Road Runners training camp review

By Guy Flaming






Edmonton Road Runner Training Camp Review

It may have been the shortest training camp in history
consisting of only 10 days of hockey, but the Edmonton Road Runners managed to
finalize their opening day roster in the short span. Tryouts for the AHL team began on September 30th and
the final cuts were made on the morning of October 12th before the
day’s workouts. In between those two
dates the ‘Runners played a pair of exhibition games at a neutral site against
the Utah Grizzlies, spent one day returning from those contests and also had a
couple Mondays off along the way.
Definitely not the training camp hockey fans in Edmonton are used
to seeing at this time of year.

 

Thirty-four players were listed on the tryout roster sheet
but one would spend the first five days watching from the sidelines rather than
battling on the ice. Dan Baum’s
lingering headache problem that kept him off the ice during Rookie Camp
prevented the agitator from participating right from the get go. Fortunately
for Baum, all the tests he had done weeks before all came back with a green
light and the fact he was sitting was more for precautionary reasons than
anything else.

 

“I was having some headaches and they didn’t want to rush
me, make sure they went away before I started doing hard practicing,” said Baum
after he finally got to take part on the ice with the rest of the team. “There was no cause for them; it wasn’t a
concussion. That was the frustrating
part was that even the doctors didn’t know what was going on.”

 

Sitting on his hands is the last thing Baum is used to doing
with his gloves off and his idleness was evident even back during the rookie
games against the Flames and the University of Alberta Golden Bears in
September.

 

“That’s my game, going in and finishing my checks and
getting under the skin of the other team,” he began. “That Calgary game especially, there were a few fights and some
scrums and I’m kind of the guy who starts that stuff, and finishes it
too.”

 

‘Baumer’ will be in the line up on opening night and fans
can expect the Biggar, Saskatchewan boy to have some pent up aggression that
he’ll want to get rid of early in the season.

 

First
Cuts The Deepest?

 

Edmonton reduced its camp roster to 30 players before the
first week was over by cutting veteran power forward Joel Irving and free
agents Sebastien Thinel, Doug Auchenberg and Carl Mallette. Irving, who skated for Sheffield last year
in the British professional league, was hoping to find a new home but failed to
deliver the goods.

 

When the club cut the 28-year-old they also simultaneously
opened a potential roster spot for another experienced player who might still
be looking for work this winter. With
Dean McCammond setting an interesting precedent as an established NHL player
signing a minor league contract in Albany, would the Oilers possibly look to a
player of a similar stature for their own squad?

 

“We’re not planning on it; we want to be flexible there,”
said Road Runners GM Scott Howson. “If
there’s an opportunity that comes out you don’t want to be locked into your
five (vets) plus one (exempt) so I think we’re going to have some flexibility
and see how the team goes but it’s not a focus right now. We’ve been approached by a number of veteran
players to fill out that last veteran spot and we’re just not interested
because we want our younger guys to play.”

 

Battle in Boise

 

The only two exhibition games the Road Runners were able to
take part in were held in back to back nights and featured the Utah Grizzlies,
the AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes.
A neutral site (home of Utah’s ECHL affiliate) was used for the weekend
matches and so for their first ever games, the ‘Runners traveled to Idaho.

 

Unfortunately for Edmonton, they dropped both games to the
Grizzlies by scores of 3-0 on Friday and a 2-1 overtime shootout on Saturday. According to Head Coach Geoff Ward, the
results were not indicative of the effort his players put out in the games.

 

“They had picked their team before the games so they played
their full team both nights,” Ward explained.
“We played most of our kids the first night and then we played what we
thought would be closer to our team the second night and we really
dominated the hockey game. Their
goaltending earned them a win that night because the scoring chances were 18 to
6 for us and we outshot them by a 2-1 margin.”

 

What wasn’t good was the team’s power play that went a
combined 0 for 16 in the two game series.
The special team systems have been a major focus of practices since
then.

 

“We’ve got personnel now that can make our power play
better, adding guys like Stoll and Petersen, it’s got to get better,”
captain Dan Smith said.

