HockeyBuzz) sharing how one former Tampa Bay Lighting player and the current general manager where the whiniest of them all.

Yzerman ranked fourth on his Top 5 list, and I wish he’ll share a story one day. It’s been too long since he played for me to remember how much he talked to the refs. I will say that after seeing footage of him get defensive with reporters in a press conference about the Marty St. Louis trade, he did come off a bit whiny when he was throwing the dictionary definition of “snub” out there.

Hey, the fighting spirit to get an upper edge never rests with these guys.

Gratton, however, was the worst, according to Stewart:

If you ever looked at Chris Gratton’s career, he was the type of player that in the era in which I played would have been branded as a pseudo tough guy. He was bold and brave when either playing at home and/or going up against someone much smaller or at the end of a long shift when Gratton had just hopped on the ice. On the road, he could often carry a carton of eggs in his sweater without breaking any.

Gratton also complained about pretty much every call that did not go his way. He’d give my linesmen grief if he sent in a play two feet offside and the play got whistled down. According to him, he was never guilty of a penalty; to the point that, even when he did have a legitimate beef, he’d already cried wolf too many times before.

In December of 1998, I was working a game in Buffalo between Gratton’s Tampa Bay club and the Sabres. In the third period, there was a fight between Tampa Bay’s Darcy Tucker and Buffalo’s Vaclav Varada. In an effort to get Gratton to stop hovering nearby and move off to the periphery to let the fight run its course, I nudged him aside.

Gratton yelled at me, claiming I shoved him forcefully. As we argued, he spit on me. As a result, Mr. Gratton earned himself a three-game unpaid vacation from the NHL, losing a nice hunk of money (or as Casey Stengel allegedly once said after getting suspended for spitting on an umpire, “I got more than I expectorated.“)

At least he’s not a biter, I guess.

Another good chunk of the blog discusses another reason why Eric Lindros was a total dick in his early stages of his career. You can read a take on that on Deadspin and Puck Daddy in addition to Stewart’s blog.

Hockey Team Gear Sales: Players versus fans

When a pro hockey team has a team gear sale, the impulse chemicals start flowing until I can get my hit.

These sales are usually well attended by fans and players in any city, but they can get ugly. Both in line and online.

Olie Kolzig's Reebok X-Pulse leg pads still at the Tampa Bay Lightning gear sale last season.

Olie Kolzig’s Reebok X-Pulse leg pads still at the Tampa Bay Lightning gear sale last season.

Attending gear sales with the Capitals in the past, even the smallest sales were loaded when held at Capitals Kettler Iceplex, but then became highly organized events when moved to the annual Fan Convention.

The initial one I attended was first-come, first-serve and gradually moved to where season-ticket holders gained early access. Because of the size of the convention, these became almost a timed entry system.

Hockey players–no matter the age–really wait for these things because gear is expensive on top of paying to play hockey. The sales offer huge discounts on sticks that normally cost $300 and skates that go for $600. Some are used, other new and a few items modified.

There are two things that piss hockey players off when it comes to gear sales. The overall concern is that the equipment would never be used. One, is when you go home and see some guy decided to buy a pair of gloves he paid $35 for and decide that because they were worn and used by a fourth-line player, you should pay $150 on eBay or Craigslist.

The other is when they sit around as a collector’s item, no matter how insignificance the history of it is.

Hockey players like to see the gear used, even if someone else got it. The exception is when the gear doesn’t even make it to the sale and players are friends with the equipment guys from the team, who just give or sell the gear to their friends. I’ve known this personally to have happened with at least one set of Lindback pro return goalie equipment in Tampa. One, it cuts any proceeds from going to the charity of choice that these gear sales provide. Two, it cuts out the fair chance of the gear being available to anyone. But the sting is alleviated knowing that it’s getting some use. I’m not just singling out the Lightning for this, it happens at a lot of teams and rinks. It’s OK if the equipment and team guys keep gear for themselves, but peddling it off to friends for money is bad.

