Hockey sends Jalen Smereck from one Motown to another

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Jalen Smereck hopes to move from one Motor City to another.

The Detroit native has committed to the defending Memorial Cup champion Oshawa Generals this coming season. A left-shooting defenseman, Smereck was drafted by the Ontario Hockey League Generals in 2013 with the 299th overall pick.

He played for the Bloomington Thunder after that team selected him in the first round with the 18th overall pick of the 2014 United States Hockey League Phase II Draft. He scored three goals and 15 assists in 51 games for the Thunder in 2014-15.

“Jalen was a draft pick of ours a couple of years ago and he has continued to develop as a player over the past couple of years,” Oshawa General Manager Ron Hunt said. “Mike Kelly (the Generals’ director of hockey operations) and I watched him play for the Bloomington Thunder this past year and feel he is ready to make the jump to the OHL.”

Jalen Smereck hopes to crack the Oshawa Generals lineup in 2015-16.

Jalen Smereck hopes to crack the Oshawa Generals lineup in 2015-16.

Smereck reports to Oshawa’s training camp at Oshawa’s General Motors Centre at the end of the summer. If his makes the roster, he will move 260 miles from America’s Motor City to the self-proclaimed automotive capital of Canada.

Smereck, 18, is an alum of the Detroit Hockey Association, a program affiliated with the National Hockey League’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative which provides kids of all backgrounds the opportunity to learn and play hockey at little or no cost. In return, program participants must stay in school and maintain good grades.

The DHA has produced several hockey players of color who’ve gone on to play in college and professional leagues.

Tarasai Karega, one of the first black women to win an NCAA hockey championship, and Cameron Burt, a defenseman for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades and former Rochester Institute of Technology star, are among the program’s graduates.

Haiti crowned king of the road – wins international street hockey championship

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About the only thing Haiti had in common with hockey until June 28 was the letter “H.”

But on that day, the team representing the Caribbean nation defeated the Cayman Islands, 4-2, to capture the gold medal in the B pool of the International Street and Ball Hockey Federation world championship in Zug, Switzerland.

Do you believe in miracles?  Haiti does after winning international street hockey title.

Do you believe in miracles? Haiti does after winning international street hockey title.

Diversity erupts at 2015 NHL Draft

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The 2015 NHL Draft will forever be considered one of the deepest drafts in league history in terms of talent. But it will also go down as one the richest drafts in terms of diversity.

Nine players of color were selected in the draft’s seven rounds. Yes,  Connor McDavid  had his name called by the Edmonton Oilers, and Jack Eichel’s by the Buffalo Sabres. But forward  Jordan Greenway also got the call. So did Bokondji Imama, a two-fisted winger whose family hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ditto forward Andong Song, who carries the hockey aspirations of a nation on his New York Islanders jersey-clad shoulders.  Here’s a look at some of the players chosen:

Jordan Greenway is wild about playing for Minnesota Wild - after attending college.

Jordan Greenway is wild about playing for Minnesota Wild – after attending college.

Greenway, a forward with the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Wild, the 50th player selected overall.

The 6-foot-4 player from Potsdam, N.Y., tallied five goals and 15 assists in 23 games last season for the NTDP’s United States Hockey League entry and nine goals and 35 assists in 53 games for the U.S. National Under-18 squad.

“I’m fortunate enough just to be here in the draft,” Greenway 18, told reporters after donning a Wild jersey. “Being drafted here is great. Everyone dreams of being in the NHL Draft one day. It’s just unbelievable.”

Greenway won’t be a stranger in the Twin Cities. He played three seasons for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a hockey power prep school about 57 miles south of St. Paul. But don’t look for Greenway in the NHL soon. He’s committed to playing hockey at Boston University this fall.

“I really like the city of Boston,” he said. “Playing college hockey or the (Ontario Hockey League) is a good route. For some people college hockey is a good route and for some people the OHL is a good route. I like school.”

