The Coyotes youth movement got off to a rough start during the recent
Pacific Division rookie tournament. It wasn’t a question about talent or
ability of the players. Instead, the lack of familiarity with each other on and off the ice played a important factor towards their slow start. Leading up to the tournament, the team had participated in only one practice together before getting on a bus and heading out to Anaheim.
Also this was the first time that few, if not the majority of the prospects actually had a full introduction to the Coyotes organization,
its systems, and how it was run from an operational standpoint.
"It is the responsibility of the organization and the coaching staff to bring the players in and make sure they are prepared for the games and that they feel comfortable," said
Utah Grizzlies Head Coach Pat Conacher who led the group on ice. "You want to give them best opportunity and the only way a kid can perform is by being comfortable. Gordie Dineen and myself were really working on getting them comfortable and getting them prepared for the game so they could be their best."
The Phoenix coaching staff and management team came into the tournament with a very methodical approach. The organization used the first two games to evaluate the players’ overall talent and ability, regardless of the outcome. By mixing up the lines and defensive pairings, the staff was able to see where each player’s strengths and weaknesses lied. They also wanted to gauge where each player would best fit in for the rest of the tournament and for the future.
For instance, Kevin Cormier, an enforcer not known for his offensive
prowess, was used on the power play at one point in a game. The coaches were able to work with the team, address certain elements of each
individual’s game, and bring the players together as a unit.
"The players were all ears when we talked about systems," said Conacher. "They are very bright kids these days. All of the guys who have got to this level have been coached pretty well before they arrived here. When we talked to them, they grasped things pretty quickly. When we wanted to change something or tweak something, they caught on really quick."
As it came as no surprise, the Coyotes came out a totally different team in the second half of the tournament. They won their last two games and vastly improved their overall play.
Keith Ballard (D) – The former Golden Gopher, playing much bigger than his 5’11
frame, displayed why he is such a hot commodity. The talented two-way defenseman had a good tournament, showcasing his versatility on both ends of the ice. Even though he was kept off the scoring sheets the majority of time, his strong play at both ends of the ice was remarkable. Defending his own end, Ballard consistently did a good job of hammering the
opposition forwards, covering the backside flow, clearing out the crease and working the puck up ice. On the attack he is a whole other player. Ballard has great vision and
a great sense of anticipation. He knows when to jump in on the attack and when to hang back.
Logan Stephenson (D) – When the Coyotes management and scouting department said this guy was a nightmare to play against, they weren’t lying. The gritty stay at home defenseman did an excellent job of playing his man and sticking to his assignments. He played a very sound positional game and worked efficiently on the backcheck. He did a good job being physical and knocking opponents off the puck. In general, he punished players trying
to maneuver down low all the time. In the last game of the tournament, he suffered a separated shoulder. He won’t give up and plays a solid, yet fierce game. He is a gamer.
Joe Callahan (D) – Callahan is another player that is one of the top up and coming two-way
defensemen for the Coyotes. He did some of his best work while paired with Stephenson and Ballard. He worked well from the point and has a great offensive awareness. He was tough defending his own zone and wasnt hesitant to setup and lead the attack. He displayed a great first pass and a booming shot.
Tyler Redenbach (C/LW) – He worked well just about everywhere on the ice, but looked a bit rusty at times. Redenbach did some of his best work on the top lines and his linemates took notice. He did a good job attacking the rush and putting on pressure while on the backcheck.
Kiel McLeod (C) – McLeod is a big guy that showed how well he can do a variety of things. He worked hard crashing the net and playing solid around the boards. He was hard to move off the puck and had a good finishing touch on a few of his goals. He got back on defense and did a good job of applying pressure. His
hard work all tournament long and was rewarded.
Randall Gelech (C/RW) – Gelech picked up where he left off from last years tournament, scoring four points. He worked well with McLeod and
Redenbach. Gelech has a well rounded game and it seemed the harder he played, the better he looked. He is a smart player and didnt take a lot many penalties. He was used in all sorts of situations and
performed well in all of them.
Jakub Koreis (C) – Koreis had a relatively quite tournament point-wise,
but it was the rest of his game that made him valuable. He turned out to be a
faceoff specialist, skated well and worked hard down low. He spent a lot of time tutoring Tomanek on and off the ice.
Dustin Wood (D) – Wood showed that is a somewhat of a one dimensional defenseman and that was a good thing. Like Stephenson, he played more of a punishing style of game. He stickhandled rather well and was able to work the puck out of the zone. He was a good disciplined skater.
Ryan Gibbons (RW) – Grinder? Yes. Spark plug? Definitely. Gibbons worked hard and threw the body around during the tournament. He did a good job on the backcheck. He also did a good job of staying in position and getting in on the attack at times. The thing that
hurt him was his lack of stamina and endurance.
Lance Monych (RW) – It might have taken Monych until the last game of the tournament to score, but he displayed
another side as well, working hard in the corners and behind the net on the forecheck. He
has very hard shot, his anticipation was great and he can really thread a pass.
The crafty sniper didn’t have enough time to gel with linemates.
Kevin Cormier (F) – He can fight, and play physical, but it’s unlikely
that he can succeed on that alone. Cormier did a good job filling out his role, but compared to Landon Bathe, he is a few paces behind. He did a decent job on the offensive end, maneuvers well and even registered an assist. It speaks volumes about his play because he spent last season in Moncton Junior A.
Roman Tomanek (RW) – Silky smooth and an adrenaline junky, Tomanek likes to flash his superb stickhandling ability and embarrass opponents one on one. He brought a powerful shot and showed that he can finish with the best of them. He had a decent showing during his first few NHL style games. He floated too much on the backcheck at times and did not get involved enough physically in his own zone. He threw a couple checks, but needs to learn how to incorporate his lower body and a good follow through technique.