The players versus collectors took a bit of a tough turn this week when Capitals fan blog Russian Machine Never Breaks shared an email and photo of a fan who bought Brett Leonhardt’s Vaughn leg pads this past weekend. Leonhardt, the team’s video coach, is better known as the team’s fill-in goalie during Caps practices and even was called into emergency back-up action.

The poor girl posted a photo of her with the pads having them on backward and showed how they’d never be used other than as an expensive decoration in the TV room.

Within probably minutes of the post, a user (not me) on Goalie Gear Sluts United posted the picture of the girl.

I chimed in on the discussion via GGSU linking to the Russian Machine Never Breaks blog to give people context (and give them a traffic boost) and joking this is why we can’t have nice things. It’s a goalie thing, and seeing how the group is mainly teenagers, the discussion went south real quick. Even the comments on RMNB look a little hairy, probably as a spill-over from GGSU.

While they mocked her and wanted to do other things to her, goalies have a fickle feeling about the proper use of gear. This group hates endless posts of all-white pads, questions about stances and countless other things that irritate net minders of all levels. The group includes some AHLers and even has a fan in Ryan Miller.

I feel for these gear sluts because some of them will take the time to see and ask others what size certain pro goalies wear because they want the same pad set up or are trying to find the right size. The pros don’t have 35+2 written on their pads. You have to ask around and find the right gear rep. And if you can get your hands on them, you’re saving at least $1,000, especially if they’re lightly used or new.

Player gear is a little easier to get used to and sample in person. The Brian Pothier Easton Syngergy SE stick I got years ago at the Caps gear sale was probably the best stick I’ve ever used, and wouldn’t doubt if Mike Green used it in an emergency as he ran out of  Easton Stealth sticks after potting 31 goals in 2009. The Sami Salo stick I’m using now was a great buy at $70 for a $300-plus stick. His Bauer Nexus One is perfectly made for someone 5’11” tall despite him being 6’3″.

At that same sale where I nabbed the Salo stick, I witnessed probably all of the downfalls of gear sales: the insistent lady yelling at another woman claiming she cut in front of her and called security over; the guy who bought Kristers Gudlevskis’ Bauer One100 leg pads he used while with Dynamo Riga probably not knowing those pads were hand-me-downs to Kristers before the Lightning gave the Latvian near gear. Or also seeing Anders Lindback’s incredibly beat up Reebok Premier trapper move very quickly. Or the Olie Kolzig Reebok X-Pulse leg pads finally marked down to something sensible, but still hasn’t moved. Or the oddities of suddenly seeing old Revoke Mike Smith trapper  with a beefed-up palm, new in a bag suddenly appear at the sale after not being there at the previous four I attended. Did they find it hiding in some closest after all these years?

The only goalie gear I bought at gear sales have been three goalie cut jerseys (two Caps, one Lightning) and a couple Olie Kolzig Reebok wood sticks. (Love his model–managed to buy his pro sticks at a Play It Again Sports in Maryland for cheap.) Actually, I don’t remember if there was ever goalie gear left before I could get into the Caps sales. I remember seeing Jose Theodore’s Vaughn Velocity’s walk away in the hands of a smiling man.

Anyway, there are fans who always want a collectible of some sort from their favorite team, whether it’s a practice puck, team-signed jersey, or in some cases, people really want the locker room stall nameplates. And stuff like nameplates and jerseys and autographed items are great for collection cases. The skates, gloves, pants and helmets–well, there’s a turf war on those.

Probably the best thing to do is have a lottery first for people at local ice rinks for a first exclusive pass before opening it up to the public and season ticket holders. Have them show you their USA Hockey registration and call it a day. (And stop the equipment guys from over-pilfering the inventory.)

Until then, I hope I see some Evgeni Nabokov gear in good condition at a Lightning sale next season. I know they’re likely to be all white, but I’ll settle for something that fits.

