The Beginning; A Simple Seed | DRW Training Camp

Jenae - Guest Writer
Guest Writer: Jenae Anderson

Traverse City is a special place to me – the scenery, social hot spots and atmospheric coffee shops add to its charm. One building however, that holds specific charm for myself – Centre Ice Arena.

Centre Ice hosts the Detroit Red Wings hockey club for a number of special events during the month of September. This year I’ve had the pleasure of attending Traverse City (TC) Detroit Red Wings Development Camp, Prospect Tournament and the Detroit Red Wings Training Camp. These events give me the unique opportunity to watch players from the beginning and through their individual development. From Development Camp to Training Camp, these players are put through strenuous drills and off ice workouts to test physical and mental ability. Involved players come directly from the Detroit Red Wings (National Hockey League), Grand Rapids Griffins (American Hockey League), colleges around the area as well as leagues and teams around the world. These weekends are where I get the privilege of spending 15+ hours in a hockey rink watching some of the most talented players from around the world gain experience with every year. Every year, I find I appreciate the discipline it takes to become an outstanding hockey player – no one exhibits that quite like the unsung heroes of TC’s Training Camp.

Red Wings Training Camp is divided into three groups; Delvecchio, Howe and Lindsey. Team Delvecchio includes the gents from the Red Wings, some of their star prospects like forward Tyler Bertuzzi and Dennis Cholowski and even some veteran Griffins such as Ben Street. Team Howe showcases the talents and skills of most of our Grand Rapids Griffin’s boys such as forward Evgeny Svechnikov, recent Detroit acquisition Vili Saarijarvi and some Prospect Tournament stand-outs including forward Luke Esposito. Team Lindsey is mostly focused around prospects that were involved in the Prospect Tournament as well as other minor hockey leagues such as forward Jordan Sambrook and Oliver Castleman.

What team do you root for when all the teams are made of your favorite hockey team? Well, a simple answer is “all of the teams.” While rooting for all teams, however, there are two teams in specific that I can’t help but highlight. There is something extra special about watching teams Howe and Lindsay. The bleachers aren’t as full as if it were all signed Red Wings scrimmaging and the folks in the surround seats ask who in the world some these guys are. I chime in and offer my two cents about the guys who have proven time again that they are worth their weight (and that’s a lot) in gold (or Calder Cups, if you prefer). I was honored to watch the Grand Rapids Griffins in the 2016-17 regular season and honored once more, to witness this incredible team win the Calder Cup in 2017 in a packed house of over 10,000 fans at the Van Andel Arena. The guys participating in the TC Training Camp from this team and other minor leagues have worked hard for their spot and deserve recognition.

The purpose of this website is to do just that. We aim to bring recognition and highlight deserving players. These kids from 17 years old and up are eventually going to be the new faces of hockey. Players like Evgeny Svechnikov become as talented as Sergei Federov and guys like Dominik Shine and Dylan McIlrath win the Stanley Cup. The stars we watched as kids started as kids themselves in arenas much like Centre Ice. Before we were able to witness the finesse of Russian skaters like Federov, Konstantinov and Larionov or the dual play of Yzerman and Zetterberg, Red Wing scouts recognized the potential at tournaments and camps like this.

The passion and dedication that drives these young guys are what makes me love watching, talking, writing and fan-girling hockey. They are worth the time.

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DRW Prospect Tournament | Top Prospects

Just like every year, the Detroit Red Wings Prospect Tournament ended far sooner than I wanted it to. Only being there a few days still allows ample time to see the stand-out players. After about fifteen hours alternating between Centre Ice Arena’s West and David’s rinks, I have selected my top three prospects (amended from five).

Stick tap please…

Geno the Machino (Evgeny Svechnikov)

I can’t claim ownership of that nickname, but it works. Ever since I first saw Evgeny Svechnikov take the ice with the Grand Rapids Griffins, his distinct style captured my attention. Perhaps its my nostalgic side, but there’s something akin to the Russian five in how he plays – not solely because he too, is Russian.

