Blue Jackets: Enforcers Fighting for a Chance at Camp

By Aaron Vickers

Columbus Blue Jackets 2003 training camp has begun and
it seems the team has hung a “Tough Guy Wanted” sign in the window of
the Core
Comm Ice Haus.  Sure, Jody Shelley is
tough, and has proven himself as a solid NHL enforcer, but with the
death of Trevor Ettinger the enforcer ranks are terribly thin.  The Syracuse Crunch,
Columbus’ top minor league affiliate, has been casting about for an
able body
to protect its skill players.  To
date, left winger Riley Cote has been signed to an AHL contract, and
enigmatic but proven pugilist Brandon Sugden, who was suspended for
life by the
ECHL for throwing his stick into the crowd during a game vs. the Dayton
in 2001, has been invited to the Crunch’s training camp on a
tryout basis.

Several potential candidates
have emerged from the Blue Jackets’ Rookie Camp, but none are proven
commodities.  The closest to being ready
for full time AHL duty might be 6’2” defenseman TJ Reynolds.  The 22-year-old Ontario native spent a jaw
dropping 371 minutes watching from the penalty box in his first year
pro as a
member of the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. 
In camp on a pro tryout, Reynolds made a big impression during
first of two games against the Nashville Predators rookie squad.
Reynolds made
short work of 6’2” left wing Libor Pivko, bringing a packed house to
their feet
as he skated triumphantly to the penalty box.

Trevor Hendrikx, Columbus’ ninth
round pick of the 2003 entry draft, doesn’t yet have the experience to
be a
viable enforcer at the pro level, but during the rookie scrimmage
proved he was a willing combatant. 
Slightly more than a minute into the first game, the 18-year-old
crosschecked Jordan Tootoo in an effort to clear the crease.  Seconds later, the gloves were dropped and
the fight was on.  The results were
mixed but Hendrikx showed he had moxie. 
The next day, Hendrikx dropped his gloves twice during the first
period.  After the draft, Don Boyd,
Director of Amateur Scouting, noted Hendrikx’s penchant for standing up
for his
teammates as a significant reason for the selection. With a little more
seasoning, the youngster might one day be able to handle the load.

Another tough defenseman
hoping to make an impression was Nate Kiser of the Ontario Hockey
Plymouth Whalers.   Kiser easily won
both of his fights during the two-day tournament against Nashville, but
he also
demonstrated that he could skate a regular shift on the blue line. As a
agent on an amateur tryout, Kiser is a long shot, but he threw his
around in hopes of being noticed.  He
has survived the first cut and has earned a few more days to state his
case.  It would not be surprising to see
Kiser skating for the Dayton Bombers this fall, providing the ECHL can
its labor conflict.

Filling in for injured Ryan
Bowness, Riley Cote was also very physical in his one game against the
Predators.  At 6’1” and 186 pounds, the
former Prince Albert Raider shouldn’t be considered a heavyweight, but
certainly won’t back down from anyone either. 
Should Cote make the Syracuse roster, he won’t be asked to fight
Bonvies and McMorrows, but he will need to add to the team toughness.
His advantage
is his ability to skate a regular shift, which would enable the Crunch
to roll
four lines throughout a game.  With a
potential lineup consisting of David Ling, Jeremy Reich, Kent McDonell,
Traynor and Trent Cull a team approach to toughness might be best.

It remains to be seen whether
any of the participants of the Columbus Rookie Tournament will emerge
as a
legitimate enforcer.  The initial week
of training camp has provided a venue for these young men to showcase
pugilistic prowess. The first cuts have been made and the players have
opportunity to compete head to head in the week leading up to the Red,
and Blue Game. It seems likely that with a strong performance in the
Jackets camp an invitation will be extended to open camp with
Syracuse. The
competition will certainly become more heated as Syracuse opens their
camp in
the coming weeks and adds players such as Brandon Sugden and Lance
Galbraith to
the mix.

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