Keegan Kolesar’s loss proved to be his gain at the draft. The Seattle Thunderbirds right wing was taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round with the 69th overall pick.

Kolesar worked hard to shed about 20 pounds off his 2013-14 playing weight. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Kolesar scored 19 goals and 19 assists in 64 games for Seattle. He also was a regular visitor to the penalty box with 85 minutes.

Keegan Kolesar (right) lost weight and put up the points for Seattle last season (Photo/Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds).

Keegan Kolesar (right) lost weight and put up the points for Seattle last season (Photo/Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds).

“The weight loss and dedication I put into training and nutrition really helped,” Kolesar told The Winnipeg Sun. “I’m a power forward in the truest sense. I think I’m one of the better forecheckers in the (Canadian Hockey League). I like to fight and I have a knack for the net and offensive instincts. I play well in all three zones.”

The Winnipeg Jets nabbed left wing Erik Foley in the third round with the 78th pick in the draft. Foley grew up a Boston Bruins fan in Mansfield, Mass., but is looking forward to starting a pro career with the Jets in “a real hockey hotbed.”

Erik Foley meets the press after being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets.

Erik Foley meets the press after being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets.

Foley scored 27 goals and 27 assists in 55 games last season with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. “I’m a power forward,” he said. “I like to use my body, use my shot.”

Foley’s stock rose in the days leading to the draft. One USHL coach told The Winnipeg Sun that Foley was “probably the toughest player in the USHL to play against.”

Foley won’t be playing with Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien soon. He’ll be in Rhode Island playing for the Providence Friars, the reigning NCAA Frozen Four champs, this fall.

Right wing Mathieu Joseph had been to Florida only once before attending the draft. Now he may be calling the Sunshine State home after the Tampa Bay Lightning chose him in the fourth round, the 120th overall pick.

Mathieu Joseph was all smiles after being drafted by Tampa Bay Lightning.

Mathieu Joseph was all smiles after being drafted by Tampa Bay Lightning.

A native of Chambly, Quebec, Joseph notched 21 goals and 21 assists in 59 games for the Saint Johns Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season.

“I’m kind of a power forward with a little bit of skill, so I can bring some offense but I can play on the penalty kill, too,” he said. “I’m more of a guy who’s hard to play against. I’m always a guy who’s going to forecheck and backcheck and I’m always intense, I think that’s pretty much the type of hockey (Tampa Bay) is playing.”

Caleb Jones came along to watch his big brother Seth Jones on draft day 2013 in Newark, N.J. The Jones family waited anxiously until the highly prized defenseman was taken fourth overall by the Nashville Predators.

Last weekend was Caleb’s turn. The sturdy 18-year-old defenseman from theNTDP was drafted in the fourth round by the Oilers, the 117th pick overall.

“This was a little less nerve-wracking,” Caleb said.

At 6 foot and 194 pounds, Caleb is the smaller of the hockey-playing sons of Popeye

Defenseman Caleb Jones hopes to join big brother Seth Jones in the NHL/.

Defenseman Caleb Jones hopes to join big brother Seth Jones in the NHL/.

Jones, the former NBA player, but he may be the grittier of the two. “I’m a two-way defenseman,” he said. “I play a physical game, aggressive in the corners”

