Jamaica’s jammin’ in Rogers Sportsnet hockey profile

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When it comes to ice hockey, Jamaica is Hotter Than July – at least interest in the effort to build a Jamaican Olympic hockey team is.

Years after hiring coaches and management and months after holding player tryouts, Jamaica debuted an exhibition team of mostly Canadian-Caribbean players that almost won a tournament in Ontario earlier this month.

 Jamaica was jammin' at a tournament in Nottawasaga, Ont., earlier this month but lost by a goal in championship game (Photo/@GameDayPhoto).

Jamaica was jammin’ at a tournament in Nottawasaga, Ont., earlier this month but lost by a goal in championship game (Photo/@GameDayPhoto).

The team played well and looked gaudy good in Jamaican green, yellow, and black jerseys (I want one!).  Rogers Sportsnet Producer Jason Thom and his crew recently did an excellent piece on the Jamaican drive and the team’s head coach, retired National Hockey League forward  Graeme Townshend, who was the league’s first Jamaican-born player. Below is the segment, courtesy of the good folks at Sportsnet.

There’s no “off” in off-season for NHL prospects, undrafted players

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In summertime, ice hockey rinks become lands of hopes and dreams.

While it’s lazy, hazy days outside, can’t-miss prospects and undrafted players are hard at work at training facilities throughout the National Hockey League, hoping to catch a coach’s eye and dreaming of earning a spot on an NHL club or a place in its minor league system.

Keoni Texeira, a defenseman last season for the Western Hockey League’s  Portland Winterhawks, was ranked the 143rd-best North American prospect by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service but wasn’t chosen by any team at the 2015 NHL Draft last month.

Portland defenseman Keoni Texeira.

Portland defenseman Keoni Texeira.

The 18-year-old California native’s disappointment from being passed over quickly turned to elation when he received a telephone call from the Washington Capitals inviting him to the team’s development camp as an undrafted free agent.

“The draft obviously didn’t go the way I was hoping for but I’m happy I get a chance to come here. It’s a great opportunity and a Class-A organization,” Texeira said after a vigorous practice session last week at the Capitals’ practice rink in Virginia. “They called me a few hours after the draft. I wanted to come to the Capitals camp because I like their system and I think I would fit great in their system.”

Texeira sored eight goals, 18 assists and had a plus/minus rating of plus-32 in 71 regular season games in 2014-15 for Portland. He tallied two goals, three assists and was a plus-two in 17 playoff games for the Winterhawks.

Not bad for a Fontana, Calif., kid who started out in roller hockey but switched to ice at age six. He got the hockey bug from his Hawaiian father and Canadian mother.

Undrafted, Texeira, left, tried to make a good impression as a Washington Capitals development camp invitee.

Undrafted, Texeira, left, tried to make a good impression as a Washington Capitals development camp invitee.

“My grandpa and dad were from the Big Island,” he said. “My dad came over from Hawaii when he was about 10, my mom came over from Canada when she was 14-15 years-old.  My dad played roller hockey at the local ice rink with one of our neighbors who was from Toronto. He loved hockey, so he got my dad involved in roller hockey. My dad and mom both loved hockey so they decided to put me in roller hockey, and I loved it.”

Texeira had a solid season in Portland last year, it wasn’t enough to keep the Winterhawks from being ousted from the WHL’s Western Conference Final by the Kelowna Rockets and defenseman Madison Bowey, a top Capitals prospect.

Bowey attended Washington’s development camp and Texeira stayed close to him on the ice, hoping to pick up some tips from the organization’s 2013 second-round draft pick.

“He’s been here for a while, knows all the ropes and tricks and he gives out some good advice,” Texeira said with a smile. “Coming into camp, I’m just trying to make a great  impression, a good first impression, so it’s great to follow a guy like that.”

Bowling Green's Dajon Mingo.

Bowling Green’s Dajon Mingo.

While Texeira was thrilled to be at the Capitals’ camp, defenseman Dajon Mingo looked like the happiest man at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex whenever he was on the ice. The diminutive Bowling Green State University player, another undrafted invitee, had a perpetual smile on his face, no matter how difficult the drill or strenuous the workout.

“I like to smile, I like to have fun out there,” said Mingo, a Canton, Mich., native. “Without fun, I’m not playing at my best. So I’m always smiling. Even if I mess up, I’m going to smile because I’m going to learn from my mistakes.”