 

For some it was the first professional game of their careers
and the difference was very evident.

 

“It was a good experience,” agreed rookie Kyle Brodziak. “The jump to camp is one thing but it was
definitely a step up to yet another level.
It just shows how difficult it really is out there and how big, fast and
strong guys are and what I have to prepare myself everyday for.”

 

Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and Mike Morrison split
the first game while Tyler Moss went the distance in the grudge match. The lone goal scorer on the weekend for the
Road Runners was checker Sean McAslan.

 

Final Cuts

 

Once the team was back in Edmonton it was time to sharpen
the axe for the last time and the management team made several tough cuts in
order to allow the coaches to have a few days of practices with what would be
the opening night roster. Goaltender Mike
Morrison
, defender Kenny Smith and forwards Marty St. Pierre,
Eddie Caron, Thomas Micka and J.F. Plourde were the
players sent to Greenville of the ECHL.
When the chopping was over the roster stood at 24.

 

“I think ultimately we want to be down to 23 players,” said
Ward. Jason Platt’s the 24th
and he’s going to be coming back to the team later this week. We’re not restricted by roster size so he’s
going to come back and compete for a job and at some point in time we’ll reduce
the roster by one.”

 

Platt left the team due to a family emergency and was not
back in Edmonton as late as Thursday, the day before opening night.

 

Trimming the roster down to the desired number was no easy
task, this year perhaps more so than most others.

 

“The cuts were tough, it wasn’t a case of guys not being
good enough to play,” said Ward. “Taking a look at what was the best
developmental situation for the team had more of an impact.

 

“The guys we sent
to the ECHL this year are all real prospects now
as opposed to other years where
we were just finding a place for bodies
,” added Oilers GM Kevin Lowe.
“Kenny Smith is going to be a good pro and Plourde is going to play.
Morrison had a good camp and he’ll probably play here. Caron has to learn to be a pro but he has
the physical skill to do so.”

 

As hard as it was
for the players to receive the news, according to Lowe there was another person
who found the task unsavory.

 

“It was Bucky’s
first experience,” smiled Lowe in reference to new assistant coach Kelly
Buchberger. “He said
‘I don’t
like this part of it.’”

 

The reassigned players don’t have to look far for
inspiration during their ECHL stint because several Road Runner players first
had to pay their dues in ‘the Coast’ before getting a regular spot in the
American league.

 

“The guys that we have sent to the ECHL in the past have all
responded,” Lowe continued. “Sean
McAslan, Mike Bishai, JJ. Hunter…they all went down and benefited from it and
(Greenville Coach) Johnny Marks has a good program and it will benefit those
guys.”

 

In the end, Coach Ward admitted that the games in Boise were
the make it or break it performances for some players.

 

“I think a couple guys worked their way onto the team by the
way that they played,” the bench boss said.
“That’s what you want, you want guys to stand up and make a statement
and I thought our guys did a good job of that.”

 

Those who were victims of the cut were not available to the
press for comment but those who escaped despite feeling that they might have
been on the bubble were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing they
had survived to play another day.

 

“I had a few sleepless nights but it was good news to find
out that I’ll be here for a while yet,” smiled Brodziak as he recounted how he
was given the news early that morning.
“I called my mom because she wanted to know for sure, my agent and my
girlfriend to let them know that I’m still here.”

 

Simon Ferguson came to camp still trying to earn a
contract and at the end of the day it was mission accomplished.

 

“It’s definitely great and of course, it feels really good,”
Ferguson said before the ink on his new deal was even dry enough for the club
to make the official announcement. “I’m
a new prospect here so hopefully I’ll work my way into the line up and make an
impact. I’m glad to be a part of this
organization and that they decided to make the move to sign me.”

 

When Kevin Lowe was asked to mention a player that he’s
personally looking forward to watching with the ‘Runners this year, the newly
signed grinder’s was the first name out of his mouth.

 

“Ferguson has jumped out at camp and won a spot and I think
he’ll be an interesting player and the kind of player we’ve been looking for,
for awhile,” he said.