He had 8 points in 25 games last season with the NTDP, but also 28 penalty minutes against opposition in the USHL.
As Seth Jones did, on the way to becoming one of the up-and-coming elite NHL defensemen, Caleb will go play for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League next season. His Big Brother Seth offered any advice?
“I didn’t have too much for him,” Seth told The Hockey Writers. “I’m not like some grizzled vet, but with the draft being this summer (for him), I just told him to take it one step at a time. It’s not about rankings or this and that. Just go play hockey. Play the way you know how to play and just don’t try to do too much. Just the little things.”
Another NHL draft, another stud defenseman drafted from the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. Blue-liner Devante Stephens was tabbed by the Sabres in the fifth round with the 122nd pick. He follows in the Kelowna skates of Madison Bowey, a Washington Capitals prospect, Nashville Predators D-man Shea Weber, and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith.
Stephens had four goals and seven assists in 64 games for Kelowna. He had four assists in 17 WHL playoff games with the Rockets.
“He’s convinced he’ll be an NHL player,” Greg Royce, the Sabres director of amateur scouting, told The Olean Times Herald. “We’re convinced he’ll be an NHL player. I do believe he was a steal there.”
The Buffalo Sabres think they've found a jewel in Kelowna's Devante Stephens (Photo: Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets)

The Buffalo Sabres think they’ve found a jewel in Kelowna’s Devante Stephens (Photo: Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets)

 The Oilers added to its stockpile of young defensemen by taking Ethan Bear in the fifth round with the 124th player chosen overall.
Bear, 18, scored 13 goals and 25 assists for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds last season. He also contributed a goal and an assist playing for Canada’s Under-18 team last season. The 5-foot-11 native of Regina, Sask., is Ochapowace First Nation.
Ethan Bear, left, joins a young Edmonton defensive corps that includes 2013 first-round pick Darnell Nurse (Photo/Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)

Ethan Bear, left, joins a young Edmonton defensive corps that includes 2013 first-round pick Darnell Nurse (Photo/Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)

“It’s amazing,” Bear said after the Oilers drafted him. “They’re a great organization. It’s been exciting this whole day, especially to get picked by Edmonton.”

Perhaps no sixth-round draft pick in NHL history has generated as much attention as defenseman Andong Song, who was taken by the Islanders over the weekend with the 172nd pick.

China's Andong Song made hockey history at the 2015 NHL Draft.

China’s Andong Song made hockey history at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Song is the first player in draft history born in China. He arrived at Sunrise’s BB&T Center with an entourage: His family and a television crew from China’s CCTV that followed his every move.

“Hopefully what I want to do is rally people behind me,” the 18-year-old Beijing-born player said. “Not focus on myself but do something good for Chinese hockey.”

Hockey in China could surely use a boost. A country with over 1.3 billion people, China has only 610 hockey players – 118 men, 308 juniors, 184 females – according to IIHF figures. The nation has only 58 indoor ice skating rinks and 43 outdoor facilities.

Song’s selection prompted the IIHF to put a list of Asian hockey milestones on its website. Song admits that he feels “a lot of pressure from people back home” to help put hockey on the map.

“Good pressure,” he added. “That’ll motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I’ll make them proud.”

A 6-foot, 165-pound blue-liner, Song played last season for New Jersey’s Lawrenceville School. He tallied 3 goals and 7 assists in 26 games.  He’ll play next season for Philips Academy, a top prep school in Andover, Mass. He hopes to catch the attention of an NCAA Division I hockey school.

Song has international hockey experience. He twice played for China in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Division B World Under-18 championship and captained the team that played in the 2015 tournament in Novi Sad, Serbia. He had two assists in five tourney games.

“When I started playing (in China) there weren’t a lot of people,” he said. “There wasn’t much support for the game. Last year when I went back, it had been eight years since I’d seen Chinese hockey and it was tremendous how far it’s grown. I’m sure they’ll keep trying to catch up to Europe and North America and Russia. There’s still a gap between them, but I’m sure if we focus on hockey we can catch up.”

Lightning draftee Bokondji Imama apparently has a game as tough as his name.

Lightning draftee Bokondji Imama apparently has a game as tough as his name.

Bokondji Imama could one day have the most distinctive name in the NHL.

The Montreal native, a solid 6-foot-1, 214 pound left wing for the QMJHL’s St. John’s Sea Dogs, realized his dream when the Lightning selected him with the 180th overall pick in the sixth round.

