Cody Hodgson Sent Back to Brampton

On Tuesday afternoon Vancouver Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson got that painful news from management that no youngster wants to receive. After dominating last year for the Brampton Battalion in producing 92 points and being named Canadian Major Junior Player Of The Year there were high expectations that this 19 year-old would have a big roll on this year’s NHL team. Things didn’t go according to plan starting in the off-season when Hodgson suffered a serious setback when he developed a bulging disk during training, which put him squarely behind the eight ball. Hodgson who played a huge role with 16 points in leading Canada to a gold medal finish at last year’s World Junior Championships wasn’t cleared to participate in contact drills at the beginning of camp. Once he got the go ahead from doctors late in camp Hodgson who was selected 10th overall in the 2008 draft didn’t exactly get rave reviews for his on ice performance. Even though he made a huge statement by scoring four points in as many games playing with the Canuck’s American Hockey Affiliate the Manitoba Moose late last year, the club still believes that for now Brampton is the best place for Hodgson.

Pascal Leclaire is Turning Heads and stopping Pucks

There is plenty of excitement being generated by management and players alike in the Ottawa Senators training camp as their number one goalie Pascal Leclaire has been turning heads with what has been a strong camp. After struggling last season with mediocre at best goaltending the Senators made an investment at the March trade deadline as they acquired Leclaire who at the time was injured from the Columbus Blue Jackets.  This 26 year-old who was chosen eighth overall in 2001 only played in 12 games last year and was sidelined for the season in November due to a severe ankle injury. Coming into camp Leclaire who had his best season in 2008 with 24 wins and a 2.25 GAA was a bit of a wildcard as no one knew how much rust he would have after being sidelined for so long. “I’m very happy with Pascal,” said Senators’ general manager Bryan Murray who has had approximately eight number one net minders in the past nine years. “He is coming off a time where he had some injury problems and health problems. He’s worked very hard this summer and has looked very good in the games this preseason.”  In camp Leclaire was looking to once again get comfortable on the ice after the long layoff and start the season healthy. Unfortunately injuries have haunted him in his first six NHL campaigns. “It was a long time without playing any games,” Leclaire who went 4-6-1 last year said. “I’m trying to use the exhibition games to get back in the groove. So far so good… but it’s not perfect.” Unlike goalies of the past such as Dominik Hasek or Ray Emery who have graced the Senators net Leclaire is a lot calmer which he feels is an advantage on the ice. “When the goalie is calm it has a positive effect on his teammates,” Leclaire said. Despite a solid camp there will be a lot of pressure put on Leclaire playing for an Ottawa team that drastically underachieved last season in missing the playoffs. Lots of eyes will be focused on the Quebec native who hasn’t won a game since last November.

NHL Short Notes

 FLEURY OFFICIALLY RETIRES

 On Monday in a press conference 41 year-old Theoren Fleury officially announced his retirement after being cut from the Calgary Flames on what was a tryout contract. “I could not sign with another team,” Fleury who scored 455 goals and 1,088 points in a 15- year career with four different teams said. “I retire a Calgary Flame.”  In a bit of a shocking move Fleury was released even though he scored four points in as many games during pre-season play. In his career Fleury who was attempting to make a comeback after a six year NHL absence gained popularity in Calgary where he scored 830 points in 791 games. His biggest thrill came in 1989 when as a Calgary rookie he got to lift the Stanley Cup. In his press conference the most important point that Fleury made was that he is at peace with himself and has no regrets in trying to comeback.

 YZERMAN WANTS GRETZKY INPUT WITH TEAM CANADA

The Phoenix Coyotes loss just might end up being Team Canada’s gain. Days after Wayne Gretzky stepped down as coach of the financially challenged Phoenix Coyotes, Steve Yzerman who is the executive director of Team Canada has said that he plans on contacting Gretzky and asking about his future. Gretzky who was heavily involved with Team Canada in the past two Olympics is currently in limbo trying to decide what he wants to do next. Yzerman who is going in the Hockey Hall Of Fame this coming November took Gretzky’s position last year and has since been busy picking the most competitive Team Canada for the upcoming winter Olympics.   

 KOSTITSYN SENT TO THE AHL

In a shocking move the Montreal Canadiens brain trust assigned forward Sergei Kostitsyn to the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. What makes this a surprise is that the 22 year-old played in 56 games last year for Montreal where he produced eight goals and 15 assists.