 

Captains Named

 

The Road Runners have announced this season’s players who
will represent the team on the ice by wearing the captain’s letter. Five players will get the distinction
beginning with Dan Smith who was selected to wear the ‘C’ as Captain. Last season’s leader was Bobby Allen but
during injuries or his NHL recall it was Smith who filled in his stead. In a bit of a coincidence, both the Oilers
and the Road Runners are lead by ‘Captain Smith’.

 

“I feel comfortable around the coaches and stuff and I’m a
vocal guy so we’ll see what happens,” Smith said before it was announced. “It was an honor to wear it last year and it
will be again if it comes to me but there are five or six guys in the room that
are the same as I am so we’ll see what happens when the season starts.”

 

“We’ve always gone with one captain and four assistants by
design,” pointed out the coach. “We
really try and encourage people to lead and our guys have been good with that
with their opportunities. We’ll allow
the guys a vote and we’ll see what the vote looks like.”

 

The alternate captains at home will be standout Jarret
Stoll
and checker Nate DiCasmirro while on the road, the A’s will be
worn by enforcer Rocky Thompson and sniper Jamie Wright.

 

Quotes from the Dressing Room

 

“The one thing that seems to be the common denominator is
the team camaraderie, which is very important to have throughout the
season. It seems like everyone here is
very close which is the same as the team last year.”

         
Newcomer Toby Petersen who reached the Calder Cup
finals with Wilkes-Barre last year.

 

“My sticks were 6’6 and I have to cut them down to 6’3. We were joking about it because Zdeno Chara’s
stick is like 6’5 so I guess I had an inch on him.”

         
5’8 center Marty St. Pierre joked about his now
legendary stick.

 

“I’ve paid a lot of dues in a lot of different leagues and
after kicking around for a bit I’m going to try my best to make it here. If I don’t, well you go back and keep
working hard and keep going because I haven’t given up yet.”

         
Career minor leaguer Joel Irving who, over the course
of the last seven seasons, has suited up for pro teams in obscure destinations
such as Johnstown, Orlando, South Carolina and Sheffield. He was cut the next day.

 

“We have to prepare like the NHL is going to go back to work
where we’d lose Jarret Stoll right away and some of our young defensemen might
get opportunities too. We may have to
carry some extra bodies just in case the NHL goes back to work we won’t be
caught off guard.”

         
Geoff Ward, the Head Coach of the Road Runners and
probable winner of the optimist of the year award for his response about the
NHL’s CBA issue.

 

“I’ve seen a lot of guys out here that could lift a house
but don’t have the stamina and are shot after one or two shifts. I believe endurance is the key so if you
were going to pick priorities I would pick endurance, flexibility and then
strength. If you don’t have endurance,
your strength is going to be no good to you.”

         
Daryl Duke, the Oiler organization’s fitness guru.

 

“Hey before we start the interview… great prank on
‘DiCaz’! ‘Beesh’ was telling me about
it, you guys got him good. Classic!”

         
Goaltender Mike Morrison after hearing about an
untold gag orchestrated by Mike Bishai on Nate DiCasmirro with
the help of an unnamed HF reporter.

 

“I don’t like leaving it up to five minutes and then a tie
because it makes that eight hour round trip worthless. You get a point or whatever but you want to
get on that bus winning and feeling happy.
I love breakaways, I consider myself a breakaway goalie, and I’ve loved
doing it since I was a kid. From a
highlight standpoint, you’re the center of attention and it all weighs on you
so it’s a lot of fun.”

         
Morrison, quite possibly the first goaltender in
history to give shootouts a thumb up.

 

“That’s one big habit that I’ve always had and everybody
says I’m going to end up biting it off.”

         
Edmonton born Mike Bishai who often can be seen
with his tongue poking out from the corners of his mouth, not unlike basketball
fans will remember Michael Jordan doing.

 

“He’s not leaping off the page in the scrimmages but when
you look at his play in all three zones he’s being reliable. As long as he’s playing well from a
defensive standpoint his offense will come from there.”

         
Geoff Ward describing Kyle Brodziak through the
first week of training camp.

