A growing number of Tampa Bay Lightning players, past and
present, have been accumulating in Brandon at the Ice Sports Forum, preparing
for training camp. These morning scrimmages saw ex-bolt Rob Zamuner
paired with Free Agent signee, Dave Andreychuk, taking on prospect,
Evgeny Konstantinov and Ryan Johnson, who was traded to Florida
during the off-season, skating one final time with his former teammates.
As entertaining as these practices were for those fortunate
enough to sneak out of the office for an early lunch…nothing compares to the
real thing. The Tampa Bay Lightning will officially kick off the 2001-02
Pre-Season September 11, 2001, when players and invitees report to Brandon.
The first two days of camp will consist of physicals and
fitness tests. The guys will hit the ice Thursday morning for the first
scrimmage game. This year’s camp will be divided into two sections with the
NHLers in the mornings and the prospects in the afternoons. This is a welcomed
change from last year’s format, which forced fans to run from rink to rink
during the simultaneous games in order to catch all the action.
Team 1 – Black Team
Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Juha Ylonen, Tim Taylor, Jimmie Olvestad,
Jassen Cullimore, Pavel Kubina, Nolan Pratt, Andrei Zyuzin, Mike Jones, Kevin
Noticeably absent from this group is team captain,
Vincent Lecavalier. Caught in a contract dispute with the team, time is
running out and the two groups are far apart on the terms of the deal. It will
not be a huge surprise if Lecavalier misses the pre-season all together.
Two interesting additions to this group are prospects
Jimmie Ölvestad and Mike Jones. Ölvestad, who spent the past
three season playing for Djurgårdens, one of the Swedish Elite League’s top
teams, signed with the team in July and has a fair chance of being with the big
club on opening night.
“Jimmie Ölvestad has great speed, strong character
and plays a physical game,
and he should challenge for a spot on our roster this season.” Tampa Bay
General Manager, Rick Dudley, said following his signing.
Ölvestad came alive during the SEL playoffs last
season, as Djurgårdens took home the championship. He was invited to the 2001
World Championships, but only appeared in the actual tournament.
Jones, on the other hand, did not enjoy near as much
success last season. He was stuck in the hapless conditions in Detroit, as the
Vipers struggled to stay afloat throughout the season. Jones was an
anchor on the blueline many nights. He somehow managed 36 points in 76 games
with a horrendous team. Jones does not have as good a chance as
Ölvestad of making the team, but you never know what a strong camp can
Team Two – White Team
Brian Holzinger, Matthew Barnaby, Dave Andreychuk, Vaclav Prospal, Ben Clymer,
Gordie Dwyer, Stan Neckar, Cory Sarich, Grant Ledyard, Kristian Kudroc, Mathieu
Biron, Nikolai Khabibulin
Most watched player in this group is sure to be 2000 first
round draft pick, Nikita Alexeev. Alexeev had a strong season
with the Erie Otters and looks to have a roster spot to lose. Alexeev
could learn a lot from veteran Dave Andreychuk. Should he make the team,
he will probably be resigned to the 3rd-4th lines.
Ben Clymer, who spent most of last season in
Detroit, jumped from defense to center to right wing, while ending out the
season in Tampa Bay. His size and forechecking is an asset up front. Given the
amount of defensemen in the system, Clymer has a much better chance of
making the team as a forward than defenseman. His versatility is another added
Tough-guy Gordie Dwyer will probably bounce between
Springfield (Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate) and Tampa Bay, as he has through the
last two seasons. The team loves his intensity, but he has proved in the past
to be more of a liability than an enforcer.
Defensemen Kristian Kudroc and Mathieu Biron
will battle for pecking order, as neither is likely to make the team out of
camp. With the additions of Stan Neckar, Nolan Pratt and Grant
Ledyard, experience will win out over toughness. The two will likely make
up the group assigned to Springfield.
