The Tampa Bay Lighting have been going through some major changes very early in the season, most notably the firing of general manager Phil Esposito and director of scouting and player development Tony Esposito. The Espositos are known to be friends with Larry Gordon, owner of the International Hockey League’s Cleveland Lumberjacks. Over the off season, the brothers were instrumental in reaching a working agreement with the Cleveland Lumberjacks, and as a result will have up to 14 players with Cleveland over the next three years…
BONSIGNORE BUSTED: The most interesting news probably stems from the enigmatic Jason Bonsignore. Bonsignore, who was the fourth overall pick for Edmonton in the 1994 draft, and made his way to the Lightning in the late 1997 trade that sent Roman Hamrlik to the Oilers, was up and down with Tampa Bay last season, and started the season back in the minors with Cleveland.
No one will ever deny Bonsignore’s skill, which scouts have always said is NHL-caliber, but his attitude has had his coaches pulling their hair out. At season’s start, Bonsignore had everyone wondering if that attitude would change for the better. However, so far the 6-4 centerman has played and acted quite like he did in last season’s IHL playoffs, in which he amassed 20 PIM and just one assist in eight games, and was benched by head coach Perry Ganchar in the Lumberjack’s final playoff game. In his first four games with Cleveland this season, Bonsignore racked up an astonishing 34 penalty minutes, including a gross misconduct for profanity directed at a referee after a slashing incident. He was fined $150 dollars and suspended for 2 games for that incident, serving the second of those games Saturday night in Cleveland’s 7-2 loss to Fort Wayne.
Bonsignore has said that his “head is not in the game,” and hinted that he realizes his play in the minors is different than his performance in the NHL. Head coach Perry Ganchar will have to wait and see if Bonsignore steps up his game and starts producing, and stops playing what the 22-year old center referred to as “garbage hockey,” in reference to the amount of penalties – stupid penalties – he has taken thus far.
BIERK, WILKINSON STRUGGLE FOR PLAYING TIME: The Tampa Bay/Cleveland relationship has had to deal with a logjam of goaltenders between the two clubs. With veterans Darren Puppa and Bill Ranford with the big club in Tampa, Cleveland has had to work with three of Tampa’s over goalies. Corey Schwab, who has the most NHL experience of the three, has been the starter and has played well, decreasing the playing time of Lightning prospects Zak Bierk and Derek Wilkinson. Wilkinson has been the odd man out, and did not help his cause as he gave up all seven goals in Saturday night’s loss. There has been talk of a trade that would send Wilkinson to the Orlando Solar Bears, which would free up playing time for Zak Bierk, who the Lightning would love to see make a progression to becoming their top goalie within the next few years. In his first start of the season in Detroit, Bierk looked fabulous, stopping 33 of 34 shots in an impressive 2-1 win.
OTHER LIGHTNING PROSPECTS IN CLEVELAND: Center Joe Cardarelli was called up from the East Coast Hockey League to fill suspended center Jason Bonsignore’s roster spot, and responded by scoring two goals in leading the Lumberjacks to their first win….Daymond Langkow was recalled by the Lightning to make up for injured winger Stephane Richer and played well in his first several games….The Lumberjacks defense corps, which includes four Lightning prospects, has a lot of talent, but has yet to gel as the Lumberjacks have allowed an average of 3.7 goals in their first 6 games. This group includes Karel Betik, Mario Larocque, Mike McBain, and Andrei Skopintsev, who have combined to notch four points (one assist apiece) and 45 PIM in 22 man-games….Skopintsev took a slash in Saturday night’s game and will miss about one week as a result.