 

“He looks powerful out here and he’s improved his
skating. He’s not afraid to jump up
into the play. As soon as we got him
last year he started doing that and that really sticks out and catches your
eye.”

         
GM Scott Howson talking about top blueline prospect Jeff
Woywitka
.

 

“We had an option on him this summer and we exercised it
with the intent that he’s going to make our team. His skating and his strength on the puck is what are attractive
about his game; he is one of the only defenseman who can go back with someone
on him and beat them by himself. He
doesn’t need someone else to help him.”

         
Howson describing Brent Henley’s upside.

 

“Watching the Oilers play over the years you see how
exciting they are and how much they stress quickness and skill more than a lot
of teams in the NHL so for me that was an exciting prospect.”

         
Toby Petersen on why he chose to sign with Edmonton
this past summer.

 

“Maybe I am taking a spot away from a guy but you can’t look
at it that way. It’s unfortunate but
it’s going to happen all over the league during this tough year. I don’t think guys will be ticked at me for
it or anything. I don’t feel sorry for
coming back down at all; I just want to play.”

         
Jarret Stoll when asked about possible negative
aspects of returning to the AHL this year.

 

“I’ll be able to look back at my career and say it was never
handed to me on a silver platter, I earned it and that’s a good thing.”

         
J.J. Hunter whose pro career is into its fourth
year despite the fact the Saskatchewan native was never drafted in bantam or
junior, was signed as a free agent and played his way through the ECHL for two
years.

 

“I was born in Ontario and raised in the States; I’m a dual
citizen. My dad’s Canadian and my mom’s
American.”

         
Nate DiCasmirro explaining his tattoo that
features a maple leaf filled in with the colors of the American flag.

 

“Hey, that’s not bad!
I usually just get my name shortened to ‘Henner’ but that’s pretty
good.”

         
Brent Henley on being called ‘The Henley Giant’.

 

“Bad ice! Bad ice! I just wanted to entertain the crowd.”

         
Henley explaining how he hit the post on an
empty net attempt during an up-tempo and highly entertaining drill during the
Fort Saskatchewan sojourn. Henley fired
his shot from several feet inside the blueline and rang it of the iron even
though the nearest goalie was 20 feet from the net.

 

“I do, but it’s one of those things where it’s definitely
out of my hands and I need to keep taking steps forward before I can contribute
at this level but we’ll see how long it take before I can do that.”

         
Eddie Caron’s response when asked if he felt
confident of his chances to making the team.
He was cut a few days later.

 

“I was down in Columbus (ECHL) and there was another guy
with the same last name as me and we were both called ‘Mack’ so he became
‘D-Mack’ and I was ‘S-Mack’ and that just turned into ‘Smack’.”

         
Sean McAslan on how he came about his nickname,
maybe the most creative on the team.

 

“For me he’s been one of the best guys every day and he
seems to be ready to assume a leadership role on our team. When the NHL gets back to work I think he’s
going to be a guy who will push for a job.”


Geoff Ward on power forward Brad Winchester at the end of
training camp.

 

“I think our main weakness might be our schedule once we get
into things. If we get off to a good
start and things snowball you never know what could happen.”

         
Captain Dan Smith evaluating his team’s weaknesses.

 

“There’s probably more emphasis on winning this year than in
other years. In my mind, winning is
development. You have to learn to win
and in order to win you have to be able to make plays at the right time.”

         
Oilers GM Kevin Lowe.

 

“It’s an opportunity for Scott (Howson) and I in particular
to get to see the other team’s prospects more.
Depending on what the new system is in the NHL, if there is going to be
a more restrictive system then there will probably be more emphasis on making
trades.”

         
Lowe again, this time on one of the side benefits of
having the AHL in town.

 

“I’d be interested to know what our NHL record was with him
in the line up.”

         
Lowe referring to Mike Bishai and how important
a player he is for the Road Runners and the Oilers. For the record, the Oilers went 9-5-2 while Bishai was around the
team.

 

“We play 8 of our first 11 at home so it’s going to be
important for us to get out of the blocks and bank some of those home points as
quickly as we can. For us playing 7
games in the first 9 days we want to keep practices short.”