Brenden Morrow: Grit not goals

When Steve Yzerman wanted to transform his high-flying skill Bolts to add some grit and grind, at some point you’d figure a veteran player nearing his end would sign.

After bringing Ryan Callahan in, he nabbed Brian Boyle to add some sandpaper to the bottom six forwards, still having some players who have some get up and go with a bit of nasty.

Then came Brenden Morrow signing with the Lightning on Friday.

What’s synonymous with a character player who adds veteran leadership really means an aging veteran player in the final years of his career who’s lost a few steps. Folks still praise Morrow while acknowledging he’s slower and older. How much does he have left?

I really wanted to denounce the signing because Morrow’s production has faded. His career high 33 goal season was in 2010-11 and hasn’t potted 20 or more since then. Yet, the more I tried to build a case against him, it just fell apart. Especially because it’s only a one-year, $1.55 million deal and not bounded to something long term and high dollar.

After checking YouTube highlights of Morrow go Canuck punching and throat checking, I realized Lightning aren’t paying for Morrow potting goals anymore. They’re paying for someone to punch somebody in the face after the whistle, to give someone a shove, to protect Ben Bishop, to protect his teammates.

That’s what was really missing out of the Lightning this past season. Morrow will helpfully help lead the charge to push someone around in front of the opposing team’s goal and push back against punks in front of Bishop, who was ran over a few too many times.

Morrow is the type you’d pick up at the trade deadline for the run. With a glut of young NHL-ready players, I’d imagine a couple will be packaged at the deadline for one more veteran winger or third-line center.

I still have some reservations if you will get a second wind out of Morrow or if his age completely hits the wall like that of Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble, Trevor Linden and other gritty forwards in their final stages of their careers. With this type of player, you wonder how the team will treat him once the season goes into those long stretches around January and February. Can he keep up? When he hits a rough patch, will he endlessly end up in the press box or can he minimize his off-nights?

He’s a year older than Ryan Malone–the overpaid, over-injured gritty winger who well, you know by now. Yet, he seems a lifetime older than Malone given the leadership positions he’s been in along with the Olympics experience. When you look at it in those terms this feels more comfortable.

Morrow was the former Dallas Stars captain, taking over the gig after management there unceremoniously yanked it from Mike Modano and kept the team going despite the coverage that situation garnered. In the 2007 playoffs, he mixed it up on one skate with players on the Canucks bench because he’s bad ass.

The following year’s playoffs, Morrow scored a goal in the fourth overtime against his current teammate Evgeni Nabokov.  That goal eliminated the Sharks from the playoffs to get the Stars into the Western Conference Final. He also scored the OT winner in Game 1 against Nabokov. Should be a fun conversation in the locker room about that one.

The 4OT glory would end up being his last playoff game and goal with Dallas as they didn’t make the playoffs after that until this past season. Modano eventually left for Detroit and Morrow felt his time was coming as the Stars went through a rebuild and said OK to being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013.

That’s the same Penguins team that was humming along quite nicely and Fred Shero got too damn greedy and decided to add Morrow, Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen. The Pens looked amiss during the final stretch of the season despite loading up, yet made to to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were swept by the Bruins.

When the Pens made the trade, Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika’s said all the slow and old is OK:

They traded for a player who is 34, an old 34, someone who has racked up the mileage, who has slowed down considerably, who has slipped as low as the fourth line this season. There are legitimate questions about how much this Brenden Morrow has left.

But that’s OK. Even at the price they paid.

Because the Penguins knew what they were getting and what they were giving up, and this is what you do in today’s market to make a run at the Stanley Cup, if you have put yourself in position to do so.

They don’t need a captain or a top scorer; they need a complementary piece to fill a specific role.

Morrow saw an immediate spark coming to Pittsburgh with 14 points in 15 games, seemingly rejuvenated in a highly offensive team. He mustered 4 points during the playoffs that year while Malkin, Crosby and Iginla all put up zeroes against the Bruins. Morrow also missed two games to injury during the playoffs that year, as he also did with St. Louis this past season.