Team Three – Blue Team
Ryan Tobler, Remi Royer,
Aaron Lobb, Evgeni Artukhin, Martin Cibak, Sheldon Keefe, Dimitry Afanasenkov,
Jeremy Van Hoof, Marek Priechodsky, Kyle Kos, Eric Schneider, Evgeny
Konstantinov, Michal Lanicek
Recent signee Ryan Tobler joins camp invitees
Remi Royer and Eric Schneider as part of the third group. Tobler,
who has belonged to three teams in the past two years, is a notorious tough
guy. He split last season between Milwaukee (IHL) and Hartford (AHL), scoring
16 points and 196 penalty minutes in 49 games while with Milwaukee. He added
another 6 points and 71 penalty minutes in 13 games with Hartford. Royer,
whose brother, Gaetan, is also invited, split last season between Portland and
Louisiana of the AHL. He totaled 10 points and 190 penalty minutes in 58
games. Schneider recently signed with the Johnstown Chiefs, Tampa Bay’s
former ECHL affiliate. He had 70 points in 66 games with Johnstown and another
3 in 6 games with Detroit (IHL).
One of the most controversial players on the team,
Sheldon Keefe, appears to have made amends with the team. He still holds
hope of making the opening roster, although he shouldn’t hold his breath.
Knowing Dudley’s hard-nosed style, the team is likely to start Keefe out
in Springfield as punishment for his refusal of a minor league assignment last
Dimitry Afanasenkov and Martin Cibak, who led
the Vipers in scoring last season, also ranked high amongst rookies throughout
the league, despite being on the lowly Vipers team. Expected to start the
season in Springfield, the solid surroundings provided by a more experienced
coach and talented teammates due to the joint affiliation with Phoenix should
aid their development greatly.
Slovakian defenseman Marek Priechodky impressed
during a rookie camp with Tampa Bay’s special skills coach, Paul Vincent, while
Kyle Kos has failed to make much of an impact in his four years in the
Lightning system. With his contract set to run out next season, he needs to
make marked improvement if he has any hopes of a renewal.
With two goaltenders on the list, both ranked behind
Dieter Kochan on the depth chart, Evgeny Konstantinov and Michal
Lanicek should battle for ice time in Pensacola (ECHL). Konstantinov
had a woeful start to last season, getting shelled night in and night out. When
management reassigned him to Louisiana of the ECHL late in the season, the
improvement was hard to miss. He led the Ice Gators through most of the
playoffs, maintaining a 3.01 GAA. Another year in the ECHL should benefit his
confidence and development. Lanicek spent last season with Beroun of the
Czech first league. He had a 2.44 GAA in 17 regular season games.
Team Four – Red Team
Kuparinen, Thomas Ziegler, Matt Elich, Jean-Francois Soucy, Johan Hagglund, Brad
Yeo, Andreas Holmqvist, Henrik Bergfors, Aaron Gionet, Kenton Smith, Dieter
Kochan, Robert McVicar, Gaetan Royer
Even the jump from defense to wing was not enough to help
Mikko Kuparinen get the spark back in his game. He had just six points
with the Detroit Vipers last season. The Lightning hold out hope that he will
improve, but how long will they have to wait? At 6’4, 215, with good skating
ability, Kuparinen seems to have all the tools. He just hasn’t learned
how to utilize them yet. Thomas Ziegler, on the other hand, uses what
he’s got every night. As a 9th round draft pick, not much was
expected from him initially, but his hard work and display of skills in Detroit
earned him two separate call-ups to the team.
2001 Draft Picks J.F. Soucy, Henrik Bergfors and
Andreas Holmqvist will skate at camp, but most likely will be returned to
their junior teams. Soucy will return to Montreal (QMJHL) where he will
need to work hard on his consistency problems. Bergfors will return to
the Swedish Junior League, where he was virtually unknown before the draft.
Many Swedish fans were shocked he was even drafted, even if it was with the last
overall pick. Holmqvist will also return to Sweden, but to
Hammarby in the second league. While in New
England at Paul Vincent’s camp, Holmqvist earned praise from Dudley, who
flew up to watch him.
Amongst others returning to their junior teams are Aaron
Gionet (Kamloops, WHL) and Johan Hagglund (MoDo, Swe-J20). While
Matt Elich doesn’t have a junior team to return to, he might have to find
another team to play for if he doesn’t show marked improvement this season.
Elich came on strong soon after bring drafted, but never seemed to make it
to the next level. He has incredible speed, but has trouble finishing and his
work ethic has been questioned.
The Lightning will practice in Brandon all week, and will
head to Estero, home of the Florida Everblades (ECHL), on Saturday to kick off
the pre-season with a game versus the Carolina Hurricanes.