Apologies for the delayed observations but personal circumstances have necessitated a combined summary of impressions from several days I attended.
The bulk of the following observations stem from last Wednesday's 3-on-3 tournament action (I was unable to make it Tuesday) although some does come from the on-ice sessions last Sunday and Monday. Here are some thoughts on a limited number of camp participants, from those I went out of my way to watch and those my eyes kept being drawn to:
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed defenseman Mark Barberio to a one-year, two-way contract today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Barberio, 23, skated in two games with the Lightning during the 2012-13 season, recording one shot on goal. He made his NHL debut on April 9 against the Ottawa Senators at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Barberio also skated in 73 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, collecting eight goals and 42 points to go along with 44 penalty minutes. He ranked tied for third in the AHL among defensemen for assists with 34 and ranked sixth for points. Of his eight goals last season, five were recorded while on the power play. Barberio also played in 18 games during the Calder Cup playoffs with Syracuse, notching three goals and 15 points with 18 penalty minutes. He led all defensemen for points, and was tied for first in both goals and assists during the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound defenseman has skated in 215 career AHL games with the Crunch and Norfolk Admirals, posting 30 goals and 134 points with 111 penalty minutes. During the 2011-12 season, while playing for the Admirals, Barberio won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman. He was also part of the Admirals team that won the Calder Cup, registering two goals and nine points in 18 games during the playoffs.
Barberio was drafted by the Lightning in the sixth round, 152nd overall, of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed forward J.T. Brown to a one-year, two-way contract today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Brown, 23, skated in 51 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League last season, recording 10 goals and 28 points to go along with 27 penalty minutes. The 5-foot-11, 177-pound forward ranked ninth on the Crunch for points and was 10th for goals. He also skated in 18 Calder Cup playoff games with Syracuse, registering four goals and nine points to go along with 18 penalty minutes.
Brown made his NHL debut with the Lightning on March 31, 2012 against the Winnipeg Jets at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. He recorded his first NHL point (assist) on April 7 at Winnipeg. Brown also skated in six games for the United States at the 2012 World Championships held in Finland and Sweden.
The High Point, North Carolina native skated in 81 career games with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs during the previous two seasons, collecting 40 goals and 84 points to go along with 109 penalty minutes. In 2011, Brown was a member of the Bulldogs team that captured the NCAA Frozen Four Championship, being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Brown was originally signed by the Lightning as a free agent on March 28, 2012.
On the heels of a national holiday, 32 prospects--most drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, others signed as free agents and a handful of invitees--gathered on the ice Saturday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon to begin several days of on-ice and off-ice conditioning as well as instruction in organizational values and the culture of professional hockey for both returning and first-time participants.
"Let's call this what it is: summer hockey," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper told assembled media. "Part of what [the players] get out of this camp is the chance to get to know myself, Rob Zettler, the staff. Getting to know expectations and being a pro."
"A lot of these kids are coming from juniors programs, college, all these different walks of life, but here at the Tampa Bay Lightning we've got a certain code of conduct," Cooper noted. "This is where it starts."
Having concluded fitness testing and physicals, players hit the ice and rounded out their day with an hour-long practice spent completing basic drills as well as a forty-five minute power skating session.
"The first day is always kind of a feel out day," Cooper said. "Some of these guys, I'm sure, have been skating and some haven't been."
Keeping in mind that the 3-on-3 tournament scheduled to begin Tuesday and wrap-up on Wednesday, the final day of camp, will provide better opportunities to gauge player abilities and hockey sense, here are some brief and selected observations:
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward Geoff Walker to a one-year, two-way contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Walker, 25, skated in 51 games last season with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League, collecting five goals and 20 points to go along with 55 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound forward ranked 11th on the Monsters in assists with 15.
The Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island native has skated in 226 career AHL games with the Manchester Monarchs, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Monsters, recording 39 goals and 108 points to go along with 326 penalty minutes. Walker set career highs for goals (18), assists (26), points (44) and penalty minutes (114) during the 2011-12 season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He’s also appeared in 24 career Calder Cup playoff games, registering two goals and nine points.