He proved some doubters wrong and proved Cotsonika right. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun in 2013 also balanced the two:

But over the past two years he’s been slowed down by injuries. He’s got six goals and five assists in 23 games this season and while he’s not quite the same player he was before, he remains a quality character player who will bring experience, skill and toughness to the Penguins’ lineup.

After his stint with the Pens, Morrow reunited with his old Stars coach Ken Hitchcock for a one-year deal when St. Louis Game Time wondered where the hell would there be room for him on a team that is full of prospects ready to step in:

The Blues have just signed Morrow for one year, $1.5 million. He will more than likely fit in on the third line somewhere, and it’s a good fit. He’s the kind of player that the Blues covet – and the kind of player that Ken Hitchcock loves. He’s a worker. He’s a good fit for the team and will be productive for them. In Pittsburgh he was nearly a point per game player.

While the Blues closed out their season, Hitchcock didn’t like what he was seeing with his lineup and promoted Morrow to the second line while demoting Derek Roy to the fourth line. The whole team was in a funk by that point, only winning the first two games of that experiment while dropping the final three games of the season. Morrow, for his efforts, picked up a goal, an assist in the final five games along with 15 penalty minutes against the Avalanche for a bad call by the ref on a five minute cross-checking major and a game misconduct. For what it’s worth, that game ended in a brawl.

 

Let’s just hope if Morrow gets ejected this year, it’ll be worth it. And likely, Lighting fans would applaud in approval.

Lightning Links: Summer is flying by in Tampa Bay

Andrey Vasilevskiy

Andrey Vasilevskiy runs through a drill during the 2014 Lightning Development Camp.

I’ve been latent on rounding up Lightning Links thanks to a holiday, a birthday and general life.

But I wasn’t a total slouch. A long read of Jay Feaster’s new job is up along with a look at rejected third jerseys in Bolts history.

Who knew that the offseason could bring such news? The rookie development camp would do that. I attended Saturday’s edition and stayed for a better part of it from the latter part of the goalie drills to midway through the scrimmages. By that time I’ve seen everything I needed to see and a huge turnout of people at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum made it crowded to see anything, but nonetheless vibrant.

So, here we go

Little Lightning

Big Bolts

Bygone Bolts

 

 

Jay Feaster’s mission on growing Florida hockey a noble challenge

Clay Witt

Brandon native and goaltender Clay Witt represents the first wave of serious NHL prospects from Florida. Photo by Charles Schelle

Inside the Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex Monday morning, Jay Feaster took the reigns of his new role as executive director of community hockey development for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As players ran through some dry land drills, Feaster spoke to Fox Tampa Bay’s Charley Belcher about the need to grow the game in the Sunshine State at the grassroots level:

“Our goal is we want to get more children, more young people and more adults for that matter participating in this great sport.”

Feaster pointed to using hockey to get into the schools as lessons for physics and getting current Lightning players out in the community for these Lightning Made camps and other activities to supplement the Lightning alumni who participate, much like Jassen Cullimore did Monday at the camp.

It’s also why Martin St. Louis left. His kid outgrew the hockey here and needed better competition, so St. Louis couldn’t live with his kid being sent across the country playing games he would miss.

Feaster told Joe Smith on Tuesday that it bothered St. Louis for years:

Feaster said he had dinner with St. Louis and Lightning staff members in Calgary in 2008 and the captain made it clear back then he didn’t like missing his son’s hockey games as they traveled all over.

“It’s a difficult thing,” Feaster said. “Because I appreciate the lifestyle choice. I just think it’s tough when you handcuff your GM, only one place I want to go and I want to do it now as opposed to, ‘Hey, let’s see how far this run can go? I’m the captain of the team.’ And from that perspective, if that’s something that you had been thinking about, if you were thinking, ‘I’m still (upset) at 2010 and I better get picked this time (for Team Canada), and I have issues with the kids and youth hockey, maybe you should say, before they pick a captain, ‘I’m cool with wearing an ‘A.’ I think it’s tough when it’s your captain.”