Imama had three goals and six assists in 23 games for the Sea Dogs, but he also had 48 penalty minutes. According to the website hockeyfights.com, Imama had 15 in the 2014-15 regular season and two during the preseason.

Imama’s father, also named Bokondji, and mother were born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bokondji grew up as a typical kid in Montreal, playing hockey on outdoor rinks. But he loved all sports, and played rugged games with his father. The training turned him into a physical player.

“I’m a physical player who likes to stick up for his teammates,” he said, “but I can play the game, too.”

It’s conceivable that you might see Imama in the NHL someday protecting Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos and Tampa’s other young scorers.

The Color of Hockey’s Lew Serviss contributed mightily to this post.

Bokondji Imama, a new hockey name with a fierce game, drafted by Tampa Bay Lightning

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Bokondji Imama could one day have the most distinctive name in the NHL.

Color of Hockey’s Lew Serviss wrote this post.

Caleb Jones, Seth Jones’s “little” brother, is drafted by the Edmonton Oilers

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Caleb Jones came along to watch his big brother Seth Jones on draft day in 2013 in Newark, N.J. The Jones family waited anxiously until the highly prized prospect was taken fourth overall by the Nashville Predators.

Color of Hockey’s Lew Serviss wrote this report.

Ducks ship Emerson Etem to N.Y. Rangers for Carl Hagelin

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Emerson Etem is Broadway-bound. The swift winger was dispatched by the Anaheim Ducks, along with a high second-round pick to the New York Rangers for the lightning-quick Carl Hagelin on Day 2 of the NHL draft.

Forward Emerson Etem goes from the pond of Anaheim to Broadway in draft day trade.

Forward Emerson Etem goes from the pond of Anaheim to Broadway in draft day trade.

Etem, 23, scored one of the more dazzling goals of the playoffs last season, dancing by Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba and finishing with a flourish against Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
Etem, born in Southern California, had five goals and five assists last season in 45 games for the Ducks. He will be the only player of color on the Rangers, who dealt the prospect Anthony Duclair last season to the Arizona Coyotes. At 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, Etem brings more of a physical presence to New York than Hagelin, one of the fastest skaters in the NHL.

Diversity in the stands: African-American NHL fans on the rise

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For those needing proof that minority interest in hockey is on the rise, look no further than this great story by the Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan about the growth of African-American National Hockey League fans. There’s a neat Color of Hockey shout-out, too. Thanks, Shannon!

Ready for Freddy? Fred Brathwaite works toward becoming an NHL goalie coach

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Like many other retired National Hockey League players who want to remain part of the game, Fred Brathwaite is patiently paying his dues in hopes of getting back in the league as a coach.

But instead of the endless back-road bus rides that fledgling major junior and minor league hockey coaches usually endure, Brathwaite is doing his apprenticeship in the pressure-packed spotlight as goaltender consultant for Hockey Canada. And he’s doing it well.

Hockey Canada goalie coach Fred Brathwaite (Photo/ Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

Hockey Canada goalie coach Fred Brathwaite (Photo/ Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

Under his guidance, Canada’s goaltenders backstopped the country’s Under-20 team to a Gold Medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation Junior World Championship in Toronto/Montreal in January and a Bronze Medal at the IIHF’s Under-18 championship in Zug, Switzerland, last month.

“I would love to be an NHL goalie coach,” said Brathwaite, who played 254 games for the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues, and Columbus Blue Jackets over nine NHL seasons. “And having this opportunity with Hockey Canada is helping me prepare for that. And it’s really not that bad paying dues when you end up getting the best kids in the country to work with.”

Indeed. Zach Fucale, a Montreal Canadiens 2013 second-round draft pick who played for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s  Quebec Remparts in 2014-15, and Eric Comrie, the Winnipeg Jets 2013 second-round pick who skated for the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans, provided serious goaltending for Canada at the worlds.

