Rookie Duties: Early Season Adjustments
Just as anticipated, the last couple weeks have been some crazy and exhausting ones. With the Sudbury Wolves playing their annual opening stretch of games against teams in the Western Division, I knew this was going to be my best opportunity to see Kuch, McFarland, and the rest of the boys for a while, so I wanted to take advantage of the situation. Fortunately, I received news on Wednesday that Kuchin had received his Visa from the U.S. Consulate in Toronto so, I knew I could rest assured that he’d be able to make the trip with the team.
And so the grueling road stretch for me continued on Thursday September 30th when I drove up to Saginaw, MI for the Wolves’ game against the Saginaw Spirit. Highly touted Russian prospect Ivan Telegin (101st overall pick by Atlanta in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft) skates for the Spirit, so it give me a great chance to see another Russian talent, still developing his game. It’s about a four and a half hour drive from Chicago to Saginaw, which is less than appealing when you’re just going to catch one game, but as I said, I probably wouldn’t be able to make it to many of the Wolves’ games after the first few weeks of the season.
I arrived at the Dow Center in Saginaw just as the starting lineups were being announced. You could tell that the Wolves were continuing to play better as the younger players became adjusted to the speed of the OHL game and new comers became more familiar with their teammates. Despite the improved performance by the Wolves, they weren’t able to capitalize on some golden opportunities, and after Saginaw posted a late empty net goal, the Spirit skated away with the contest by a final score of 4-1.
Afterwards I spoke with Kuchin for a bit, and while he’s not the type of player who gets overly emotional, he was definitely upset that he wasn’t able to burry a goal that normally would have found the back of the net. I told him not to worry about it – it’s still early in the season and as long as he keeps working hard, he’ll be fine. Before long, the coaches wanted to get out of town, so we said “goodbye” and I told him I’d see him Sunday in Windsor.
Friday morning I woke up to a call from Moscow. One of my advisees over there had a friend looking for a spot in the USHL. This particular player (we’ll call him John Yasak) was a very solid goaltender, with KHL experience mind you, who was receiving a few contract offers from Russian teams, but wanted to test the waters in North America. I told my friend that I’d make some calls and see what I could do, but since it was early in the season it might be tough to find a club willing to make a goaltending change now – especially since bringing this kid in would require the team to have an open Import spot.
So I grabbed my phone and called a few teams that had some goaltending issues the first weekend of games. I got some interest from two or three teams, but they wanted to wait at least another weekend before they would really consider making a switch. I called back over to Moscow to let the boys know what I’d been told, and while waiting was the last thing John wanted to do, if he wanted to play in the USHL, that’d be his only option.
Saturday night I had a bachelor party for one of my oldest and best friends, Dave. I knew I was going to have to wake up extremely early on Sunday morning to make the 2pm EST Wolves game in Windsor, but Dave’s always been one of those friends that has always been there for me and it was important to me that I be there for him. After hanging with the boys for a few hours, I headed back home around midnight to try and get a few hours of rest.
Sunday it was back on the road for another four-plus hour drive. It’s pretty convenient that Windsor’s located just over the U.S./Canadian border, but construction in town turned what is normally a four and a half hour drive into a six hour stress-fest. At least the OHL teams do a pretty solid job of covering the game on the radio, so I listened to the pregame show and the first five minutes of the game while I snaked my way through traffic. During the pregame show, it was great to catch an interview with Wolves forward, Marcus Foligno (104th overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2009). During the discussion, Foligno was asked about playing with Kuchin and McFarland on a line. “I’d imagine that you three would be pegged as one of the top lines in the entire OHL,” the commentator noted. As it turned out, the three didn’t play together on Sunday as coach Trent Cull decided to shake the lines up a bit, but it was definitely nice to hear teams other than Sudbury acknowledge the boys’ skill and potential.
The atmosphere at the WFCU Centre was pretty amazing. By the time I finally got to the rink, the game was already underway, so I had to park in a lot over a mile away and jog it in from there. During the game the Wolves took a number of undisciplined penalties, and when you’re playing a team as skilled as Windsor, that’s something you just can’t afford to do. Two players in particular I was interested to see play were Zach Kassian (12th overall pick by Buffalo in 2009) and Alexander Khokhlachev (2011 NHL Draft eligible). Kassian had just been sent back to Windsor from the Buffalo Sabres and got off to a fast start to his OHL season – notching a goal and adding three assists. Khokhlachev was likewise impressive, getting two pretty helpers of his own.
Late in the game, with the Wolves down big, Kuch was able to set up defenseman Jake Cardwell with a beautiful feed for a nice power play goal. Overall Kuchin didn’t see nearly as much playing time as usual, but as I said, when a team’s a little slow out of the gate it’s usually time to start mixing lines up a bit – and with the amount of ice time Kuch had seen in the first four games, it really wasn’t anything to worry about.
Afterwards I hung around the lobby while the boys got showered up. Security wouldn’t let any parents or agents down by the locker rooms, so I mixed and mingled with a few of the parents that’d I’d gotten to know so far this season in the concourse. After a while, a number of the boys came up to say “hi” to their families, but I still hadn’t seen Kuch. Fortunately, Johhny McFarland flagged me down and told me that Kuch was looking for me down by the bus.
When I got down there, I could tell Kuchin was upset. I mentioned how he really didn’t get enough ice to get in the groove of the game. “It was my fault. I played really bad in Plymouth,” Kuch responded. Since Kuchin’s someone that I consider a very close friend, it’s always tough to see him disappointed. Nevertheless, as both his friend and his agent, it’s really great to see when a player is accountable for his play. He understood why he didn’t see as much ice and knew what he needed to do.
After a short chat, it was time for the team to board the bus and for me to head back home to Chicago. As Wolves coach, Trent Cull passed by, he called out “man Scott, you’re really racking up the frequent flyer miles.”
“I wish. Unfortunately the toll way doesn’t give frequent driver miles,” I jokingly responded.
It was too bad I didn’t get to see a win, and at least part of me was hoping I’d be able to catch Kuchin’s first OHL goal, but you just can’t control when those milestone moments are going to come – just ask MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig.
Late last week I received a call from a USHL team who’s interested in one of my Russian advisees currently playing in Moscow. The coach wanted to wait until after one more weekend of games to pull the trigger, but he let me know I could start talking to the player and his family and see what it would take to get him over here at some point this week. Originally I had planned a trip up to Hamilton, Ontario over the weekend for the Tim Horton’s Tournament hosted by the Hamilton Reps, but I knew I needed to get this issue taken care of and that’d best be done at home.
To make up for my absence, I made a few calls to some OHL scouts that I knew would be in attendance in Hamilton. I have one advisee in particular who would be playing in the tourney and since I couldn’t be there personally, I wanted to make sure that there’d be some eyes on him throughout the weekend. The guys I spoke with were very helpful and have given me some really good feedback since the tournament concluded.
The rest of this week will hopefully be spent getting travel arrangements in place for my Russian kid. I’m actually waiting on a call from the coach as I type this, but I’ll be sure to keep you all posted via the Facebook Fan Page and my Twitter account.
Well I better get back to work. If any of you are friends with me on Facebook, you probably heard that EA Sports’ NHL 2011 has Kuchin rostered on the Barrie Colts, so I’m going to get a hold of them shortly and ask them to fix that. Not really a big issue, but I imagine if I was in a video game I’d prefer to be on the correct team – and I suppose if I have to deal with my first client trade, I’d prefer it be in the virtual world of EA Sports. Anyway, I hope all you Canadian readers out there had a very happy Thanksgiving and until next time…it’s time to hit the showers.