Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day Catch-Up

A few random items that I've neglected to post recently . . .

Milewski (TCT): Talkin' Hockey with the Suters

Milewski (Icehouse): Alum Bourque nets first NHL hat trick (includes links to recruit and alumni stats reports)

Five questions with Joe Piskula, Monarchs defensman
The Union Leader
updated 12:46 a.m. CT, Wed., Dec. 31, 2008

MANCHESTER - The Dossier: Joe Piskula is a 24-year-old, second-year pro defenseman who played three seasons for Wisconsin, winning the national championship in his sophomore season of 2005-06. At the end of his junior year he turned pro, signing as a free agent with the L.A. Kings. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound blueliner is a defensive defenseman and is known among pro scouts for his smooth, fluid skating ability and playing bigger than his size. Piskula, who began skating at 3, is from a hockey-playing family. His 20-year-old brother, Charlie, plays at a high level of state men's hockey and his 21-year-old sister, Trish, is the senior captain at Wisconsin-Stevens Point. They all played four seasons for the Antigo High School Red Robins (Trish played on the boys' team). From there Joe played two seasons of USHL juniors where he was a teammate of Monarchs' defenseman Davis Drewiske.

1. Some scouts put a lot of emphasis on plus-minus and others don't. What does plus-minus mean for you?

Piskula: "It is huge for a player like me since my job is to keep the puck out of the net. If I'm minus I'm not doing my job. I try not to focus on stats too much but for the type of player I am that's a huge stat."

2. How did Wisconsin prepare you for playing pro hockey?

Piskula: College prepared me well for it. We played in big rinks with a lot of fans (Wisconsin averages 14,000 fans) and played against good teams. But, you can't prepare yourself for playing 80 games in a season, three games a week. You really have to be focused and be consistent with your play and be good every game."

3. Three things people don't know about you?

Piskula: "I was a potato farmer in high school. Antigo has huge potato farms. That's how I got my growth spurt, I was eating meat and potatoes every day. I played high school baseball (outfielder) and hockey with Justin Berg. He's a pitcher and he was just signed by the Chicago Cubs. I live with Davis Drewiske (a fellow Wisconsin Badger, although they were not a defensive pair in college.)."

4. Outside of ice hockey what else do you enjoy?

Piskula: "Antigo (a small city of 8,000 people) is the gateway to the north woods so its big deer hunting country. I enjoy bow hunting for deer, pheasant, ruffed grouse and black bear ... I have my bow but I haven't had any time here."

5. This year the Monarchs have a lot of college players led by a large contingent of Ivy Leaguers. Any college rivalry in the locker room?

Piskula: "Wisconsin is the Ivy League of the West.''

Patience is the key for netminder Elliott

December 31, 2008 11:16 AM

Cuddy Shark

Rule No. 1 for goaltenders — keep an eye on the puck at all times.

Yet, when there exists scads of turmoil at the big league level, it must be even more difficult for the guy in the minors, hoping to emerge as the next puck-stopping answer, to be completely tuned out from proceedings upstairs.

It’s precisely the situation in which Brian Elliott finds himself these days as a goaler in the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators, the top minor league affiliate to the Ottawa Senators.

An observer might figure the farther removed from present mess in Ottawa the better for a top prospect.

In his second full professional season, 23-year-old Newmarket resident is still learning the ropes in his trade. By the same token, there are a lot of intangibles involved in reaching the ultimate plateau which is the National Hockey League. Perhaps that is what the Senators were thinking from the outset of the season when they told Elliott he’d be the main guy in Bingo.

“It’s fun being the team that’s winning in the organization, rather than losing, because sooner or later, you think someone has to get a shot up there,” said Elliott, during a schedule break spent in Newmarket last week. “The guys look at it as always being one phone call away from being called up. It’s always in the back of your mind you could get called up.”

It is difficult to calculate a timetable by which any young player can gauge his arrival in the NHL on a full-time basis. There are simply too many intangibles that can’t be controlled from the player’s end.

But Elliott is doing everything possible to stay on Ottawa’s radar.

“There’s a lot of young goalies getting chances and you want to be part of that,” Elliott said, alluding to recent NHL debuts by fellows such as Justin Pogge in Toronto, Jonathan Quick for the L.A. Kings, Steve Mason with the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks’ Cory Schneider, among others, getting their chance to play in the NHL. “But you can’t get caught up in that. It is being in the right place at the right time.

“You’ve got to control what you can and can’t worry about what’s going on up there and just get wins. You do whatever they want you to do. That’s the way the game is.”

Elliott is indeed controlling his end, bumping his record to 16-7-1 on the weekend with a pair of wins. He also dropped his goals against average to 2.42 and sports a .924 save percentage. Overall, the B-Sens are 17-10-3-3.

Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be proper form to publicly take satisfaction in the misery of others, namely the Ottawa team and its netminders, Martin Gerber and Alex Auld. Yet, deep down in the heart of every minor league pro athlete you just know he’s watching to see what goes on with the big club.

“It’s a lot more fun when you can win a few games in a row rather than lose one and then sit for awhile,” he said. “(Ottawa) said a bunch of things. You don’t know how many things are true or how things have changed with how (Ottawa) is playing. But the goalies have been playing well.

“The worse (the Senators) do, the more changes they’re likely to make. But if you get called up, you’d rather the team was winning.”

Elliott seems destined one day for the NHL — he has played one career game in the NHL, making his debut last season when he earned a win against the Atlanta Thrashers — whether it is in Ottawa or some other NHL city.

“I’m in my contract year,” said Elliott, who enjoyed a stellar career at the University of Wisconsin where he was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and led the Badgers to an NCAA championship in his junior year. “We’ll see what happens. Obviously, I want to make it to the next level.”

Hi, my name is . . . Jake Gardiner
Posted Dec 31st 2008 8:00AM by Bruce Ciskie (author feed)
Filed under: Ducks, Western, NHL General, NHL Draft, NHL Fans

Hi, My Name is ... appears weekly on NHL FanHouse. We will spotlight future NHL prospects currently making a name for themselves in college hockey. Where applicable, the players' draft rights will be listed. Check back again next Tuesday at 8AM ET, as we return to our regular timeslot. Please post in the comments section if you have a nomination, or if you feel the author really blew it this week.

While many top Division I teams are missing star players to the World Junior Championships, others have a chance to step up and get noticed.

This is certainly true at the University of Wisconsin, where top defensemen Ryan McDonagh (Team USA) and Cody Goloubef (Team Canada) are playing in the tournament and unavailable for the Badgers.

Without them, Wisconsin hosted the Badger Hockey Showdown this past weekend, winning the tournament for the first time in three years. One of the bigger reasons for Wisconsin's success is the weak field they invited to the tournament depth they have on defense.

2008 first-round pick Jake Gardiner (NHL rights: Anaheim) is a huge part of that improving defense.

Gardiner was a forward for much of his youth, only converting to defense while in high school at Minnetonka (Minnesota). Still, his work was enough to get him a scholarship at Wisconsin, and the Ducks liked him enough as a defenseman to draft him 17th overall.

Over the weekend, Gardiner got his first collegiate goal in Wisconsin's 5-0 semifinal win over Alabama-Huntsville, then assisted on the equalizer in a 1-1 tie against Lake Superior State (Michigan) in the championship game. Wisconsin won a shootout to take the tournament title, but the game officially counts as a tie. His play drew praise from teammate Jamie McBain (Carolina).
"Getting that first goal is a big relief off your shoulders. Obviously, he's been playing really good for us and it just hasn't gone in for him. So it was great to see him get it. Obviously, he's excited. And hopefully we can see many more from him."
Todd Milewski covers Badger hockey for The Capital Times in Madison, and he offers the following assessment of Gardiner.
There are some times you can tell he's still relatively new on defense, but it's not a completely obvious thing where he's standing out because he doesn't know what he's doing. He's picking it all up well, especially the little nuances like body position when he's one-on-one with a forward.

But I think the thing I've been most impresed with is his awareness while handling the puck. He's the kind of guy that sees the whole ice from his own zone and can carry the puck 150 feet up ice and make it look easy -- you don't see that from many players any more. As long as he understands when not to try something too risky, it's a pretty neat thing to see.

All in all, he's a pretty heady player who could be a really good pro.
Our FanHouse pal Earl Sleek, who also writes at Battle of California, is the first to admit that he doesn't know much about prospects. That's not at all sinful, because it's why we're here. Sleek does, however, make it sound like Gardiner could be on his way to the Anaheim farm system (or the Ducks' big-league roster) very quickly.
Next summer looks to be a pretty big shift in the Anaheim blueline (at least right now). Brian Burke has left a pretty clean slate for his GM successor Bob Murray -- Chris Pronger is the only defenseman signed beyond this year, and he's only got one year after this one. I'm sure that there will be some re-signings in the coming months, but it also seems that it'd be a real opportune time for some defensive prospect to make the jump to the big leagues. That probably couldn't be said for any of the last few years for Anaheim -- at least a promotion didn't seem very necessary back then.
It's a rather odd thing when you watch the Badgers, and you see three defensemen on the ice during a power play, but Gardiner is such a good offensive player that it makes perfect sense when you think about it. He has tremendous offensive skill, and while he is still a work in progress as a defenseman, there's no question his size, hands, and smarts will make the transition a complete success in the not-too-distant future.