Fucale appeared in five games at the world juniors, posting a 1.20 goals against average and .939 save percentage. Comrie played in two games and had a 1.50 goals-against average and 933 save percentage.

“I’m very fortunate and very proud to be working with Hockey Canada,” Brathwaite told me recently. “Anytime you get a chance to wear your country’s flag, it’s an honor. “There’s still a little bit more I can learn about being an NHL goalie coach. And having this opportunity with Hockey Canada is helping me prepare for that.”

Goalies Zach Fucale (left) and Eric Comrie (right) with goalie coach Fred  Brathwaite at 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship (Photo/ Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)

Goalies Zach Fucale (left) and Eric Comrie (right) with goalie coach Fred Brathwaite at 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship (Photo/ Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)

Brathwaite began preparing for a career transition in 2010-11 while he was playing for the Adler Mannheim Eagles of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.  At 39, he wanted to play one more season. But when no good offers came along, the man who shares the same real name as legendary rapper Fab Five Freddy became Mannheim’s goalie coach.

He quickly learned that the change from player to coach isn’t an easy one. “It’s a little more difficult then I thought,” he said. “Before I could control what’s happening in a game by playing and now, sitting up in the stands, you have no control. You just hope the kids play well, the team plays well, and, hopefully, you’ve prepared them as well as you could.”

While in Germany, Brathwaite stayed in touch with Hockey Canada. As a goaltender for the Canadian national team in 1998-99 and member of Canada’s world championship squads in 1998-99 and 2000-01, he was familiar with the organization’s brain trust and had no problems in being a pest about employment.

“Every time I would see those guys I’d keep bugging them, asking them when are they going to give me an opportunity,” he told me.

Opportunity knocked when Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s vice president for hockey operations, national teams, called  in 2013 and “kind of offered me a job,” Brathwaite recalled

“I wouldn’t say it fell in my lap by any means because I kept bugging them and bugging them until they kind of gave in,” he said.

In Brathwaite, Hockey Canada tapped a former goaltender who won a Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals in 1990 with a bruising young teammate named Eric Lindros; posted a 81-91-37 NHL record with 15 shutouts and a 2.73 goals-against average; and became a standout goalie in Russia and Germany. He was the German league’s Most Valuable Player in 2009. Not bad for a player who wasn’t drafted by an NHL team.

As Hockey Canada’s goaltending consultant, Brathwaite scouts and evaluates goalies for all of Canada’s world teams and provides on-ice coaching during international tournaments.

Fred Brathwaite at work at Canada's World Junior Selection Camp (Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Fred Brathwaite at work at Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp (Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

“At tournaments like that my job is keeping them (goalies) sharp, keeping them focused, and try to keep them as relaxed as possible – not to let the highs get too high and the lows get too low,” he said.

Sounds simple enough, but goalies at almost every hockey level will tell you that the position – once dismissively considered the place to stick the kid who couldn’t skate – has become one of the most complex and most scrutinized in the game.

Back in the day when Braithwaite first strapped on the pads, it was “Goalie, heal thyself” in terms of development and fixing flaws in a goaltender’s game. Most NHL head coaches either didn’t have sufficient knowledge about the position or lacked the temperament to deal with sometimes-temperamental netminders.

“When I played in Edmonton, Billy Ranford and I, we were our own goalie coach,” Brathwaite said. “Goalie coaching just wasn’t a big thing back then.”

Full-time goalie coaches in the NHL were unheard of until Warren Strelow joined the Washington Capitals’ coaching staff in 1983. Today, nearly every NHL team employs a full-time goalie coach or consultant.

Heck, even a pee wee hockey team might have a goalie coach these days.  “A lot of these junior kids that we get on the worlds teams, they probably have a guy they use in the summer, a guy on their junior team,” Brathwaite said. “And now, they’re drafted in the NHL, so they have an NHL guy as well. And then they have me. It’s a big focus now.”