Tryout players cash in
Two of the tryout players landed contracts with
the club. Coach Conacher talked about what tryout players bring to the table at
a tournament like this.
"Every little kid that plays the game dreams of playing in the National Hockey
League. The bottom line is that the players are looking at this as their first step to get there. They have paid the price
wherever they have come from, whether it is through juniors or it is through college. Now they are getting an opportunity. With some of the kids, they didn’t get drafted, so they are on pro tryouts. It means more to them because maybe it is their last ticket into camp."
Landon Bathe and Olivier Latendresse proved to many other hopeful prospects, that going undrafted does not signify the end of a dream. They proved that they can play at the next
level and that they belonged.
When asked about attending the tournament with the Phoenix Coyotes, Latendresse said, "It is really special to me because I wasn’t drafted. I want to prove that one day I will have my place in the NHL. That is my goal and that is why I came here. I want to make a good impression because Michael Barnett [Coyotes General Manager] gave me a tryout. I will try my best to stay with the Coyotes."
Latendresse came out and played a excellent tournament. He lead all Coyotes in points, which left him tied for third overall in the tournament. He is isn’t the biggest guy out there at 5’10, 190, but he does all the little things and he does them right. He is a great skater that hustles with ease. He has a lot of heart and works really hard. He attacks the areas where you need to work hard down low to create scoring chances. He doesn’t give up and doesn’t take a shift off.
"You have to give him credit. It is a big man’s game and he’s got great speed and great anticipation," said Conacher about Latendresse. "I know he has put his name on the scorers’ sheet a couple of times, though he is real responsible player. He doesn’t get beat out of the corner. While working on bigger players, he keeps himself between the net and the puck."
And for Bathe, a year in ECHL proved to be the difference. His experience in Toledo last year gave him an edge. He plays a physical game and has the ability to get down and score an occasional goal or two. He skates very well and is a good positional player. Bathe is also a good fighter. If he continues to progress, his blend of talent and grit would make him a valuable agitator in the NHL.
In the end, Bathe and Latendresse moved a step closer to realizing that their dreams might possibly become a reality in the near future. Phoenix signed both players to pro contracts shortly after the tournament concluded. Bathe received a two-year deal and will report to Utah’s training camp at the end of the month. Latendresse
signed a three-year deal and was assigned back to Val d’Or in the QMJHL, for the 2004-05 season.
A little more seasoning in Junior
Kevin Cormier, Ryan Gibbons, Tyler Redenbach, Logan Stephenson and Roman Tomanek were all returned to their junior teams for the 2004-05 season.
"At the national league level, the game is in your head," stated Conacher. "You have find your identity as a player and that identity has to show up at the rink for 80 games. The coaches will look at that and expect you to bring that element to the rink every night. The kids are finding that out right now.
"When you play in the NHL, you have to find an identity for yourself. That is what we are looking for. You would hate to pigeon hole a kid, but you want to point out their strong points and explain to them that they need to use that to get their foot inside the door. If they bring this element, we will work on everything else. The rest will come."
Each of the Coyotes junior players has something to work on. Gibbons is a shifty distributor that needs to develop a couple of gears and learn how to assert himself accordingly. He plays with too much intensity at times and really wears himself down early in his shift.
Redenbach looks for balance in the near future. After a stellar 2003-04 season where he was the WHL’s leading scorer, he still has a lot to learn. He is aware of that and he can’t wait to get back with Swift Current. Said Redenbach, "I think I proved last year that I have some offensive skills, I can score goals and I can make plays. Hopefully I can become a stronger player defensively. I also want to work on my positional play and one on one battles down low."
Stephenson is a good defender that leads by example. But it won’t hurt him to go
back to Tri-City and be an even bigger voice in the locker room and on the ice. He isn’t shy, but he will learn that other players will feed off his intensity.
Tomanek is a player that will need a good year with the Calgary Hitmen to make a solid transition. He definitely has the skill and the ability. Even though he showed flashes of brilliance during the camp, he still needs to adapt to the North American game. He will get that solid season in Calgary if he stays focused. The Hitmen need to pair him with a player and/or family that can help him make the cultural adjustment. It wouldn’t hurt to be learn how to effectively include himself on the backcheck. He doesn’t need to be a two-way specialist, though he is going to have to learn how to be a competent defender.
Catch and Release
After the conclusion of the tournament, the following tryout players were released without signing contracts with Phoenix:
Matt Nicholson (NCAA – Colgate)
Paulo Colaiacovo (OHL – Barrie)
Derek Merlini (Erie – OHL)
Brodie Beard (Ottawa – OHL)
Ryan Bowness – (St. Marys College – CIS)
Ryan Jenner (Victoriaville – QMJHL)
Boise here we come
With AHL training camps only a few weeks away, the Coyotes have been adding prospects to their Utah Grizzlies roster. They have added such prospects as, David LeNeveu, Igor Knyazev, Jason Jaspers, Ladislav Kouba, Frantisek Lukes, Darren McLachlan, Martin Podlesak and Fredrik Sjostrom.
At the conclusion of the rookie tournament, the Coyotes added Randall Gelech, Keith Ballard, Dustin Wood, Joe Callahan, Jakub Koreis, Kiel McLeod, Lance Monych, Mike Stutzel, Landon Bathe, and Frank Doyle to the roster as well.
The Coyotes and Grizzlies ECHL affiliate, the 2004 Kelly Cup Champion Idaho Steelheads, will be hosting Utah’s training camp from September 29th through October 7th. The camp will take place at the Bank of America Centre, in downtown Boise, Idaho. At the conclusion of the camp, the Grizzlies will host two preseason match-ups against the Edmonton
Road Runners (Edmonton Oilers AHL affiliate) on October 8th and 9th.
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