The interview could use a bit of clarification because what this reads as is that Jeff Vinik never wants to lose another player again because the youth hockey isn’t/wasn’t good enough in Tampa and became well documented in media reports in New York City, Canada and here in Tampa Bay. If you’re going to sell a team on a family atmosphere, well, there are some things you have to expect children of hockey players to be participating in.

Maybe that wasn’t Vinik’s motivation, but it sure seems like it at a first passing. And you know what? I’m totally fine with that if it was part of his motivation to start these programs.

It will take Florida a generation for this to really work. Unless you’re in the 3 M’s–Michigan, Minnesota and Massachusetts–kids will reach a certain age earlier than what you think where they’re going to have to move with a billet family to be on a highly competitive team.

I lived in the other M, Maryland, where Washington Capitals players would often have their kids play in youth leagues. Michael Nylander’s kids was one of them, but they hit a certain age and they need more ice and better competition. The Washington Capitals have been in Maryland from 1974 to 1997 until moving to D.C. and moving its practice rink from the aging Piney Orchard in Olney, Md., to the spiffy new Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston, Va.

Even 15 years ago, the quality of play wasn’t there at all rinks, even for higher levels for kids who played on the Little Capitals as a Tier I team. A new team, the Junior Nationals, tried to have a go of it in Arlington but moved to Vermont for the Tier III Jr. A team.

I remember after one tournament, pretty much everyone on our lowly Midget B team received an invite letter from a scout to a tryout camp. It was partly flattering and cool, but many of our families really didn’t know what to do with the information or who to trust based on these letters and where they came from. And we barely had the money to play–especially my family. I feel sick when I realize how my mom cashed in so many savings bonds and sacrificed so much to just pay for me to play low-level travel hockey only for me to just stop before my senior year of high school because I wanted to have that second trip to DisneyWorld through marching band.

Yeah, I was all about short-sightedness as a teen, and even into my twenties.

Kids who had either the superb talent or money had better coaching even just four to five years younger than myself, initially getting cracks on D-III teams in college.  I was surprised to learn last year that a kid from my very small hometown of Clear Spring, Md., Sean Kreps, up and moved to play for the Portland Junior Pirates U-18 team in Maine.

Now, the rest of the Maryland is routinely sending kids into higher levels of play and some to college and as always, few make it to be even considered a NHL prospect. Maryland is not really that much further ahead of Florida if at all, and that pains me to say that. And both states have about the same number of ice rinks, too, only with Maryland being boosted by some seasonal outdoor ice rinks.

I attribute part of that to the Capitals being more committed to community partnerships and sponsoring of youth hockey programs and grants throughout Maryland, D.C. and Virginia in addition to the team’s success skyrocketing with Bruce Boudreau, Ovechkin and company. When I go back to visit my one-sheet rink in Hagerstown, I notice that a lot more people play and during hockey season, I see more Capitals gear around the city than I do the Redskins and Ravens.

The Lightning are in a perfect spot to promote youth and adult hockey participation with a team on the upswing back into the playoffs, filled with young players.

The true success in the Sunshine State (and Maryland for that matter) will be getting multiple players from Florida drafted and be active in the NHL who do not have any bloodlines to former NHLers. Much like several Canadian NHL players, the parents of Florida hockey players can come from other countries.  It would be ultra rare to see a Florida Cracker (look it up, it’s actually not racist. They’re cowboys) ever make the NHL.

You have cases where NHLers have a stop-over in a city, like Dave Gagner with the Panthers, and his son Sam Gagner, played for the Coral Springs Panthers–doing a double dose on Canadianness and NHLednes.

It’s a little nuts, but despite the struggles of the Florida Panthers for a good 10 years, South Florida is just as along, or maybe behind, of Tampa Bay in producing NHL prospects, too. It’s an extremely small sample size, though.