Svechnikov
Detroit Red Wings prospect, Svechnikov, during warmups at the 2017 DRW Prospect Tournament

The Calder Cup champ has improved, in my opinion, over the summer. His passes were crisper and it even seems as though he’s gotten faster. The Wings are in a developmental stage of the organization, and they could definitely use his youthful legs and puck handling. He’s worth a good look.

 

DomTurg
Dominic Turgeon practices with teammate, Svechnikov, at 2017 DRW Prospect Tournament

Turg (Dominic Turgeon)

 

This young center was definitely the center of my attention. Having 18 points to his name during the 16-17 regular season and 2 additional points during the Griffs’ Calder Cup run, Dom has proven his worth. There’s nothing fancy about this kid based on the “McDavid” standards – just a step below superhero – but his vision, footwork and leadership capabilities at such a young age are promising. He had a keen sense of puck placement every shift and did a great job battling along the boards.

 

The Golden Boy – Vili Saarijarvi

The Red Wings’ new golden boy did not disappoint. With a build and style much like the Griffin’s Joe Hicketts, Vili is among the exceptions to the “bigger is better” philosophy when it comes to defense. Being a nuisance to his opponents in the corners and silencing nay-sayers with his speed, young Saarijarvi has a very promising career. Speed isn’t everything however, and there is room to improve. Landing a spot with the Griffs for the 17-18 season will surely develop his existing defensive skills to the pro caliber.

My favorite thing about this kid, is envisioning he and Hicketts being pint-sized best buds.

Saarijarvi
Saarijarvi (D) warms up during 2017 DRW Prospect Tournament

Though the Wings did not place in this year’s tournament, the young talent coming up through the minors gives me hope for future seasons. Detroit fans are learning that development takes time. As a fan, I understand the frustration. The demands of the game are changing, and through events like the Prospect Tournament, teams are able to meet those demands with a new generation of hockey player.

 

 

 

DRW Prospect 2017

It is almost my favorite time of year! Though I try not to wish for the summer to disappear to make way for the inevitable blanket of snow that is soon to follow, I can’t help but get excited for the arrival of fall. Its Prospect season! Centre Ice Arena will once again host the youngsters who hope to be donning the winged wheel officially as a part of the NHL.

A display of talent and poise, the Prospect Tournament is where I, as a more AHL-focused writer, get the unique opportunity to see fresh legs from around the world, prove their worth under the scrupulous eyes of scouts and suits from the NHL. I’ll be watching five young men currently holding roster spots and assessing their growth and potential. Who those young men are will be revealed during the tenure of the tournament but to say I am thrilled would be grossly underestimating my elation.

The roster is released, the schedule is set and all that is left to do is to make it Traverse City and reacquaint myself with the familiar smell of the ice.  I couldn’t imagine any better way to say “farewell” to the summer than spending 14 consecutive hours watching hockey.

ProspectRoster2017

Development Camp 2017

The weeks leading up to Development Camp have been eventful to say the very least. Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City will be hosting the slew of young-blood coming down the pipes! I will be keeping tabs on these boys from the 7th to the 9th with great anticipation and excitement.

Holland and his fellow big-wigs have taken a lot of flack in recent weeks and I look forward to seeing a few redeeming figures on the ice to justify his actions. The position of GM is one not generally smiled upon by franchise fan bases so I hope that the fans, myself included, will have reignited faith in their management after Development Camp. I am confident that there will be a few diamonds in the rough.

Courtesy of the Detroit Red Wings, below is the roster for this year’s development! Stay tuned for photos and player performance reviews!

