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Leafs Appear To Dodge Bullet With Reimer Escaping Collision Uninjured

October 13, 2014

NEW YORK — It seems a little silly to suggest that the Toronto Maple Leafs dodged a bullet in an easy 6-3 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.  And, after the way last season unfolded, perhaps it might seem shocking to suggest that the potential loss of James Reimer would be a significant one, given that Jonathan Bernier emerged as the clear number one.

But this isn’t last year.  Thankfully, Reimer, who has a history of head injuries, appears to be fine after being struck in the mask by Dominic Moore with approximately 13:15 remaining in Toronto’s blowout victory in the Rangers home opener while Moore was driving to the net.  Reimer, who was down on the ice for a few seconds, skated over to the bench during the stoppage, told head coach Randy Carlyle he wasn’t feeling well, and skated to the dressing room after being replaced by Bernier.

The Trentonian asked teammate James van Riemsdyk, who was one of 11 Leafs players with at least one point, about the scary moment.

“It’s never easy to see that sort of thing,” he said. “It was kind of a freak play too, it kind of looked like he got caught in a rut or something.  Hopefully, it’s not too serious, because he played a hell of a game tonight.”

Bernier had struggled in his first two starts, allowing nine goals on 73 shots.  Reimer, meanwhile was dazzling at times on Sunday, stopping 24 of the 26 shots he faced — including an early barrage in which the Rangers dominated the first two minutes of play — before being removed from the game.  While Toronto had veteran Drew MacIntyre in the fold last season as somewhat of an insurance policy, this year is different.  The unproven duo of Antoine Bibeau and Christopher Gibson serve as the current tandem for their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, making Reimer’s insistence that he was fine after the game all the more important.

“I got bumped in the head, and protocol is to come out,” Reimer said.  “(I feel) pretty good.  When you get a bump in the head…I felt like I could stay in the game, but I feel fine.”

Moving on from the injury front, the win was a significant one for the Maple Leafs, especially after suffering a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before.  Van Riemsdyk admitted it was a big confidence boost for his club.

“When you get kicked around like we did last night in our own building, to come here — a tough building to play in and the home opener for them — obviously, you know what kind of team they were and what kind of team they are this year.  We knew it was going to be a big challenge.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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Rangers See Future In Duclair, But Does Future Start Now?

October 5, 2014
Anthony Duclair, the Rangers third round pick in 2013, made a huge impression in the preseason (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Anthony Duclair, the Rangers third round pick in 2013, made a huge impression in the preseason (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

NEWARK, N.J. — At least early in the NHL preseason, fans and perhaps more importantly the front office is given a glimpse into the future.  Many young players who aren’t expected to make an impact at the highest level for at least a few seasons are brought into camp for a look, and most of them are often jettisoned back to the minors or juniors early in the process without making much of an impression.

Anthony Duclair is different.

The 19-year-old, drafted in the third round by the New York Rangers in 2013, has made a huge impression during the preseason, and is a strong candidate to make the club’s opening night roster after potting three goals and two assists in five preseason contests.  The skilled forward was named the team’s Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award winner as the top rookie in camp.

“I think I had a pretty good camp from start to finish,” Duclair told The Trentonian in an exclusive one-on-one postgame chat on Saturday night.

“I was pretty focused every day, I came to work hard every day, and we’ll just see what happens here.”

Duclair has spent the past three seasons with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, where he’s posted 215 points in 177 games, including his first 50-goal season in 2013-14.  The 5-foot-11, 185 pounder could at the very least receive a trial run with the Blueshirts this season, staying up for nine games before potentially being sent back down to juniors before the first year of his NHL contract would kick in.  After the game, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said his unique contract status wouldn’t play a role in any decision regarding his future.

“I don’t think that comes into the equation,” Vigneault said.  “I think if we want him to stay, we’re going to find a way to make it happen.”

Duclair said the experience in training camp and the preseason was “unbelievable,” and credits a strong showing in Traverse City towards building momentum he had coming into the past three weeks.

“My goal was stay as long as possible, and to reach this far, I want to make this team,” he said.  “These are new systems for myself, so I’ve got to learn every day and adapt to new situations.  I played with new linemates every game, and I think positioning-wise, I learned a lot.”