Walker originally went undrafted.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed goaltender Cedrick Desjardins and defenseman Matt Taormina to one-year, two-way contracts, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Desjardins, 27, appeared in three games with the Lightning last season, compiling a record of 0-3-0 to go along with a 3.00 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. The Edmundston, New Brunswick native played in 36 games in the American Hockey League last season, splitting the season between the Hamilton Bulldogs and Syracuse Crunch, registering a record of 15-18-3 to go with a 2.61 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. During the 2012-13 AHL season, Desjardins recorded five shutouts, including three in just 14 games while with the Crunch. He appeared in 18 Calder Cup playoff games with Syracuse, posting a record of 13-5-0 to go along with a 2.30 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
The 6-foot, 192-pound goaltender has appeared in five career NHL games, all with the Lightning, during the 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons, notching a record of 2-3-0 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He has also played in 184 career AHL games with the Bulldogs, Norfolk Admirals, Lake Erie Monsters and the Crunch, compiling a record 95-62-12. Desjardins was the recipient of the AHL’s Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award for recording a 2.00 goals-against average during the 2009-10 season, given annually to the goalie with the lowest goals-against average. That same season he also appeared in the 2010 AHL All-Star Classic, in which he was named top goaltender during the skills competition, as well as being named on the 2010 AHL Second All-Star Team following the season.
He was acquired by the Lightning on February 14, 2013 from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for goaltender Dustin Tokarski.
Taormina, 26, skated in two games with Tampa Bay last season and was held scoreless. He made his Lightning debut on April 6 at the New York Islanders. He also skated in 55 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, collecting four goals and 24 points to go along with 21 penalty minutes and a plus-10 rating. The Warren, Michigan native ranked second on the Crunch defense for points and assists. Taormina has skated in 254 career AHL games with the Binghamton Senators, Lowell Devils, Albany Devils and the Crunch, collecting 18 goals and 74 points, including a career-high 10 goals and 50 points in 2009-10.
The 5-foot-10, 182-pound defenseman has appeared in 49 career NHL games, with the New Jersey Devils and Lightning, recording four goals and 12 points with a plus-3 rating. He made his NHL debut with the Devils on October 8, 2010 against the Dallas Stars.
Taormina went undrafted and was signed as a free agent by the Lightning on July 6, 2012.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired defenseman Drew Olson from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for future considerations, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Olson, 23, skated in five games with the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League last season, collecting one assist and two penalty minutes. He made his AHL debut with the Rivermen on April 13 against the Grand Rapids Griffins and recorded his first AHL point (assist) on April 16 versus the Charlotte Checkers. Olson also skated in 38 games with the University of Minnesota-Duluth last season, collecting a goal and seven points to go along with 28 penalty minutes. Olson also served as an alternate captain with the Bulldogs during the 2012-13 season.
As Syracuse Crunch captain Mike Angelidis paused, cheers could still be heard from the ice.
After beating the Syracuse Crunch 5-2 in Game 6 of the American Hockey League finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Tuesday, each member of the Grand Rapids Griffins took their turn hoisting the Calder Cup.
"It's tough, it's really tough," Angelidis said. "You compete that long in the season. It kills you."
Despite becoming the first team in league history to win back-to-back road elimination games after going down 3-0 in the series, the end result was hard to take.
"You're just disappointed, you're upset," said Angelidis, one of almost a dozen players who won the cup last year with the Norfolk Admirals. "When we don't win the Calder Cup, it's a failure for us. We lost. There's nothing good about this. We have to learn from this, I guess. We know what it takes to win every night, we just fell a little short."
Crunch defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote described the feeling as "devastating."
"This is what we play for…It's hard," he said. "Yes, you have to keep your head up, you made it that far, but it's a disappointment."
All good things...
Grand Rapids Wins the Series 4-2
Grand Rapids Wins the Calder Cup
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 23 shots in a game that encapsulated the Finals for Desjardins. Brilliant at times, he allowed a goal through him on the eventual game winner by Evans that he surely wishes he had back. It will be interesting to see how Julien BriseBois retools between the pipes for next season, because you can make the argument the difference between Desjardins and Mrazek was, in large part, the difference between champion and runner-up.