The Monster Shines for the Leafs

After shutting out the Detroit Red Wings for two periods on Saturday night there is no question that rookie Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson otherwise known as ‘The Monster’ has instantly become a fan favorite. Making his home debut Gustavsson who is coming off a solid season in posting a 1.96 GAA and a .932 Save Percentage with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League was a bit of a mystery to fans before stepping out on the ice Saturday night against last year’s Stanley Cup finalist. Right away ‘The Monster’ who missed some of training camp due to minor heart surgery earned countless ovations as he looked like a poised veteran in stopping countless shots. Any concern about this 24 year-old who was also sought after by the Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars being behind schedule in getting ready for the season was put to rest after not only Saturday’s performance when he turned aside 15 shots but also on Friday when at Joe Louis Arena he made seven saves in shutting out the Red Wings for a period. After Saturday night fans and Leaf management were singing his praises. “That’s why we—and particular Brian—pursued him so hard,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “We thought he’s the best goalie not in the NHL. He’s had three periods and he’s looked pretty good.” His best save on Saturday which earned him a lengthy standing ovation occurred in the third period when the lanky Swede showed his quickness by going post to post in robbing Wings Johan Ryno who was set up by Jan Mursak on what was a two on nothing breakaway. “It was awesome,” said Gustavsson who got another standing ovation when skating out as the first star. “It was so much fun to play today.” Besides for Gustavsson two other Swedish players who had standout nights and made a definite statement to Leafs management were Carl Gunnarson and Victor Stalberg who found the back of the net in what was a 2-1 home win on Saturday. Even though Stalberg who is 23 years-old, led the Leafs this pre-season with five goals he will more than likely not make the big club. He believes that he can definitely have an impact in the NHL. “I think I’ve shown over the last couple weeks here that I’m ready to play,” said Stalberg. “Hopefully, I get a chance here coming Thursday.”

Flames Cut Fleury Loose

I have to admit that I was very confused and a little sad that the feel good story of Theoren Fleury’s attempted NHL comeback with the Calgary Flames has come to an abrupt end. When this 41 year-old announced in late summer that he wanted to come back to the NHL I along with probably 99..9 percent of hockey fans thought it would never happen. First of all this 15 year veteran was still suspended indefinitely for violating his aftercare program and he’s been out of the NHL since 2003 when he was last seen skating for the Chicago Blackhawks. After Commissioner Gary Bettman lifted Fleury’s suspension in early September and when he was invited on a tryout basis right afterwards with his former team in Calgary I became more intrigued and began thinking wow maybe he can in fact do the impossible and make a comeback. Right away when news broke of Fleury being invited to the camp there was a definite buzz in Calgary where people still have a soft heart for Fleury who back in 1989 as a rookie played a pivotal role by scoring 11 post season points in helping the Flames win the franchise first Stanley Cup. During his stint with the Flames, which lasted until March of 1999 Fleury was always playing every shift like it was his last. Even though he was only 5-6 and 182 pounds he won over the fans by always competing with bigger players and coming out on top. Even though he drew countless ovations and averaged a point per game in four exhibition contests, Calgary GM Darryl Sutter still cut the seven time All Star who in his career played over 1,000 games and accumulated 1,088 career points. In typical fashion Fleury reacted very classy towards both Darryl and coach Brent Sutter in praising them for giving him an opportunity in camp. “I am very thankful to Darryl and the Flames organization for following through on the commitment to provide me with this opportunity,” Fleury who was cut on Friday said. “I said in the beginning that no matter what the outcome, this would be a success story. I intend to take the next few days to review this experience and make decisions with my family regarding next steps in my life.” After producing in those four games I was excited for Fleury especially after overcoming his on ice problems that interfered with his career. Upon being invited to camp the veteran announced that he wants to end his NHL career with a different taste then when he was virtually forced out years ago by the league. Even though his birth certificate says he is 41 years old I believed that Fleury was good enough to log minutes on the third or fourth line while most importantly adding that veteran leadership. In the past few seasons Calgary has greatly underachieved. Picked by some to be serious contenders for the Stanley Cup the Flames instead have been eliminated in the first round in the past couple of post seasons. Fleury has played on not only a Stanley Cup team in ’89 but also the Canadian Olympic team in 2002 that won gold. The point is that this little guy with a heart of a lion could have been a valuable asset in teaching the Flames what it takes mentally to win the Stanley Cup. Still GM Darryl Sutter saw it a different way. “There was a decision made here this morning that, for Theo to play here, he was going to have to fit into our top six wingers,” Sutter said. “He didn’t have the capabilities to do so. It had nothing to do with Theo’s heart or his mind for the game because I learned a lot here the last two weeks just being around him. It’s unfortunate that when you haven’t played the game for six years, and at the age he’s at, that the legs just aren’t where they need to be.”  Despite this setback Flames veteran forward Craig Conroy believes that this little warrior can still compete and be an effective player in the NHL. He is convinced that Fleury will catch on somewhere if that’s what he wants. “If he really wants to (keep playing), there are probably opportunities,” Conroy said. “Claude Lemieux, in that situation, went to the minors and he got called up. Theo could easily do that if he wants to. Obviously he wanted to make this team now but I think there are opportunities for him out there and someone will give him a chance.” Fleury wants to take a few days to mull over what he wants to do before making a decision regarding his hockey future on Monday.