Fred Brathwaite played an NHL career-high 61 games for the Calgary Flames in 1999-00. (Photo courtesy of Calgary Flames Hockey Club).

Fred Brathwaite played an NHL career-high 61 games for the Calgary Flames in 1999-00. (Photo courtesy of Calgary Flames Hockey Club).

With nearly 20 years of professional hockey experience in North America and Europe under his skates, Brathwaite is uniquely qualified to share knowledge about playing in the NHL and overseas with young goalies.

“A lot of things are very similar, especially now,” he said. “Back in the day, the NHL was more crashing the net. The goalies were a little more aggressive back then. But now you’re seeing guys like (Braden) Holtby in Washington and (New York Rangers’ Henrik) Lundqvist playing a little deeper in the net. That’s kind of more of a European style, sitting back and not being so aggressive.”

Brathwaite summed up his playing style back in the day with one word: “Messy.”

“Kind of like Martin Brodeur where you didn’t know what I’d do,” he said. “Sometimes I might stand up, sometimes I might go down. The way I played, I pretty much competed, battled. I had to be able to read the game, and that was something I was able to do.”

With Hockey Canada, Brathwaite is trying to get a bead on how other countries are developing their goalies. He and former NHL goalies Corey Hirsch and Rick Wamsley traveled to Sweden and Finland Sweden last fall to see what those countries are doing to produce talents like Lundqvist and Renne.

“What we noticed is they’re just more organized as a group in the way they’re doing the goalie structure,” Brathwaite said. “In North America, there are just some many different goalie coaches all over the place. Something that we would like to try is to get everybody on the same page: the kids learn how to skate and catch, do all the basics and fundamentals first before they start to get into different styles.”

While some in the hockey community fret that Europe is producing better goaltenders, Brathwaite isn’t worried. He noted that two North American goalies – Canadian-born Corey Crawford with the Chicago Blackhawks and Denver native Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning – are playing for the Stanley Cup.

“I believe Canadian goaltending is doing very good,” he said. “But at the end of the day, people are talking about Lundqvist or Pekka Renne. But we have Carey Price. And Braden Holtby had an excellent year.”

Smith-Pelly smiley tweet after Anaheim Ducks playoff elimination lights up twitter

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So, Devo, how do you really feel?

Was Devante Smith-Pelly's tweet playfulness or making a point?

Was Devante Smith-Pelly’s tweet playfulness or making a point?

Moments after the Anaheim Ducks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 5-3 Western Conference Game 7 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night, Montreal Canadiens forward Devante Smith-Pelly tweeted a message that didn’t sit too well with the fans of the team that traded him.

Smith-Pelly shrugged off the responses, some of which criticized the bruising forward’s weight and Montreal’s failure to advance in the playoffs.

He told The Montreal Gazette: “I didn’t think it was a big deal…I didn’t think people would be that upset about it, but that’s the way Twitter goes, I guess.”

“The worst one?” Smith recounted to The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs. “That I was too bad to be on a (crappy) team, that the Canadiens had lost in the second round. It was hilarious. I thought it was great.”

Devo’s tweet unleashed a stream of traffic – 1,700 retweets and 2,100 “favorites.”  Some of the responses, presumably from Ducks fans, weren’t all sunshine and bunnies.

The Ducks dealt Smith-Pelly to the Habs in February to Montreal for rookie forward Jiri Sekac. Smith-Pelly was supposed to add size and a power forward’s scoring touch that was lacking from the Canadiens’ smallish offensive players.

Smit-Pelly had 5 goals and 12 assists in 54 regular season games with Anaheim and only 1 goal and 2 assists in 20 games for Montreal. He notched a goal and 2 assists in 12 playoff games with the Canadiens.

The Ducks selected Smith-Pelly with the 42nd pick in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft. Before the 2014-15 season began, the team re-signed him to a two-year deal reportedly worth $800,000 per season.

Not all hockey fans were upset by Smith-Pelly’s tweet.

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