If there was a downside to Duclair’s camp, it was that the majority of his points came early in the preseason, where he was facing lineups that weren’t primarily made up of NHL talent.  As the preseason wore on, he struggled, and seemed out of place at times in last night’s 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

“Any time you play on the road, they’re going to put out a good lineup,” he said.  “Playing against veteran guys, I think it makes it that much tougher, but at the same time you just have to adapt to the situation.”

If nothing else, Duclair has made the decision on whether to keep him around or not a difficult one for Vigneault, something Duclair couldn’t help but smile about.

“I stuck around longer than people thought,” he said.  “That’s pretty good.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Haggerty Hopeful For Opportunity With Rangers

October 4, 2014

8477811The past seven months or so have been an interesting time in the life of 21-year-old Rangers forward Ryan Haggerty.  A highly sought after undrafted free agent, the skilled winger signed with the Blueshirts in mid-March, but didn’t manage to get into a game anywhere in their organization.

The easy thing to say would be that he hasn’t played in a meaningful game since his last game with RPI — which topped of a year in which he posted an impressive 28-15-43 line in 35 games — but that’s to suggest that his preseason action isn’t meaningful.

Head coach Alain Vigneault suggested that three roster spots are open — one of them certainly the battle for the seventh defenseman’s role between Mike Kostka, Matt Hunwick and Steve Kampfer — and Haggerty’s name remains in the mix to crack the roster of 13 forwards the Rangers will likely break camp with.

“I just need to keep on coming out and competing,” he said.  “It’s a job opportunity, but it’s also a privilege to play in the NHL.  When you’re in a great opportunity like myself and a few other guys, the best thing you can do is show up every day, play your best hockey and compete.”

Haggerty, who is expected to play in the Rangers preseason finale against the Devils at the Prudential Center tonight, says that although he didn’t get to actually play for the organization at any point last season, the experience of just being around a veteran group did wonders for him heading into this year.

“That was big,” he said.  “Just seeing the daily routine of a lot of the guys, there are really a lot of leaders on the team.  Being able to see what it was like and being able to prepare myself coming into camp this year was big…being able to hold yourself accountable like the other guys coming in and knowing where you need to be was probably one of the biggest things from being in the organization.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Leighton Takes Broken Road Back To Blackhawks

October 3, 2014
Michael Leighton is wearing a Chicago Blackhawks uniform for the first time since the 2003-04 season.  (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Michael Leighton is wearing a Chicago Blackhawks uniform for the first time since the 2003-04 season. (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

It feels like Michael Leighton has been everywhere over the past years, so it may be hard to remember that he came up with the Chicago Blackhawks organization.  The 165th overall selection of the Original Six franchise back in 1999, the goaltender reached the NHL in the Windy City in both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, but left the organization just prior to the start of the 2005-06 season when he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres.

A multitude of organizations, an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final with the Philadelphia Flyers and a trip to the KHL later, and the now-33-year-old finds himself back with the Blackhawks, albeit unexpectedly.

“I was supposed to go play in the KHL this year with Sochi, and I ended up getting ill a week or two before I was supposed to leave, and they ended up canceling my contract,” said Leighton, who posted a 1.74 GAA and .933 save percentage with Donbass last season.

“I waited around for about three or four weeks trying to get healthy.  I heard from a few teams, but Chicago seemed like the best fit for me.”

The experience in the KHL, his first time playing in Europe was a unique one.

“It was definitely different for me,” he said.  “I’ve never been overseas anywhere, so just traveling over there and playing a different style of hockey was quite interesting for me.  It was an experience, and I’m glad to be back here.”

Leighton, who says it’s “definitely strange coming back” to an organization he hasn’t been a part of in nine years, will provide veteran depth behind incumbent starter Corey Crawford and backup Antti Raanta, and expects to start his season in Rockford.

“I know it’s not easy to come back from Europe and play in the NHL, so for me I’ve got a good contract in the AHL and when I signed this deal, that’s what I was expecting,” he said.  “So if I get sent down, I’m just going to work my butt off and try to get back up.”

A veteran of 106 NHL games, most recently in 2012-13 with the Flyers, Leighton also unveiled a new mask for the season, featuring a wide array of colors and a minion character from the popular “Despicable Me” movies on it.