Patrice Brisebois Calls it A Career

Former Montreal Canadiens’ defenceman Patrice Brisebois couldn’t say enough good things about current GM Bob Gainey. This 18- year veteran who hung up his skates on Thursday reflected on his career to the media and brought up what he called a turning point that took place in 2003 when he was being booed and criticized by the Montreal press. At that time Gainey just took over as GM and one of the first things he did was go public in using words such as “gutless” and “yellow” to describe those in the stands booing the Montreal born blue liner. ‘I really think Bob re launched my career,” the 38 year-old said. “I felt if I made a mistake, I wouldn’t hear those boos again.” Brisebois who was wearing his 1993 Stanley Cup ring during his retirement news conference was also full of praise for the GM who brought the veteran defenceman back to Montreal after he had a two- year stint with the Colorado Avalanche from 2005-2007. Looking back in his career Brisebois who spent 16 years in Montreal pointed out that besides for winning the Stanley Cup another highlight was the thunderous standing ovation he received when he began that second stint with the Canadiens during the 2007/08 home opener. “Without Bob, I don’t think it would have been possible,” Brisebois who in his career scored 98 goals and 420 points said. “That ovation is something I’ll remember the rest of my life.” During his playing days which in Montreal had its share of turmoil Brisebois is ranked third all time in Canadiens history in games played by a defenceman (896), fourth in Canadiens history in goals from a blue liner (87) and fifth on the list with 371 points. Looking ahead to his post hockey career Brisebois who has always been a car buff has a goal of driving at NASCAR’S Canadian series. Currently he is trying to find sponsors for the NASCAR’S Canadian Tire Series. “It’s a great team sport, like hockey,” Brisebois said of auto racing. “Your mechanic is kind of like your coach, and there’s a game plan, race strategy, so it’s a bit like a hockey team. I’m going to try and go as far as I can in auto racing. I’d love to be able to move on the Nationwide or Sprint series, but it’s going to be very tough.”

Sidney Crosby is Hurt!

Even though they lost arguably their best player a week before the regular season begins no one is panicking within the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. After taking only three shifts on Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets captain Sidney Crosby who once again is being counted on to play a major role injured his groin. “It’s better to stay off it,” Crosby who played only a little over 90 seconds in what was a 5-2-road loss said. “I’m hoping for just a few days. I’ve hurt my groin before. It’s not as bad. I think I missed five games with one last year. It’s just something you have to be careful with.” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma isn’t concerned that it may be a lingering injury that will keep his 103- point scorer out of the lineup for an extended period of time. “It was more precautionary than anything else,” Bylsma said of Crosby leaving the game. “It’s been tight for a couple of days.” The timetable now for Crosby who made history last spring by becoming the youngest captain to win the Stanley Cup is to stay off the ice on Friday and skate on Saturday. “Tomorrow (Friday) I won’t skate, but Saturday I’ll try to get on the ice for however long and test it out,” Crosby said. “It’s kind of a day-by-day thing. I’d love to play Sunday. That’s what I hope but really don’t know with groins. I’m cautious about it but I’m not worried. It was sore. We all deal with sore groins this time of the year, especially in camp. I felt it was getting more sore.” That Sunday game Crosby is targeting to play in is a highly anticipated affair at Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings. In the spring these two teams met in a thrilling Stanley Cup finals that saw the Penguins win in seven games. Crosby believes that a reason for his sore groin might be from sitting on the bus for the three- hour ride to Columbus. “When you’re sitting there it’s tightening up,” Crosby said. “It’s probably not the best for it but I don’t think it’s the sole reason. It probably didn’t help.” Meanwhile the Penguins dropped to 1-3-1 in exhibition play. Penguins fans will have their fingers crossed that Crosby’s groin injury is in fact a day to day thing and not one that will linger into the season.