Shayne Gostisbehere considers himself a Florida boy, born in Margate, situated between Coral Springs and Pompano Beach. Though his grandfather is a man who’s named Denis Brodeur. No, he’s not THAT Denis Brodeur, the late photographer who gave life to Martin Brodeur. But the guy is still from Montreal.

Gostisbehere (IIHF says it’s pronounced GHOST-ISS-BEAR) could be the kid that makes Floridians take notice and maybe NHL scouts take notice of Florida more. It’s a shame that he’ll be part of the Philadelphia Flyers organization, but he’s going to be a lock one day. After winning the NCAA championship with Union College this spring, he signed an entry-level deal with the Flyers, setting him up for some time with the Phantoms this year after getting in two games with the AHL club after college.

He discussed his Florida roots with a brand new magazine dedicated to Florida hockey called 80 Degrees Hockey Magazine:

“I was lucky to have a mentor type coach that always told me not to forget where I came from–not to feel embarrassed if at any time people question you being a hockey player from Florida,” Gotisbehere told the magazine. “My mom always tells me not to hesitate in interviews to talk about my Florida roots. I will always be a Florida boy. I always pack a swimsuit wherever I go.” 

Before Shayne there was Blake. Blake Geoffrien was born in Plantation and played for the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens before his career was ended by a brutal hit while playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs. With Blake, you can easily see he had the NHL family–Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrien was his grandfather and Howie Morenz was his great-grandfather.

This time of year Floridian hockey fans are teased as a hometown player or at least one from the Sunshine State gets invited to a rookie development camp. These camps rarely see an invitee or even an early-stage prospect be brought back for rookie training camp in September. Cody Bradley was invited in 2012, but again, he is the son of former Bolts captain Brian Bradley. You’re more apt to see more Floridians get a crack at the ECHL rosters in Orlando and Estero.

The Bolts invited Brandon native and goaltender Clay Witt, who looked amazing during the scrimmages but had a tough time with some of the drills coach Frantz Jean put the pros through, while in South Florida, the Panthers have two local prospects with Colin Suellentrop of Plantation and Cody Payne of Weston.

Suellentrop played for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, finishing up his junior career and went unsigned by the Philadelphia Flyers after Philly drafted him in the fourth round in 2011. Suellentrop played on an Oshawa team that featured top NHL prospects Michael Dal Colle and Scott Laughton, so it wasn’t as if he was a throw-in.

Payne is a Boston Bruins draft pick from fifth round in 2012 and finished up his junior career with the Saginaw Spirit after time with the Plymouth Whalers and Oshawa Generals.

Ah yes, Payne isn’t 100 percent Floridian or American for that matter. He was born in London–England, not Ontario. His dad is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan to boot, he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, something that isn’t all that shocking for hockey fans with English roots.

But the kid had to start playing somewhere, and it was in Florida on rollerblades nonetheless.

One prospect to watch is Nick Pastujov and his brother Michael, who both were born in Bradenton and played in Oldsmar before the family moved to Michigan so they could play competitive hockey on the HoneyBaked Hams (owned by Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, who also owns Germain Arena and the Everblades).

Nick is on the prestigious USA Hockey National Team Development Program U-17 team. He’s got some Russian roots to help him along the way, too, according to a 2013 story by Ken Campbell of The Hockey News:

Pastujov, who is in his second season playing in the Honeybaked organization, turns 15 in late January and will likely have to decide between major junior hockey and USA Hockey’s under-17 program after next season. His father, George, left Russia when he was 28 and settled in Florida, where Pastujov played all his minor hockey before realizing he had to come north to expose himself to better competition.

“Yeah, there are decisions that need to be made,” he said. “But there will be time for those. Meanwhile, I just dream of making it to the NHL like everyone else does.”

A lot of things have to go right for these kids to make it. Work ethic, talent, a clear passion and focus to recognize they can be a pro athlete, connections/exposure and money to keep paying to play. But before they get to that point, they need to know the game.

It has to start somewhere and hopefully the Lightning’s new program can inspire a few kids to be more than the thunder.