         
Geoff Ward giving an example of how hectic an AHL
schedule can be.

 

“It was always in the back of my mind but it was something I
didn’t want to think about. All summer
I geared myself to staying here and that’s what I’ve been working on the last
few weeks. Of course it’s in the back
of your mind but I’m glad I’m not going back there. In my mind it was time for me to take the next step.”

         
Rookie Kyle Brodziak after the final cuts
talking about the possibility of returning to Moose Jaw.

 

Camp Grades

 

Doug Auchenberg (D) – The former Spokane Chief
was nothing more than a fill in at camp.

 

Dan Baum (C) – Due to injury, Baum couldn’t
participate much. Good guy off the ice
to just sit in the stands with though.

 

Mike Bishai (A) – Best forward on the ice,
clearly ‘Beesh’ has taken his game to the next level. One media watcher made the skating and effort comparison to Doug
Gilmour and that’s exactly the type of player he could be for the ‘Runners this
year.

 

Kyle Brodziak (C) – Played his way onto the
team in Boise by being defensively sound.
He’ll get lots of leeway because of his rookie status but he’s going to
have to perform better than he has through the rookie and Road Runners camps to
stick.

 

Eddie Caron (C-) – None of what he showed at
the rookie camp came through once he started skating with men. He’s still a project but he’s got the
ability to make things happen.

 

Joe Cullen (B) – Maybe the most underrated
member of the team. If it weren’t for
Jarret Stoll coming back to the team, Cullen would be the second line
center. As it is, he’ll center the
checking line but he’s got the wheels and the hands to create offense too.

 

Nate DiCasmirro (B-) – He’s got a quick, hard
shot and above average speed but his exceptional checking abilities don’t show
themselves during practice very often.

 

Simon Ferguson (C+) – He’s a fourth line
energy player at best, and he knows it, but unlike the other disturbers on the
team, he played that way in camp and showed how effective he can be in that
role.

 

J.J. Hunter (B) – Scored four times during the
three public scrimmages, this intelligent and articulate player has established
himself as a role player for the club.
If you don’t always notice him out there but then finishes the night
with a couple points, who’ll complain about that?

 

Carl Mallette (D) – Apparently he was a rookie
standout in the ECHL, which is where he probably belongs.

 

Sean McAslan (C) – A competent checker who has
had some offensive seasons in the past but his camp performance was simply
average. He has more offensive upside
than most checkers though and could actually see time on the power play.

 

Toby Petersen (C+) – He’s short in height but
not on agility. The biggest attraction
of Petersen is his versatility; he can play just about anywhere on the power
play or on a regular forward line. Once
he gets comfortable I’m sure he’ll do fine but he didn’t separate himself from
the field much during camp.

 

J.F. Plourde (C) – Had flashes of brilliance
but on most days he was just one of the crowd.
An All-Star last year in the ECHL, he’s probably not an NHL player but
with hard work he could be a regular in the AHL.

 

Tomas Micka (C+) – Very good size, which he
uses to his advantage and his passing ability was very impressive. However, it might have been a product of who
his linemates were but he wasn’t clicking with anybody and seemed to coast a
lot.

 

Brock Radunske (C) – Like Brodziak, he must
have done something right in Boise to make the squad because he had a fairly
quiet camp in Edmonton. He had one
stellar day in Fort Saskatchewan highlighted by a brilliant breakaway goal on
JDD. He’s a rookie so give him some
time.

 

Marty St. Pierre (C+) – He’s a lot like
Petersen in many ways and his ability on the power play seemed to give him an
edge over some of the other rookie candidates that did make the team. It is possible that with Petersen,
Salmelainen and Mike Bishai already on the team, perhaps the Road Runners were
concerned about being to small up front.
He should be very good in the ECHL.

 

Tony Salmelainen (B) – Good players have at
least one area of the game that they excel at and with Salmelainen it’s
obviously his speed. His finish isn’t
always there but he does get a lot of chances simply because of his speed and
agility.