SYR Panik, (9) (Taormina, Palat), 17:15
GR Callahan, (6) (Ferraro, Grant), 2:23
GR Tatar, (15) (Nyquist, Ferraro), 12:41 (PP)
SYR Sustr, (2) (Namestnikov, Devos), 5:14
GR Evans, (2) (Callahan, Sheahan), 9:54
GR Tatar, (16) (Andersson, Nyquist), 19:11 (EN/PP)
GR Andersson, (3) (Glendening), 19:54 (EN)
I think Lightning fans everywhere, even with the bitterness of this defeat, need to start by saying, "thank you" to this group of players. The team we've referred to as "SyraNo" on this site, which won a championship in Norfolk last year and almost did again this year with Syracuse has been one of the best groups of players ever to take the ice together in the AHL. A lot of these guys, like Radko Gudas who returned tonight from injury, are ticketed for the NHL next year. Others, some of the really veteran guys, may move on in the offseason. So, this group of guys will never be together again, but we should tip our hat to them for two years of sustained brilliance the likes of which we're unlikely to see again anytime soon.
As for the young prospects who will likely return to Syracuse next season, I found myself highly impressed with Vladislav Namestnikov and Andrej Sustr, both of whom got stronger as the playoffs wore on. Namestnikov is a legit threat to be an AHL All-Star next season, if not more, with his wizardry with the puck and Sustr is something rare and interesting in pro hockey. You have to put aside the fact Andrej is 6'8", because he refuses to play to type. He's not a bone crunching stay-at-homer, and there's a lot of times he looks like a forward with his ability to read the play offensively and jump into the action. His feed to Tyler Johnson in the slot in the Third Period tonight was an incredible bit of vision that I think stunned TJ a bit, and darned near got Syracuse the key goal they needed in the final frame. That's after he tied the game once in the final period with an absolute bullet from the point. These two guys will be fun to watch develop next season.
Ondrej Palat finishes the playoffs as the AHL leader in postseason scoring. Well done, Mr. Palat.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse gives themselves a chance.
Grand Rapids Leads the Series 3-2
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 42 shots for the win. 40 saves as Grand Rapids threw the kitchen sink at Syracuse to try to avoid having to head back to New York.
SYR Palat, (7) , 8:39
SYR Connolly, (6) (Johnson, Barberio), 16:09 (PP)
GR Grant, (2) (Ferraro, Callahan), 17:38
GR Tatar, (14) (Nyquist, Billins), 5:36 (PP)
SYR Panik, (8) (Barberio, Palat), 11:59 (PP)
SYR Johnson, (10) (Palat, Taormina), 0:36
SYR Sexton, (6) (Namestnikov), 17:16 (EN)
Desjardins and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars.
And, just like that, Syracuse has given itself an opportunity at something legendary. Headed west to Michigan their mission was to win 2 out of 3 to get things back to Syracuse with home ice. Things looked bleak as bleak can be down 3-0, but they ultimately accomplished their mission, and withstood an attempted haymaker from Grand Rapids tonight in Game Five to stay alive in the series. Now they have, potentially, 2 games at home to pull of what seemed fairly impossible 48 hours ago.
However, Syracuse can't confuse momentum for destiny. They need to show the maturity to understand that all they've accomplished in the past 2 nights was to book their tickets to a Game Six that for many of them is going to be some of the toughest, most intense hockey of their career. Grand Rapids actually probably has less pressure on them in Game Six than they did in Game Five, because the chance to clinch at home is written off and they can fall back on the fact that they haven't lost a game yet in Syracuse's barn. The Crunch need to understand that. Game Six is going to be a war. Hopefully, it's a war where Syracuse's shorter path to the Finals starts to pay some dividends. Grand Rapids played a 7 game series in the Western Conference Finals after going 6 games with the Marlies and the full 5 against the Aeros. Syracuse has to hope that as the battle becomes more pitched in Game Six, they have a little more left in the tank than Grand Rapids does. But, they can't rely on that to just kick in automatically. They have to push that much harder now to make it happen. If they do, there's a good chance they'll get to Game Seven.
Box score from TheAHL.com.