So, what do two unemployed (and likely unemployable) young men do with all their free time on a beautiful summer afternoon? Look for work? Volunteer their time to those less fortunate? How about going to watch 18 and 19 year olds play a scrimmage game or two of hockey.
This afternoon, Sam and I took the trek from Lincoln Square down to Johnny's Ice House, about 4 blocks east of the United Center on Madison where the Blackhawks are having their annual prospects camp. There was definitely a decent crowd on hand, there were no seats available in the balcony when we arrived at the tail end of the first scrimmage session, and the bar at the far end of the rink overlooking the ice was full as well.
Due to my being sluggish (read: hungover) this morning, as well as an ill-fated decision to take Lincoln to Ashland to get down there, we only caught about the last 5 minutes and the shootout of the scrimmage between teams A and C. Team A featured Hawks picks Shawn Lalonde, Bill Sweatt, and Joe Fallon, while team C skated Akim Aliu, Dylan Olsen, and Brandon Pirri. Team A bested Team C in the shootout, which earned them the right to skate against Team B and Kyle Beach, and two of this years picks Dan Delisle and Peter Leblanc immediately after- a scrimmage we saw the entirety of.
Each scrimmage consisted of two 30-minute run-time periods, with a brief intermission for resurfacing. While Team A came out strong against Team B, eventually B prevailed 6-5 in a back and forth affair. Having just skated prior to this likely played a large part in Team B pulling away from A after trailing for much of the tilt.
Here are a few observations from the afternoon:
- Though we didn't see a lot of him time-wise, Akim Aliu is an absolute shithouse physically. It's clear that he has the frame and build of a grown-ass man ready for the NHL.
- Kyle Beach seemed disinterested at best. He was lackadaisical away from the puck, which directly caused a 2-on-1 goal against with only Beach himself back to defend. Additionally, he seemed content to leave drop passes all afternoon long as soon as he gained the offensive blue line, rather than using his alleged power and size on the outside to sheild the puck and go hard to the net. And does he ever try to agitate. Subtle little elbows here, there, and everywhere, and the mouth is always yapping. That being said, he still had his chances around the net, and he fed Leblanc on a pretty 2-on-1 at the end of the first period with a faked slapshot that absolutely froze the goaltender.
- Speaking of Leblanc, he's quite the little fireplug. Stoutly built and likes to throw his weight around, but still with a lot of offensive savvy and polish, likely stemming from him playing in Hockey East at UNH. He strikes me as a stockier version of Chris Kunitz. If he ends up becoming that, the Hawks did well for themselves selecting him.
- To me, however, the man who stole the show was Elburn native and Team Illinois alum Bill Sweatt. It was said that Sweatt was the fastest player in the entire 2007 draft, and the scouts don't lie. Sweatt was everywhere. There were times when it seemed like he would just appear on an off wing creating an odd man situation for his puck carrier. He forechecked, AND backchecked tenaciously, and was not afraid to go to the hard areas of the ice either, knocking the net off its moorings twice. There's a catch, though- he's tiny. For as much as Aliu looks like an adult athlete, Sweatt looks like he should be playing bantams. His jersey looked about 6 sizes too big (even for an Edge jersey), and his legs looked like twigs coming up from his seemingly oversized skates. Even still, he was very strong on the puck, which he had frequently, as was not afraid to muck along the boards, though some of the moves he tried would have likely resulted in Barrett Jackman's stick in the back of his neck had he tried them at the NHL level. As much as Sam was juiced about Bolland coming up through the ranks, I am equally so to see Bill Sweatt make the big club. If he can do so, I envision him being a top notch penalty killer, and a fan favorite at the UC.
- Dan Delisle is a big dude, with a decent balance of offensive upside and defensive responsibility. He strikes me as a Dainius-Zubrus-like figure.
- A clearly staged fight between John Morea and Joe Gleason resulted in Morea absolutely decking Gleason in the chops and downing him, and zero penalties between the two of them. Quoth Sam Fels - "Figures, that kid's [Morea] from Brooklyn".
- In the goaltending department, Yaley Alec Richards was the only real standout, as he had to make quite a few kick saves and smothers down low during scrambles where his defense hung him out to dry. Joe Fallon, the only netminder listed on the big squad's depth chart did not impress me, with a couple goals down low squiring through when he should have been hugging his post.
- After the conclusion of each of the scrimmages, the boys were made to take off their skates and toss on flip flops, and run outside to toss their gear on a charter bus, which took them back to the UC, presumably to do more on-ice drill work there, as Johnny's only has one sheet.
EDIT: Apparently the boys were dressing at the UC, due to the cramped quarters at Johnny's, not doing more drills.
- Speaking of Johnny's, a fellow observer astutely remarked that the sheet there is slightly smaller than regulation, which is advantageous to the bigger bodies and the crashers & bangers, giving the shifty guys lest room to work, and to hide. While his theory is sound, it simply wasn't the case during the scrimmage I watched, as the play was not overly physical
Well, that's about all I've got of any import from today. It was a cool (and most importantly FREE) way to kill a couple hours this afternoon, but it's certainly not a must-attend event. And due to the cap constraints that Uncle Dale and Friends have put themselves into, I think we'll be seeing some of these faces returning to W Madison St. sooner rather than later.