Saturday, August 21, 2010
We're less than a month away from training camp opening up for NHL teams, which surely has hockey fans foaming at the mouth. But from my particular locale, today means I'm three weeks away from standing front and center at the NHL Prospects Tournament here in lovely Traverse City. The 13th annual edition of the tournament is set to begin September 11th, and the complete schedule of games, rosters, and historical information can be found at RedWingsCentral.com.
I'm slated to work the P.A. for the third straight year, and I will call the games at the Huntington Bank Rink side of the Centre ICE complex for the tourney. As it stands right now, I'll get to see all 8 teams play at least one game with the exception of Carolina (just happened to be the luck of the draw with the schedule set-up), but I will get to see the 'Canes play should they make the 5th place or 1st place games (both of those contests will be at Huntington on Wednesday the 15th).
A couple changes to the tourney this year: the Atlanta Thrashers opted out of the tournament this year, and in their place, the Tampa Bay Lightning return after a one-year absence. Apparently from what I was told, Atlanta decided against returning to T.C. for financial reasons, which opened up a spot which Tampa (with new GM Steve Yzerman) was more than happy to fill. A look at the Lightning's rookie roster - combined with the newly refurbished ownership and management overhaul of the off-season, and the general sense of needing to prove themselves (Tampa had gone winless in T.C. in three straight tournaments from 2006 to 2008) - have the Lightning amongst the pre-tournament favorites in this writer's eyes.
While the Lightning will be a welcome addition to the 2010 tourney lineup, I must state I am a bit disappointed that Atlanta will not make the trek up north. This can mainly be summed up in two words: Patrice Cormier.
Cormier would have been by far the most compelling player at the NHL Prospects Tournament had Atlanta decided to participate this year. To give some context to the uniformed, Cormier is a bruising power forward who was drafted in the 2nd round (54th overall) back in 2008 by the New Jersey Devils. Cormier represented Team Canada at the 2009 and 2010 World Junior Championships (where he earned a gold and silver medal, respectively), and also played in the 2009 Memorial Cup for the Rimouski Oceanic for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was part of Atlanta's haul in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade prior to this year's Olympic break and NHL trade deadline. But Cormier is most famous (or infamous) for his forearm shiver/elbow to the head to Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts, which earned him a suspension for the remainder of the QMJHL season including the duration of the playoffs. (Of Note: Cormier's hit occurred in only his third game with his new team, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, after Rimouski traded him after following the World Jrs. in January.)
Cormier would've been playing his first meaningful hockey (aside from the Thrashers rookie camp following the NHL Draft in June) since the World Jrs., and I'm sure I'm not the only one interested to see how he would've responded on the ice following his abrupt end to his season. And considering Cormier is gunning to crack Atlanta's roster this year - and has some speculating that he may indeed do so - he was easily tops on my list of "must-see" prospects.
Instead, I'll get to see Brett Connolly and James "Killer" Wright (amongst others) for Tampa Bay. I think I'll survive just fine.
Another notable change is the eight teams have been shuffled around into two new groups. Gone are the East and West "Divisions", and in come the "Howe Division" (Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay) and the "Gretzky Division" (NY Rangers, Minnesota, Columbus, and Carolina). Each team will continue to play a round-robin style format against each of their three "divisional" foes. The two first-place teams square off against one another for the championship, the two second-place teams play for third place, and so on. All NHL standings rules apply (two points for a win, one point for an overtime or shootout loss, no points for a regulation loss), with tiebreakers being head-to-head matchup and goal differential.
One final note regarding the tourney is that the attention given to this event has not gone unnoticed. The off-season at Centre ICE has been consumed by renovations to the facility, including additional locker rooms and showers, a mezzanine section for additional standing-room and handicapped-accessible viewing at the north end of the Huntington Rink, and a "scout's lounge" adjacent to the press box which overlooks the ice. The construction is due to be completed prior to the start of the NHL Prospects Tournament, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony slated for September 8th. The funds for the renovations came directly from the Detroit Red Wings, who hold their training camp following the Prospects Tournament (and have done so in Traverse City since 1997). The Wings have donated all the proceeds from their annual charity golf tournament to Centre ICE for the last several years, and will do so for the next 6 years as Detroit has recently committed to continue holding training camp in T.C. for that timeframe. Additionally, the renovations at the rink will help in taking the steps needed to make the NHL Prospects Tournament "the premiere scouting event in the hockey world". If all goes according to plan, the NHL Prospects Tournament will expand to 12 teams by 2012.
I'll be blogging about the games I'll be calling - as I have the past 2 tourneys - but will do so at this blog site. I'd blogged on NHL.com's social website in 2008 and 2009. Once all eight teams post their official rosters (Columbus, this means you!), I'll post my list of "must-watch"players.