Abel to Yzerman
by George Malik on 09/12/10 at 04:21 PM ET
As the Red Wings are hosting their eight-team prospect tournament here in sunny Traverse City, they enjoy the privilege of practicing in the latest time slot available, 11:30 AM. The teams on the shorter end of the stick have to rouse themselves out of bed for practices that begin at 8:30, 9:30 and 10:30, but the Wings are locked into that 11:30 slot, for both their own benefit and that of some otherwise bleary-eyed fans. The games are similarly staggered, with the earliest-practicing teams playing at 2 or 3 PM, with games staggered up to the Wings’ marquee match-up at 7:30.
So what does all this time-keeping bologna have to do with my mid-day report? Well, despite the fact that the Wings are playing the Tampa Bay Lightning’s prospects at 7 instead of 7:30 on a Sunday night, they only practiced for half an hour—with Chris Chelios on the ice for the first time as a member of the “coaching” staff—which was slightly weird, but not as weird as noticing that Mike Babcock wasn’t wearing socks.
According to Lindy from RedWingsCentral, the Wings had a pretty rough workout on Friday, going for about an hour and a half, and they did 45 minutes on Saturday, so perhaps as there’s a probable day off on Monday, Curt Fraser wanted to keep the team fresh, or maybe he just wanted to get ‘em on and off the ice before anybody from the Bolts, who practiced simultaneously on the rink’s other ice surface, could sneak over and watch them…
Or maybe I’m rambling because I got four hours of sleep last night and farble garble nogl blar…erm…In any case, the lines were switched up, and I think that Fraser will stick with ‘em tonight:
Trevor Parkes-Brooks Macek-Antonin Honejsek
Mitchell Callahan-Louis-Marc Aubry-Darren Archibald
Andrej Nestrasil-Landon Ferraro-Brent Raedeke
Tomas Tatar-Joakim Andersson-
(Stephen Johnston’s the odd man out up front)
Brendan Smith-Travis Ehrhardt
Brenden Kitchton-Alex Cord
Marc Zanetti-Sebastien Piche
(so Brian Lashoff and Gleason Fournier sit out tonight)
Now I believe that Jordan Pearce is supposed to start tonight, but I’m not sure because he and Thomas McCollum shared a net, while Petr Mrazek had a net all to himself. That’s usually the indication that a goaltender has gotten the nod.
Prior to practice, the Wings’ prospects watched the Carolina Hurricanes work through some defenseman’s drills and a sort of horseshoe-style “jam the puck at the goalie until he’s finally beaten” drill when I got there, with the Wings prospects mostly watching from the main hallway upstairs, where they were doing some pre-practice stretching, but in an utterly bizarre twist, Brendan Smith, Mitchell Callahan and Landon Ferraro watched the Canes’ practice from right up against the boards in the northeast corner of the rink (the rink’s oriented north-south), just glaring with their arms folded all of half a foot away from the glass. They did that for about fifteen minutes, and as the rest of the prospects who’d been stretching filtered down toward the locker room, some of them stopped and stared as well, but nobody did it as intensely as Smith, who very literally stayed out there until there were four or five players left, finally cracking a smile or two as the Canes finally gave up the ghost and got off the ice.
Maybe the Canes’ prospects said something nasty as the teams passed in the hallway, made a mess of the exercise room or just breathed wrong. Whatever the reason, the stare-down was plain old weird, and the only reasonable explanation I could pull out of my head on those four hours of sleep was that they were going to play each other tonight (whoops! Tampa Bay!)...
For the record, Glen Wesley and new Hurricanes “Director of Forward Development” Rod Brind’Amour were on the ice, and Jim Rutherford was wandering about in the stands…
When the Red Wings took to the ice, something startled me—out with the players came one Chris Chelios, wearing the classic coaches’ track suit, a pair of custom-made Warrior gloves and a Reebok stick, slightly nervously skating with the players and, mostly, standing around and looking like a lost puppy for the thirty-some minutes that the Wings practiced. He was very, very clearly uncomfortable and didn’t really know where to stand, what to say or how to act while replacing Keith McKittrick for one day, but he stayed out there and at least broke the seal on the whole being a part of the organization’s front office/coaching staff thing.
It goes without saying that, just as Jiri Fischer could probably still play in the NHL and make a significant impact, Chelios at least looked to be as fit as the best-conditioned prospects out there, and the time off seemed to do wonders for his aching knees as he looked pretty darn speedy out there at times.
In terms of the on-ice drills, Fraser wisely worked on flow and transition for the vast majority of practice. At the outset, five-man units of players started at the north end of the rink, with the white team’s forwards deep and defensemen at the blueline, and the red team’s forwards back to cover the defenders and defensemen at the goal line, and once the red team’s defenseman was given the puck, the goal was to clear it out of the zone, skate all the way down the ice, and not shoot—but instead, turn it over and allow the other team to come back your way, at which point they’d give the puck back to you and you’d go back the other way. The emphasis here was on playing as a cohesive five-man unit and staying in one’s positional lanes as you try to cover territory as much as ice, and the only players that really stood out during that drill were Landon Ferraro, who chose not to plaster Brendan Smith into the boards when Smith turned his back on the play to go after a puck in his feet not any further from the glass than his distance from the Hurricanes’ players, and Sebstien Piche, who remained his attentive self in making sure that Marc Zanetti knew exactly where Piche wanted him to be. Piche does that kind of thing all the time, talking to his defensive partners or, more often, the coaching staff to be absolutely sure that he knows how he’s supposed to approach the drill and where he needs to position himself to get the job efficiently done. Even though I’d suggest that, given his size, he’s going to have to work his very physical tail off to graduate to the NHL one day because he’s simply Lebda-sized, I love the fact that he’s always trying to get better.
