NHL opportunities knocking

NHL.com (whether knowingly or not) highlighted two California hockey players who forever will be linked by their draft year (2010), their round (first) and their backgrounds playing for the now-defunct LA Hockey Club.

Forward Beau Bennett, taken 20th overall in ’10, is making a strong push to remain in the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins lineup, according the league’s website. Unfortunately, the story did not make the California connection, though plenty of other ones have.

NHL.com also weighed in on Emerson Etem‘s growing role with the Ducks, and make no mistake, it is growing. Interesting to read NHL Network analysts Kevin Weekes‘ take on working out with Etem when Etem was just 13. The accolades Etem receives for his work ethic are justified (as I’ve witnessed those workouts in Venice), as are the ones about his upbeat attitude.

That is something else Bennett and Etem, share – phenomenal, team-first attitudes and a truly grateful outlook for all the sport has given them (and undoubtedly will give them).

But they’ve got company from California this season.

In the past month, two defenseman have made their debuts and both will be profiled in the upcoming issue of California Rubber Magazine.

Matt Tennyson made his first NHL appearance on April 1 and has played three games, picking up two assists. Though he played just a few seasons for the San Jose Jr. Sharks growing up, his family now calls California home. Tennyson was part of a large group of players I affectionately termed the Cali-mazooans, who played for Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. That group included Brett Beebe, Garrett Haar, Chase Balisy, Dennis Brown, Robert Francis and J.J. Crew. Tennyson signed with the Sharks last spring and has spent most of this season in the AHL.

And lastly but not least is defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, whom I spoke to this week for a story. As with the other three, Ruhwedel was a delight to speak with. Unlike the other three, Ruhwedel jumped directly from college to the NHL through a whirlwind of events last week.

Consider that last Thursday (April 10), he was playing in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh against eventual champion Yale. Less than 36 hours later, the smooth-skating defenseman was on his way to Buffalo for a physical, to sign his contract, get his gear and play in an afternoon game, which the Sabres won.

All of this for a player who spent exactly one season playing AAA hockey in California (for the Jr. Kings) and only a handful playing AA growing up in San Diego county.

This is the first time the state has had four players make NHL debuts in a single season, to say nothing of the fact that 40 percent of said season was lost due to a lockout.

Congratulations to these four!

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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.

Defensemen going different directions

With the New Year came news about two moves being made by young defensemen with ties to California.

Former San Jose Jr. Sharks defenseman Ben Paulides has committed to Miami, Ohio. Paulides has brought a physical style of play to the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms the past two seasons. Read more about his season here. The RedHawks regularly reside near the top of the Division I polls.

Meanwhile, former LA Selects defenseman William Wrenn, a 2009 draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, decided to leave Denver University at the semester break and sign on with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, meaning his NCAA eligibility is gone. You can read Portland’s take here.

Wrenn will have the benefit of playing for former LA Kings assistant Mike Johnston in Portland, who has led the Winterhawks to the top of the U.S. Division.

Wrenn had played in 18 of DU’s first 22 games with one assist and a minus-7 rating for the nation’s No. 7 team. You can read the Denver take here.

Book progress report

I think it’s high time for a few updates on the hockey book.

My proposal and outline, and all that goes with those items, are completed (or at least more completed than they were) and ready to be submitted to prospective publishers. I’ve still got some more transcribing to do, but I’m making progress there (I have more than 250 interviews at this point).

What’s most exciting to me is I’ve started the actual process of writing a few chapters. That has gone much slower than I’d anticipated because of the sheer volume of data I’ve collected. Organizing it into something that hopefully is logical has been one of my bigger challenges.

The first two chapters that are underway are the book’s first chapter – the subject of which shall remain a surprise for now, but it’s a good table-setter in my opinion – and a chapter on how the San Jose Sharks came into being. That covers all angles of it and has nearly 20 sources. It also includes some of the funnest stories I’ve heard in this process, particularly from the team’s Cow Palace Days.

Sentimental sort that I am, it’s hard not to stop and take trips down Memory Lane as I review material for the book. The think I’m struck with is the quality of the people involved in hockey. It doesn’t matter if they’re pros or people who didn’t learn to skate until well into adulthood, it’s been quality across the board.

Every day I thank God for the people he has brought across my path during this process. It is truly amazing!

More updates to come.

Kings, Ducks, Sharks observations

We’re two weeks into the 2008-09 NHL season, and a few things are standing out to me about California’s three teams.

Los Angeles Kings – The Kings are young, and on some nights it shows. However, I sense a higher effort level across the board than I did most nights last season. Yes, there have been some defensive breakdowns, which were evident against Colorado on Monday. However, the young players such as D Drew Doughty, Fs Wayne Simmonds and Alex Moller have performed well in stretches. 

Anaheim Ducks – The Ducks may yet regret dealing defensemen Mathieu Schneider and Sean O’Donnell. The current group beyond Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Francios Beauchemin has not been overly impressive. The big issue, however, is the Ducks’ best forwards (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Brendan Morrison, Teemu Selanne) are not scoring.

San Jose Sharks – The Sharks have opened things up under new coach Todd McCellan. Games such as Wednesday’s 7-6 game at Philadelphia would have been unthinkable under last season’s coaching staff. While more exciting to watch, this approach probably puts a lot more pressure on goaltender Evgeni Nabokov night in, night out.