“I’ve got three young kids, and they thought it was great,” he said through a smile.  “I know kids will like it.  It was just something my wife came up with.”

Preseason Game 1: Sabres @ Capitals, 9/21/2014

September 21, 2014

ARLINGTON, VA. — Hi.  Remember this blog?  Well, our hockey coverage will have a strong online focus for the first month of the season or so, so get used to seeing it a lot more.

Anyway, I write this from Kettler IcePlex in Arlington, Virginia.  The Capitals are, obviously, still holding training camp…and that’s been what I’ve been getting to see this morning instead of a standard morning skate given the 5 PM start time.  Head coach Barry Trotz won’t speak to the media until 3 PM, so any lineup questions won’t be answered until then, but…based on who was in the scrimmages, it’s pretty simple to see which of the guys on the roster listed on the media notes won’t be playing.

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both still dressing tonight, should you care.  Looks like Pheonix Copley backing up Braden Holtby as well…really hoping to get to see him in action.  Buffalo’s tandem will be Andrey Makarov and Nathan Lieuwen.  The Sabres will also not dress veterans Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson, making an already lean lineup look even worse.  However, second overall pick Sam Reinhart will play, which should generate some excitement.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

5FW Extra: Jamie Langenbrunner Quotes

January 19, 2014

I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with long-time NHL’er Jamie Langenbrunner for an exclusive story you can read in Monday’s Trentonian.  But here are some extra quotes that didn’t make the story.

On if the 2010 Team USA Captain will watch this year’s Olympics:

“I’ll definitely watch.  I have some friends on that team, and I’ll definitely cheer them on.  The Olympic tournament is very exciting and great hockey to watch.  It’s a great two weeks for hockey to showcase how great the game is.”

On his experience at the Olympics:

“I think while you’re there, you don’t really realize a lot of what’s going on.  You’re in your own little world and in a bubble in the village, so I was really focused on our team and what we were doing.  But when you come back – and I came back to New Jersey at the time – and you listen to the stories of people that were watching the games and the excitement, and then I came back home to Minnesota and heard those same things, it was great.  Everybody got really into it.  The other thing was just being in the Olympic village, it was really a neat experience to be with the other athletes and get to hang out with some of them and meet them.  That was a really neat experience.”

On who he got to meet while there that stands out:

“In 2010, I’d already met him, but the guy that blew me away with how gracious he is and how good a guy he is was Wayne Gretzky.  We were in the USA house in Vancouver, and he happened to be there, and I won’t forget how gracious he was with my kids.  It was amazing.”

On his initial reaction to getting traded to the Devils:

“I think like any outsider coming in, you flew into Newark and stayed out in Secaucus and you went to the game, so I didn’t really know a lot about New Jersey.  So the initial one was a little bit of, not necessarily disappointment for going there, but disappointment for getting traded.  It was an adjustment at first, but then you get there and you see what a well-run organization it is and what a special place it is and how beautiful a place it is.  It became home for my family and I, and I loved playing there and being a part of that organization.”

On the Rangers-Devils rivalry:

“It was a little different for me, because coming from Dallas we didn’t really have that natural rival.  It was a unique experience for me in that regard.  I found it really odd.  I’m living in New Jersey and my neighbors are Rangers fans.  It was, I don’t want to say frustrating, but your team is having all this success and we were fortunate in my time there that we were winning and they were not, so we had that on them, but it was a unique thing and something that is exciting and frustrating in the same regard as a player, because your neighbors and friends are some of the biggest Rangers fans.”

On his post-retirement plans:

“I’ve been kind of fishing around and seeing what opportunities are out there.  I’m going to keep on looking to find something that makes sense for what I want to do…I’m not 100 percent certain what I want to do, but I’m enjoying spending time with my kids and coaching pee-wee hockey.  We’ll see what the future brings.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Jagr vs. Selanne: The Final Frontier

December 20, 2013

So, this is it.  This is the last time that Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne will face each other in the regular season.  Despite careers that have seen both men combine for a whopping 2,841 games and 1,370 goals, this is just the 24th meeting between the two in the NHL.  That, in large part, is due to each player having been in the opposite conference for most of their careers — only Jagr has played in both the East and West, and his stint out West was limited to a 34-game stint with the Dallas Stars last year.

