Pack your bags boys… Play time’s over. The brief glimpse of your potential future in the big league has come to an end.
Twenty-six players reported to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s B Camp in Brandon last Tuesday, hoping to walk away with a little more than a pat on the back and a “maybe next time.” Even though 23 of the 26 were handed their plane tickets this morning, they have more than fond memories to return with.
“If nothing works out here, I will be better wherever I end up,” said Brad Yeo, a 20-year old winger from Erie (OHL). After posting 69 points and 186 penalty minutes in 66 games with the Otters last season and then going undrafted, Yeo received an invitation to Tampa Bay’s training camp, where he was reunited with Erie teammate, Nikita Alexeev.
The camp itself wasn’t exactly a picnic for the twenty Lightning players and six invitees in attendance. “The skating drills are the toughest, but nothing is easy,” said Yeo, who used his invitee status as motivation.
“I have to excel against the guys I am playing against,” he explained. “They are pretty much here on a free ride, whereas I come in working extra hard to get a contract.”
A contract is the primary goal, but if not attained there is a consolation prize. The players released were not only competing for a roster spot, but also learning there is an entirely different level of play that must be reached before making it in the big league.
“The intense workouts after the exhibition games are excruciating, but they help you a lot,” noted Aaron Lobb, who will be returning to London (OHL).
“It makes you want to compete harder, and be better,” added Yeo.
Whether they learned a new workout routine, defensive technique or simply what it’s like to play at the next level, each of the twenty-three players will go home with something.
“This is a great experience for all of them,” said Coach Brad Shaw, who headed the B Camp. “This is a stepping stone for their future success.”
With 23 guys out of a 26-man roster heading home, there are three leftovers. Three lucky prospects, Ryan Tobler, Martin Cibak and Robert McVicar, got bumped up with the big boys.
Tobler, recently signed, came into camp with a tough-guy logo looming over his head. He did not dispute it, standing his ground during the practice scrimmages. Instead, he rose above it, showcasing his offensive ability, which initially earned him a look-see during the inter-squad scrimmage that took place at the Ice Palace to benefit the Red Cross.
“Tobler got a couple goals on Sunday and earned another look,” said Shaw, after Tobler scored twice during the game and earned himself a chance at a pre-season game. Once again he did not disappoint, squaring off with notorious tough guy, Andre Roy. Although the fight was a draw, those on hand said it was quite a spectacle.
Cibak earned a good hard look after excelling through a hapless situation in Detroit last season. Cibak had 10 goals and 20 assists, to lead the team in scoring.
Cibak showed up to camp in great shape, and continued to impress through his on-ice play. He was arguably the best player in the B Camp. “Marty has elevated himself to a very high level,” said General Manager Rick Dudley.
The biggest surprise may be the retention of goaltender Robert McVicar. Even though he had a stellar season with Brandon (WHL), finishing with a 2.95 GAA and .927 save percentage through 25 games, McVicar went undrafted and was invited to camp. His large size was a huge appeal to the Lightning, as well as his outstanding work ethic. He played well through the first portion of camp and earned praise from Lightning coaches, fans and media alike.
“He’s a big kid, with good feet, who can cover a lot of the net,” said Dudley, who added, “He’s been good.”
The Lightning will still have to cut their roster down to 23 before the start of the season, leaving a battle for roster spots until then.
Released from Camp
Dimitry Afanasenkov – Springfield (AHL)
Evgeni Artukhin – Podolsk (Rus2)
Henrik Bergfors – Sodertalje (Swe J-20)
Mathieu Biron – Springfield (AHL)
Matt Elich – Springfield (AHL)
Aaron Gionet – Kamloops (WHL)
Johan Hagglund – MoDo (Swe J-20)
Sheldon Keefe – Springfield (AHL)
Dieter Kochan – Springfield (AHL)
Evgeny Konstantinov – Springfield (AHL)
Kyle Kos – Springfield (AHL)
Mikko Kuparinen – Springfield (AHL)
Michal Lanicek – Springfield (AHL)
Aaron Lobb – London (OHL)
Marek Priechodsky – Springfield (AHL)
Kenton Smith – Springfield (AHL)
J.F. Soucy – Montreal (QMJHL)
Jeremy Van Hoof – Springfield (AHL)
Thomas Ziegler – Springfield (AHL)