 

Jarret Stoll (B) – His shot is deadly accurate
and his release makes him even more dangerous.
One would expect Stoll to stand out form the pack a bit more because of
his NHL experience, and he did at times, but he wasn’t as dominating as he
could be. He’ll be an integral part of
the team this year, that’s for certain.

 

Sebastien Thinel (D) – Did not stand out.

 

Brad Winchester (B+) – Few guys have improved
as much from last fall as Brad Winchester. Where he was tentative and hesitant before, now he simply bowls
people over and drives to the net. He
looks confident and tough. Watch for
him this year.

 

Jamie Wright (B) – Not as impressive as he was
at Oiler camp last year but he’s clearly the sniper on the team. He’s got wheels and an aggressive style that
should make him a good fore checker and an interesting player to watch.

 

Brent Henley (B-) – He spent a lot of extra
time getting one on one attention from power skating and skills coach Steve Serdachny. He wants to be a major part of the team and
he’s more than willing to put in the work to do it. He’ll be a fan favorite this year too.

 

Joel Irving (C) – Irving did not play that
poorly in his four days of camp.
Clearly he didn’t do enough to stick around but he didn’t embarrass
himself either. Odessa will be happy to
have him.

 

Doug Lynch (B-) – Got better as camp went on
and the competitiveness got stronger.
He’s a force in front of the net and can fight off even the biggest
players. It’s unclear how he got 36
points last year, but he does have a cannon of a shot.

 

Rick Mrozik (C+) – A quiet yet solid rock on
the blueline. He’s the most experienced
pro on the team with over 400 pro games so expect Mrozik to play a lot. Nothing fancy about him but he has good size
and will be a solid fifth man.

 

Jason Platt (C) – He was playing rather well
but had to leave camp on personal matters so it’s tough to grade him. While he was here he looked pretty good and
certainly not out of place.

 

Mathieu Roy (C) – Nothing fancy about Roy
either but he does move the puck very well.
He’s a lot like Mrozik in that he’s not a standout guy but you’re happy
with your sixth or seventh guy if they can be counted on defensively and Roy
fits that description well.

 

Dan Smith (C+) – The perfect counter balance
to Jeff Woywitka’s offensive style of play.
Smith is a strong presence on the blueline and tough in front of the
net. He’s the veteran that the other
blueliners take the lead from and as the captain, leadership is something he’s
being counted on for.

 

Kenny Smith (C) – Nothing wrong with his
performance at camp but this was a move that was hinted at during the summer
when Kevin Prendergast suggested the Harvard captain would probably have to
start in the ECHL to get used to the travel and busy schedule before playing in
the AHL.

 

Rocky Thompson (B-) – You notice him all the
time because he’s always helping out the other guys on the team. Who’d have thought of Rocky Thompson as
anything more than a goon, but he’s a guy that has developed into a respected
tutor for others. One day this guy will
make a great coach.

 

Jeff Woywitka (A) – Simply put, he’s the best
player on the team. He stands out
because he’s the only blueliner who naturally rushes with the puck. He’s a fluid skater, makes good passes and
he helps create a lot of offense with his mobility and positioning. He’s a treat to watch.

 

Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (C) – More is expected
from such a highly regarded prospect but he did play well in the exhibition
loss to Utah. It almost seems like JDD
plays much better when it counts than in intersquad games. If that’s the case, and keeping in mind that
he’s 20 years old, Drouin-Deslauriers should be just fine.

 

Tyler Moss (C-) – With the exception of the
Utah shootout loss, Moss’ camp has been anything but inspiring. In the first week he was clearly the worst
performing keeper at camp, it almost looked like he felt the job was his and so
practice didn’t matter. He’s come
around in the last few days, maybe it’s the new mask.

 

Mike Morrison (B-) – Most felt that Morrison
was the best goalie in camp, but the organization wants him to achieve a level
of consistency in the ECHL that he didn’t have with the Road Runners in the AHL
last year. Don’t be surprised at all to
see Morrison play 20 games with the ‘Runners this year and replace Moss as the
veteran keeper in 2005-06.

 

Comment on this story at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future
Message Boards

Copyright 2004
Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial
staff.