“You never want to let go of heroes,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau.

“I think both of them doing great is good for the game.  They’re both very popular players, both well-loved by the home fanbases and across the league, quite frankly.”

Boudreau, however, doesn’t find himself marveling at both players being on the same sheet of ice at the same time as many of the fans get to.  He does, of course, have two points to think about tonight.

“I don’t really notice much about that,” he said.  “Coaches get zoned in on doing what they’re doing during the course of the game.  But after the game, when you watch it, it’s pretty to watch how good they’ve done and how good they’re still doing.”

Jagr, 41, leads the Devils in scoring with 29 points (12-17-29), while Selanne, 43, has posted just nine points in what he insisted several times during the morning skate would be his final season.

“Lately, I’ve had some good chances, they just aren’t going in,” he said.  “It’s frustrating, but the good thing is the team is playing well.  That’s what matters…I’m feeling good, so that’s the bottom line.  It would be tough if we were losing…the second half is what really matters, you want to play well in the second half.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Regular Season Game 10: Pre-Game Notes, Predators @ Islanders

November 12, 2013

3:35 PM — There will come a time in which I’m covering an NHL game and I’m able to give it the proper pre-game blog treatment it deserves.  Now is not that time.  So yes, it’s three and a half hours before game time, and I’m just now able to throw up a quick preview post.

In tomorrow’s Trentonian, you’ll read my latest notebook, which features quotes from Kyle Okposo, Radek Martinek and Rich Clune.  But I also spoke with Jack Capuano, Victor Bartley and Carter Hutton today as well, and I’m sure I’ll have a good haul post-game too.  Tonight’s matchup between the pipes warms my little goalie nerd heart: Marek Mazanec makes his first NHL start for the Nashville Predators, while Kevin Poulin gets the nod for the New York Islanders.

Capuano on Poulin starting: “We haven’t given him a couple starts back-to-back here, and I think he’s deserving of it…we’ve got both goalies giving us a chance for the most part, and we’ll go with Kevin tonight.”

Capuano on Rinne not being in Preds net: “It doesn’t change anything.  Guys are in the National Hockey League for a reason.  A lot of guys come up through the minors and play well, and this guy is no different; the guys that they have.  And they’ll play hard in front of him.  So my mindset doesn’t change on how we need to play.”

Nashville HC Barry Trotz on Mazanec getting the start: “I think any goaltender, if you ask him, will say the first time he went in was fast and it was chaotic.  It was all those things, because it’s a different level.  It’s the best league in the world, the best players are out there making really good plays at a high pace.  So he’s fine.”

Okposo on how his game has improved this season: “I think my down-low play has been a lot better.  I move my feet a lot more this year, I think, in the offensive zone.  I’ve been able to create more shot opportunities, whether it be for myself or for my teammates.”

Martinek on returning to the Islanders: “It was always my priority to stay with the Islanders.  I was happy and lucky to get the contract during a season.  But I was lucky too because two guys got hurt, and in Bridgeport somebody was hurt too.  They knew I was practicing here.  I know the system, I know everything about this team.  It was an easy fit for the coaches and for me too.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

5FW Originals: Predators’ Clune Discusses Enforcer Role

November 12, 2013
Nashville Predators forward Rich Clune (Photo: NHLPA)

Nashville Predators forward Rich Clune (Photo: NHLPA)

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Even if you knew very little about hockey, it would only take a quick glance around the visiting locker room at Nassau Coliseum to not only find Nashville Predators Rich Clune, but understand what role he played.

The 26-year-old sat quietly in the back right corner of the room, but the stitches in his face and bruising around his right eye were plenty loud.  Nashville’s enforcer was still showing the effects of a Friday night fight against Winnipeg’s Adam Pardy, one in which he was cut on the first punch.  Just part of the job, right?

“It’s not difficult,” said Clune, when asked how challenging it is to be expecting to fill the role he does.

“It’s not something that I lose sleep over, that’s for sure.  I’ve played hard my life.  At this level, you’re getting paid a lot of money.”

Clune signed a 2-year, $1.7 million contract this off-season.  The expectations are primarily for penalty minutes, with the hope that he’ll chip in a handful of goals and assists every year as well; he posted a 4-5-9 line in 47 games last season.  But back to those PIM’s?  Clune had some interesting thoughts on just how he accumulates them.