Halfway through the practice, the teams split up, with a few forwards heading to the south end of the rink to help Jim Bedard and Jiri Fischer put McCollum and Pearce through positioning drills while Petr Mrazek faced Jim Paek’s twist on warming up the goalie by firing the puck from the point—players line up at the goal line on either side of the net, pass the puck to a player at the point, he rips a shot on net and then has to go to the net while the next player in line at the blueline fires the puck on the net, ensuring that there’s a screen and, most of the time, a rebound in play.
I’m absolutely amazed by the way that Mrazek’s reined himself in over the past two months. When he came to the Wings’ summer camp, the wiry netminder attempted to employ a strictly puck-blocking style which employed over-enthusiastic and over-athletic movements and over-committing to shooters on a regular basis as he would push off and push himself right out of the crease and halfway to a faceoff dot before scrambling back. Now, he’s much more conservative in his movements, and while his tendency to hold his glove Hasek high and his relatively lazy blocker hand cause him trouble, he’s waiting for the shooter to make the first move more regularly, and when he takes the puck in his mid-section, he’s able to collapse his body just a little bit to deaden rebounds and corral them instead of pumping them back out.
At center ice, Fraser had Louis-Marc Aubry, Joakim Andersson, Brooks Macek and Landon Ferraro (Andres_RW asked me to bold players’ names—let me know if it helps you navigate through the text a little more easily) did faceoff drills, and I can at least tell you this much: Ferraro is a stick jitterer of the Kris Draper variety, trying to get his opponent to commit a faceoff violation by all but bouncing his blade off the ice repeatedly and twitching like a hamster that drank a cappuccino, while Andersson simply calmly wades into the faceoff circle, twists his stick blade forward and elegantly sweeps the puck from left to right (he’s a left-shooter). Aubry did a pretty decent job at winning faceoffs as well, which is very good given that he’s equally used as a center and winger here.
At the south end of the rink, Fischer and Bedard had a handful of players work on helping McCollum and Pearce hone their push-off-the-post abilities, with McCollum and Pearce either starting in a butterfly position, popping up to take a shot from the middle of the ice from Fischer and then skating to the post to stop a player’s shot or starting from a goalpost and pushing out to the top of the crease to take a Fischer shot, and then skating back to the post and back off it as a forward came out from behind the net or parallel to the goal line. Bedard would move a pair of unused player’s gloves as a guide for where he wanted the forwards to go, and at one point he placed a goal stick perpendicular to the net to ensure that the forwards weren’t just jamming the puck into the net.
Pearce is better in terms of the fluidity of his movement, and I honestly believe that McCollum’s thigh rises are so damn big that they impede his mobility, but in the end, Pearce may play a more mature style than McCollum, reflecting his age and experience (Pearce is 23 going on 24 versus McCollum’s 20 going on 21), but McCollum’s tenacity and willingness to fight the puck off, while less than beautiful, tends to get the job done, and he has fewer holes left wide open for shooters to exploit. I keep on getting that “ECHL goaltender” feel about Pearce, while McCollum seems to have a better “nose” for defending his own net.
Andrej Nestrasil and Tomas Tatar starred in the help-the-goalie drills. Nestrasil makes one helluva door when he’s standing in front of the net, and for a big man, his hands are deft and sometimes even delicate, whereas Tatar is all slick dekes and dangles pushed toward the goal by uber-competitiveness and hard work you can almost visibly observe. Tatar cheers when he scores like a show-off on occasion, but he earns the right to celebrate.
At 11:55 AM, Fraser had Brian Lashoff lead the teams in stretching, and gave them a good three-minute speech in a sort of huddle, and the vast majority of the players left the ice by 12 PM, with Mrazek and McCollum working on positioning drills with Bedard and Fischer, and then doing “mirroring” drills at center ice, skating back and forth along the center ice line, trying to match each other’s strides and essentially look like mirror images of each other.
At that time, I looked into the stands, and one Michael Babcock, Jr. was sitting a few rows across from me, parallel to my position, leaning forward…And displaying a lovely pair of khaki pants and black tennis shoes with not a sock to be seen, pasty white ankles showing in all their Saskatchewan farmer’s tan-style glory. When Babcock got up to go down to the locker room, he was absolutely besieged by autograph-seekers. He quite honestly seemed a bit bothered by it all and as uncomfortable as Chelios with the sudden surge of attention, but he put on a good smile and was very polite, especially with the kids he posed for pictures with, before a gentleman from security saw the urgency in Babcock’s sockless demeanor and led him down through the stands and into the off-limits area that only players and weird media types like myself are allowed to tread in. So says the yellow bungee cord tacked across the railing between the glass and the railing at the far end of the stands!
Other than Willie Coetzee popping out of the locker room, in his workout clothes, to shoot a few pucks, the gents remaining on the ice collected pucks, and it must be noted that Chelios’s one meaningful interaction with a player involved a few minutes spent talking to Lashoff right after Fraser’s team-wide chat.
The Wings play Tampa at 6 so I have to hustle to take a wee nap and head down to the rink, where there’s no wi-fi that I can access (grumble grumble being on the low end of the totem pole grumble grumble). “More later.”
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