Player Position 2016-17 Team Acquired
Jack Adams RW Fargo (USHL) 2017 6th Rd. (162nd overall)
Christoffer Ehn C Frolunda (SHL) 2014 4th Rd. (106th overall)
Mattias Elfstrom LW Malmo (Swe-Jr.) 2016 7th Rd. (197th overall)
Zach Gallant C Peterborough (OHL) 2017 3rd Rd. (83rd overall)
Brady Gilmour C Saginaw (OHL) 2017 7th Rd. (193rd overall)
Chase Pearson C Maine (HE) 2015 5th Rd. (140th overall)
David Pope LW Omaha (NCHC) 2013 4th Rd. (109th overall)
Michael Rasmussen C Tri-City (WHL) 2017 1st Rd. (9th overall)
Dylan Sadowy LW Grand Rapids (AHL) Trade with San Jose, 5/26/16
Givani Smith RW Guelph (OHL) 2016 2nd Rd. (46th overall)
Lane Zablocki C Regina/Red Deer (WHL) 2017 3rd Rd. (79th overall)
Oliver Castleman RW Niagara (OHL) Camp Invitee
Luke Esposito C Harvard (ECAC) Signed by Griffins, 4/12/17
Isaac Johnson C Des Moines (USHL) Camp Invitee
Sean Josling C Sarnia (OHL) Camp Invitee
Luke Kutkevicius C Hamilton (OHL) Camp Invitee
Tommy Marchin LW Brown (ECAC) Camp Invitee
Michael Pastujov LW U.S. National U18 Team Camp Invitee
Dominik Shine RW Northern Michigan (WCHA) Signed by Griffins, 3/14/17
Graham Slaggert C U.S. National U18 Team Camp Invitee
Brett Supinski C Union (ECAC) Camp Invitee

DEFENSEMEN (18)

Player Position 2016-17 Team Acquired
Dennis Cholowski D St. Cloud State (NCHC) 2016 1st Rd. (20th overall)
Cole Fraser D Peterborough (OHL) 2017 5th Rd. (131st overall)
Patrick Holway D Maine (HE) 2015 6th Rd. (170th overall)
Filip Hronek D Saginaw (OHL) 2016 2nd Rd. (53rd overall)
Kasper Kotkansalo D Sioux Falls (USHL) 2017 3rd Rd. (71st overall)
Gustav Lindstrom D Almtuna (Swe-2) 2017 2nd Rd. (38th overall)
Alfons Malmstrom D Orebro (Swe-Jr.) 2016 4th Rd. (107th overall)
Vili Saarijarvi D Mississauga (OHL) 2015 3rd Rd. (73rd overall)
Jordan Sambrook D Erie (OHL) 2016 5th Rd. (137th overall)
Malte Setkov D Malmo (Swe-Jr.) 2017 4th Rd. (100th overall)
Libor Sulak D Orli Znojmo (EBEL) Signed Free Agent, 5/24/17
Reilly Webb D Hamilton (OHL) 2017 6th Rd. (164th overall)
Tomas Dvorak D Karlovy Vary (Czech) Camp Invitee
Mitch Eliot D Michigan State (B10) Camp Invitee
Evan Fiala D Spokane/Saskatoon (WHL) Camp Invitee
Adam Larkin D Yale (ECAC) Camp Invitee
Patrick McCarron D Cornell (ECAC) Signed by Griffins, 3/28/17
Alex Peters D Flint (OHL) Camp Invitee

GOALTENDERS (6)

Player Position 2016-17 Team Acquired
Filip Larsson G Djurgarden (Swe-Jr.) 2016 6th Rd. (167th overall)
Matej Machovsky G Plzen (Czech) Signed Free Agent, 5/2/17
Keith Petruzzelli G Muskegon (USHL) 2017 3rd Rd. (88th overall)
Chase Perry G RPI (ECAC) 2014 5th Rd. (136th overall)
Joren van Pottelberghe G Davos (NLA) 2015 4th Rd. (110th overall)
Chicago Blackhawks G Thu. 7:30 p.m.
Kaden Fulcher G Hamilton (OHL) Camp Invitee

Quest for the Calder | Finishing Touches

Frk_Calder
Frk holds the Calder Cup at Rosa Parks Circle

By now, the confetti has settled and the great halls of the Van Andel Arena have fallen silent; void of the hockey fans that graced them only a few days ago. The echos of the crowd chants and whistles have faded into summer. For now, the famous “Freezer on Fulton” will be transformed night after night for concerts and events, but in the hearts of Grand Rapids’ hockey fans, no amount of pop stars and hair-band legends can compare to what took place Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

The road to the Calder Cup is stained with blood, sweat and even a few tears. For some, it may be the only chance they get in their professional careers to win a national championship and to have such an honor placed upon them. For others, it is only a taste of what is to come as their careers go to new heights and their quests lead them to Lord Stanely’s cup. As the final horn sounded Tuesday night, there was a mixture of exhilaration and sadness within me. As I stood there sharing that special moment in my hometown’s history with 11,000 fellow fans, I realized that this would be the last time I would see some of the boys inside the walls of the Van Andel.