Mingo, 25, aspires to go pro, but he’s in no rush. With one more season of eligibility left at Bowling Green, he viewed his attendance at the Capitals camp as an investment for the future.

“Obviously, everyone’s dream is to play in the NHL, but I wouldn’t mind going to the AHL (American Hockey League) and working my way up,” he said. “But I want to finish college first. I have one more year at Bowling Green and after that, we’ll see what happens.”

A lot has already happened in Mingo’s hockey career, a path that’s best described as a series of conversions. Mingo was a figure skater as a child, but switched to hockey when it was suggested that he become his sister’s doubles skating partner.

“It was my sister. If it was someone else, that would have been okay with me,” he said with a laugh. “So I tried out hockey. I already had the speed and all that for hockey. All I needed was to learn how to shoot, stop on my left foot. It took me, maybe, a couple of years to get the puck off the ice. But after that, it came easy.”

From figure skater to forward to defenseman. Mingo hopes to make one more switch - to NHL player.

From figure skater to forward to defenseman. Mingo hopes to make one more switch – to NHL player.

Initially, Mingo was a forward, and a pretty good one. He led the United States Hockey League’s Des Moines Buccaneers in goals with 24 in 2010-11 and was tied for second on the team in overall points with 35.

Mingo was Bowling Green’s third-leading scorer in 2012-13, his freshman season, with 22 points – eight goals, 14 assists in 41 games. But despite his scoring touch, Mingo’s coach asked him to switch to defense.

The 5-foot-8 player responded by scoring a goal and nine assists in 39 games last season.  He was tied for fourth on the team in blocked shots with 35. In a weekend series against Northern Michigan, he registered a goal, two assists, a plus-four rating, and seven blocked shots.

“To be honest, our coach wanted a better D-corps because we were running low on D,” Mingo said. “After that, I had a good season, so I’m strictly defense now. I like it, I get to see the ice a lot. When I take the puck up from behind the net, I like to look left, right and center, I can see everything.”

But Mingo admits that he’s still a work in progress on the blue line.

“My positioning, my stick-work and footwork as a defenseman,” he listed as areas that need improvement. “I know I’m good on my feet, but you’re learning in hockey everyday, particularly as a first-year defenseman.”

Mingo was surprised that the Capitals invited him to camp, but never asked anyone in the organization why they did.

“No,” he said with that perpetual smile. “I just came.”

Everything’s irie – well, almost – for Jamaican ice hockey effort

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Look out hockey world, a cool breeze is blowing in hot from the Caribbean.

The Jamaican Olympic ice hockey effort put an Under-18 team on ice over the weekend at a tournament at the Nottawasaga Inn Resort & Conference Centre in Alliston, Ont.

Jamaica's exhibition hockey team fell one win short of a tournament championship over the weekend (Photo/@GameDayPhoto).

Jamaica’s exhibition hockey team fell one win short of a tournament championship over the weekend (Photo/@GameDayPhoto).

The team, comprised mostly of Canadian players of Caribbean heritage, won three games but wound up on the short end of a 4-3 score in the championship game. Still, just being in the tourney was a symbolic victory for the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation in its drive to form a team to compete in the Winter Olympics in the near future.

JOIHF entered the exhibition squad in the tourney to show potential players, donors, and Jamaicans on the island nation and throughout North America that it’s serious about its Olympic quest.

There are still obstacles to overcome, mainly funding and the lack of an ice skating rink in Jamaica. International Ice Hockey Federation rules require members to have ice hockey facilities in their countries.

JOIHF officials say they’re working to overcome the hurdles. In the meantime, the organization gets major points for coming up with the most bad-ass home and away hockey jerseys on the planet.

Jamaica's looking good, and playing sharp wearing one of the best international unis around (Photo/@GameDayPhoto).

Jamaica’s looking good, and playing sharp wearing one of the best international unis around (Photo/@GameDayPhoto).

The showing by Jamaica comes on the heels of Haiti capturing the Gold Medal in the B Pool of the International Street and Ball Hockey world championship last month in Zug, Switzerland. The team was made up of mostly Haitian-Canadians players from the Montreal area. Its assistant coach and lead fund-raiser was former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque.

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. He also played two games for the Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League and tallied one assist.

“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.

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