“It can be a little bit mechanical, as far as you feel like you have to generate something,” he said.  “The one thing I don’t like about it is at times, I’m not exactly mad out there.  It’s kind of a skill, to try to fight.  If I actually got mad, that’s when I usually fight a lot better.  But surprisingly, I have a long fuse.  A lot of it’s kind of manufactured out there.”

So is there way, then, to manufacture the anger necessary to do the job at the top level?

“Just being on the other team is enough for me, seeing a guy in a different jersey,” he said.

This marks Clune’s second full season in the NHL.  He was claimed on waivers by Nashville after the lockout ended, which ended a 4 1/2 year stay in the Los Angeles Kings organization, for whom he got into 14 NHL games during the 2009-10 season.  The Toronto native says he’s been able to learn a lot from Eric Nystrom — who was quite popular this morning given his father’s role in the Islanders dynasty days — and how he plays the game.

“We’re not exactly similar, but I like the brand of hockey he plays,” Clune said.  “He’s pretty consistent, and he’s a physical guy.  He doesn’t go looking for fights or anything, but if it happens, it happens.  I just like the way he plays…he works hard, he skates hard, he goes into the corners and he goes to net and shoots the puck.  He plays the game the way it should be played, and I think I’m capable of doing that.  I’ve just got to keep working.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Recapping a Disastrous Weekend For Princeton

November 10, 2013

Friday, November 8

Yale 5
Princeton 2

Saturday, November 9

Brown 6
Princeton 3

PRINCETON — That’s really all you need to see.  But it’s obviously a little more complicated than just two blowout losses.  Let’s start with Friday…

It’s fair to say that Yale came in as the heavy favorites.  The defending national champions were the No. 9 team in the country, but the Tigers had held them to just a one-goal defeat in the season-opening Liberty Hockey Invitational, in which the Bulldogs were upset out of the gate by Brown.  Friday wasn’t that close, nor was it as “close” as the score might indicate.

“They’re a team that, if you give them an opportunity, they don’t make too many mistakes,” said Tigers head coach Bob Prier.  “We gave them too many.”

That’s somewhat of an understatement.  Turnover after turnover after turnover marked an uneven performance, and Prier knew it cost his team.

“It’s troubling, there were far too many unforced turnovers,” he said.  “They’re a team that isn’t overly physical, they don’t really cause you to throw pucks away.  I think that we just tried to pass it into traffic instead of just skate it a few times, and that was probably the biggest difference in the game, we had far too many unforced turnovers where we just kind of gave them the puck.”

But there was reason for optimism heading into Saturday.  Princeton played much better in the third period against Yale, and looked to carry that momentum into their game against Brown…and they did, but they really didn’t.

Another tough start saw them get behind early, and a complete departure in the second from their first few physical shifts in the opening period had the game out of reach by the time the final 20 minutes were to be played.

“I don’t know if you can pinpoint it on a certain period,” said Prier of his team’s struggles this weekend.

“I just think we’re going to have evaluate how we’re allowing that many goals.  It’s not always the same instance, the same mistake.  We’re not tracking the puck at one time, and then the next time, we’re not in the right position in our cage defensively.  And it’s not like it’s the same people all the time.  I think we’re looking for consistency from the team as a whole from a defensive aspect.  If we do that, we’ll have more offensive opportunities.”

From the “bad goes to worse” department, Princeton’s offensive opportunities were already limited by the absence of Andrew Calof, considered by some to be the only true NHL prospect on the team.  According to Prier, Calof has an “upper-body injury,” and hasn’t been playing at 100 percent all season.  He’s day-to-day.  Seems like the rest of the team is as well.

“We can’t get much worse than the way it went down,” he said.  “You look at the whole weekend, and we’re just a team right now that doesn’t have much margin of error, so we’re going to have to clean things up.  We can’t have that many systematic errors again, because every one of them seems to bite us in the ass somehow.”

But even Prier conceded that his team’s 1-5 record (0-4 in conference) is a solid indication of where they’re at right now.

“We’ve got to be honest with ourselves and understand that this is a tough league,” he said.  “But at the same time, we’re not far off from climbing ourselves out of this hole…it’s a nice wake-up call early in the year.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com