I am filled with immense pride to have watched so many young men grow into outstanding athletes and leaders, but that same pride leaves a bitter after-taste. There may come a day very soon, where the ability to watch the smooth skating of Tomas Nosek or the rough and tumble play of MVP Tyler Bertuzzi will disappear from Grand Rapids. We as fans have had the distinct privileged watching these fine players become who they are suppose to be.

The Griffins, like any team hoping to have their chance to hoist the Calder, surmounted incredible obstacles. Overcoming injuries and call-ups during the regular season, Grand Rapids proved to be a team not solely based on one man’s ability. Throughout the playoffs, with the help of their now legendary coach, Todd Nelson, they learned that sweeping a series doesn’t make you untouchable, that arrogance will be the demise of any man and what it means to truly become a team on and off the ice.

Following Tuesday’s win was Friday’s community celebration. Filling Rosa Parks Circle to capacity with thousands of fans baking in their jerseys in the hot summer sun to show their love and support for their Griffins. It was an emotional gathering as we laughed, cried and relived the glory with our fellow citizens and team. We said “hello” to the Calder and “goodbye” to hockey season in one breath – until October that is.

As I sit, reliving every moment, I am overwhelmed. Only here, is there a day officially dedicated as “Griffins Day” and only here are the radio broadcasters, commentators and mascots just as much of the team as the players themselves. The celebration will continue until the battle begins once again with the start of a new hockey season, and then we will defend our title. The Calder is home at last in Hockeytown West and if next season is anything like this one, it’ll stay here.

Joe Hicketts | More Than Just a Rookie

As I watched the last few moments of Thursday’s practice at the Van Andel Arena, trying my hardest not to be star-struck (because lets face it, AHL players are pretty much famous), I stole my breath and tried to calm my nerves. Hicketts, or otherwise affectionately known to his teammates as “Little Joe,” first caught my eye at the Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, MI. Quickly becoming a key player with the Grand Rapids Griffins, I wanted to know what set this kid apart from the pack and Thursday, I got the chance to find out.

Signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Detroit Red Wings in 2014 after a Prospect Tournament invite, Joe Hicketts has firmly established himself with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. Slating 28 points so far this season, Hicketts continues to show no fear on the ice. Watching the unmatched determination with which he throws his weight when delivering hits, its hard to disagree with Hicketts when he says he believes that is one of his major contributions to the team, “I think I bring a physical element. Obviously I’m not one of the bigger guys but to this point I think I’ve been one of the bigger hitters going into the corners and can really bring a physical element to the game.”

Behind the big hits however, is something equally important; being teachable. During Hicketts’s tenure in Grand Rapids thus far, the biggest development off the ice that has contributed to his performance on the ice, is his uncanny ability to absorb from the veteran players, “I think you try pick up ya know things from everyone, it helps we got a lot of older guys in there. You try pick up little skills, whether its on the ice – off the ice…” Rendering his mind teachable, Hicketts’s ever growing skill-set is being perfected with an admirably humble attitude. The former Victoria Royals (WHL) captain has proven his understated leadership qualities and further demonstrating his indispensability to his new AHL family.

Plagued with injury and continual call-ups from their NHL affiliate, Hicketts and his fellow Griffins are looking forward to the future. With the playoffs just weeks away, he hopes to continue his current level of play, passionate and physical, “I think I’ve gotten better and better as the years go on, but you just want to continue that.” Adjusting to his new life here in Grand Rapids, the young rookie has an impressive work ethic that helps drive him to continually improve his personal game for the betterment of the team. Tipping his hat to his former coach, Dave Lowery, Hicketts credits his WHL experience and their 72-game regular season schedule, for his ability to play at the AHL level night after night.

