New Year book update

I have a pile of California minor hockey news and stories to post, and I hope to do so in the next few days. But first I wanted to provide an update on the hockey book.

As some of you might be aware, for the past four years I’ve been researching and now writing a book about the history of hockey in California. During this process I’m continually learning more from the people I speak to, and so the direction of the book has changed from initially being one that solely examined the game’s growth here, to one that does that but points to key events, teams and people who were part of its emergence and growth along the way.

So while history is part of it, and there are nods to many of the state’s pro teams, it really focuses on how these events added more kindling to the “hockey fire”.

I’ve spoken to roughly 400 people associated with the game’s history from the late 1930s until now, and the words of many of them will appear in the book. Their stories — to me — are priceless.

At this point I’ve written or nearly written approximately 18 chapters. I hope to complete another 12-15 in the next 3-4 months. At that time, I’ll evaluate what I have (again) and submit it to an editor. As of yet, I do not have a publisher for it, but if it needs to be self-published, I’m preparing to do that.

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs commercial asks, “Is this the year?”

Happy New Year, and keep your head up and stick on the ice.

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Etem tops California’s 2010 NHL Entry Draft prospects

In the May issue of California Rubber Hockey Magazine I identify 11 prospects who have good to reasonable chances of being selected during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in late June.

As you likely know, this year’s draft will be the first one held in California (at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles), and it’s quite likely one of the state’s native sons will be picked in the top half of the first round, Long Beach’s Emerson Etem.

Various mock drafts have the powerful skater who scored a WHL-rookie-best 37 goals this season going anywhere from 8th to 15th. One intriguing prediction has the Anaheim Ducks selecting him with their first pick.

Etem is a solid 6-foot, 200 pounds and he was the first teen-ager allowed to train at TR Goodman‘s prestigious training center (popularized by star student Chris Chelios and now host to dozens of pro players). I spoke with Etem there last summer (click here to listen), and I came away impressed with his even-keeled and mature personality. I was equally impressed with what I observed during his workout – he has a non-stop motor and oozes athletic ability.

What it boils down to is an intense drive to succeed, and that’s why I think any team who selects Etem will not regret it for a minute. He has the drive and physical and personal maturity to thrive in the NHL much sooner than later.

How does this tie in with the hockey book? If Etem is selected in the first round (he’s NHL Central Scouting’s 8th-ranked North American skater), he’d be just the second Californian to be so honored. Rancho Santa Margarita’s Jonathon Blum, who recently finished a very good first pro season with Milwaukee in the AHL, was the first – going late in the first round to the Nashville Predators in 2007.

More progress reports on the book and on 2010 California prospects are on their way in the coming days.

Nine from California reach the NHL this season

Nine players with direct ties to California played in the NHL this season, and two – defensemen Brian Salcido (Anaheim) and Ray Macias (Colorado) – made their NHL debuts in 2009.

And there is an interesting connection between those two. Salcido’s father, Frank, has coached numerous youth hockey teams over the years in Southern California, and Macias’ mother, Helen, often served as his team manager with the LA Jr. Kings. The families are close, and both have plenty to celebrate this season.

Two other notable performances were by Anaheim rookie Bobby Ryan, who spent part of his early teen years in Southern California playing for the old El Segundo Regents and the Jr. Kings travel teams, and Islanders veteran Richard Park. Ryan led all NHL rookies in scoring (57) and goals (31) – both Ducks records – and is a favorite for the Calder Trophy, while Park scored a career-high 14 goals and wore an A most of the season on Long Island. Interestingly, both played major junior in the OHL.

Others in the league this season: Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios, who played Bantam and Midget hockey in San Diego; Toronto forward Ryan Hollweg, a product of the old Norwalk ice rink; Atlanta forward Brett Sterling, who played out of Pasadena; Dallas forward Landon Wilson, who played minor hockey in LA while his dad was a Kings assistant coach, and Dallas defenseman Garrett Stafford, who registered his first NHL points during his recall with the Stars. Stafford also played in LA against the Kings for the first time in early April.

For the complete rundown on the alumni’s seasons, visit calirubber.com

And thanks for making this month’s the highest yet for traffic (and we’re only half done!).

Californians in the NHL and AHL in 08-09

The NHL and AHL seasons get in full swing later this week, and here is a list of players either born, trained or some combination thereof in the top two North American pro leagues.

NHL:

Atlanta – Left wing Brett Sterling made the club out of camp for the second season in a row.

Detroit – Defenseman Chris Chelios is back at age 46, but he’ll start the season on the injured list with a broken shin bone.

New York Islanders – Right wing Richard Park is in his second decade in the league with no signs of slowing down.

Toronto – Forward Ryan Hollweg has a new address this season after his trade from the New York Rangers.

The AHL ranks have expanded a bit from a year ago, but it would not surprise me in the least to see several of these players getting games in the NHL.

Grand Rapids – Defenseman Garrett Stafford is back even though he’s in Dallas’ organization instead of Detroit’s. The Wings are the primary affiliate of the Griffins. Stafford played his first NHL game last season for Detroit. He could get some more games if the Stars’ blue line experiences another run of injuries.

Grand Rapids – Forward Landon Wilson has several years of NHL experience and while he’ll bring experience to the Griffins, he can step in and help the Stars should injuries strike.

Iowa – Wing Bobby Ryan is in the AHL because of the Anaheim Ducks’ cap crunch, which is too bad after he had an outstanding camp.

Iowa – Defenseman Brian Salcido has a shot at getting his first NHL game this season. The Ducks’ carousel of veteran defenseman has the rapidly improving puck-mover in the minors … for now.

Lake Erie – Defenseman Raymond Macias is a likely fixture on the Monsters’ blue line after a good camp in Colorado.

Lowell – Forward Ryan Murphy is back with the Devils’ top farm team after going to camp in New Jersey.

Manchester – Forward Gabe Gauthier will be one of the Monarchs’ centerpieces this season, and given the parent club LA Kings’ youth movement, it would not be a surprise to see him get another NHL look at some point.

Springfield – Right wing Hans Benson spend has worked his way up to the AHL after stints in the CHL and ECHL. The Menlo Park-native brings plenty of toughness to the Falcons lineup and he played some preseason games for the Edmonton Oilers this year.

Toronto – Forward Robbie Earl was one of the Maple Leafs’ final roster cuts, and it’s a good bet he’ll be back up with the parent club this season, particularly if his defensive game rounds into form. Defense is a prerequisite to playing for new Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

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You can find my weekly report on California Alumni in hockey each Tuesday at www.calirubber.com

The ageless Chris Chelios

I had an opportunity recently to interview Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios, who played two years of Bantam hockey and one of Midget in Southern California.

Part of the deal was getting to watch he and a host of other NHL players go through TR Goodman’s famously torturous workouts.

Cheli’s work ethic has to be seen to be believed. When the Wings announced the 46-year-old had signed for another season, many of my hockey-playing pals responded with astonishment. I’m not taking that bait. He is one of the fittest people I’ve ever seen.

Cheli also is as focused and driven of an athlete as I’ve seen in any sport in 20 years of covering pro, college and high school athletics.

What struck me most about his training was the pace he maintained despite continuous repititions. After a summer of that, I hardly think training camp is a challenge for him.

How much longer can he play? In comments to the Detroit media last week he said he realized the Wings have a number of young defensemen they want to give minutes to this season – likely at his expense. But no matter how he tries to convince himself that’s OK, I got the impression it really isn’t.

Will he really play until he is 50? I truly think he could.

Cheli is a warrior, and like him or hate him, he lives to compete – against his body, and against others.