Behind the calm, toothless grin, is a fighter. A young man who has overcome obstacles to make his presence known. Hicketts has a record dripping with accomplishments which in turn, caught the eye of Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill in Traverse City. Now under the leadership of Todd Nelson, Hicketts’s performance will only get better. With the full support of his team, Hicketts will continue striving to bring his physical element every game.

Russo and the Wings | A Detroit Fairytale

Amidst the mumbling of fair-weather fans, critics and realists scattered throughout the world of hockey, there are a few helpless romantics that love a good comeback and a Cinderella story. I would dare to venture that Michigan-based fans specifically, know the the rollercoaster-esque feelings that our local sports teams can induce. This season, in the world of NHL hockey, none understand it better than Red Wings fans. Through the tumultuous regular season, we’ve been jilted, heartbroken, encouraged, enraged and the list goes on. Underlying every good drama, is a glimmer of hope. Albeit small glimmer, but one nonetheless. With the 25-consecutive playoff appearance record now hanging by a thread, Detroit fans are reaching for anything to believe in – myself included. Rising from from the ashes are a handful of bright prospects. Young men with the vision and talent it takes, if properly developed, to continue the legacy that is the Detroit Red Wings.

Tallying 31 points so far this season as a Grand Rapids Griffin, Robbie Russo was selected by Detroit to make his NHL debut March 7th. The 24 year old defenseman was thrown into the mix. Averaging 20 shifts in each of the 3 games he’s played in the NHL so far, not including today’s matchup against the New York Rangers. Russo has put up one shot on goal and is currently a -1 overall in his NHL career. Back home in Grand Rapids, he’s consistently shown himself to be a key facet in a play, but seldom getting the “glory.” In 56 games played in the AHL regular season, Russo has had 24 assists and 7 goals.

Where is the hope in all of these numbers, you may ask? Consistency. That’s where the hope is. Russo, though still fresh meat to the NHL, he has proven untimely ability to move the puck, anticipate plays, and demonstrate poise every shift. Consistency is not a word that would be synonymous with the Wings this season, but with Russo’s refreshing constant nature, there may yet be some hope.

There’s no saying how long he’ll be with the Wings before he rejoins his fellow AHL-ers, but combined with the offensive edge the Wings have suddenly culminated, the young blood obtained from Grand Rapids may be just what Detroit needed. The romantic in me is believing that this was all we needed – a jumpstart. The fairweather fans and analysts may disagree. Its a long shot, yes. With understated leaders like Robbie Russo paired with our veteran (and very able) captain, Zetterberg, the Wings may yet have a chance at prolonging their playoff appearance record.

 

Michael McNiven|Prospect Review

Hailing from Georgetown, Ontario, Michael McNiven has certainly made an impression on the far-reaching arms of the NHL. Making his mark and serving his time in the OHL, McNiven has consistently improved and has shown himself to be more than capable of meeting the demands of the rigorous NHL style of play. With youth and vigor on his side, the 19-year old goaltender has made his way into the heart of the Montreal Canadiens.

McNiven joined the Owen Sound Attack for the 13-14. After a stint in the OJHL with the Georgetown Raiders and tallying 35 games played, he rejoined the Owen Sound with fervor rekindled and a point to prove. His 14-15 season concluded with 24 games played and a 2.79 goals against average. Building on his natural ability, the young goaltender has succeeded in making his presence known. Currently averaging 2.16 goals against (.92% SVS) and tallying his 10th career shut-out, now holding the franchise record, it makes one wonder if there’s anything this young man can’t do.

Slated to be wrapping up his OHL career after the 17-18 season, this vivacious Canadian has plenty of time to make a lasting impression on the Owen Sound Attack. With his vision on the ice, excellent puck direction and play, he’s shown himself a worthy choice and will no doubt grown to be an indispensable asset when in Montreal.