Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Farm Almanac

As I mentioned in the Springfield update on Friday afternoon, I spoke with Falcons Head Coach Jeff Truitt at length earlier that day and got a synopsis of how things have been going thus far in the early season.

First off, an update on the status of Gilbert Brule who was hurt a week ago in a game against the Providence Bruins. The Vancouver native, (born in Edmonton, raised in B.C.), was involved in what coach Truitt described as not being a dirty hit.

"We reviewed the tapes, there was a hit but it wasn't a dirty play at all," the coach said, "It just caught him in a bad spot just below the knee cap so it's bruised but no structural damage."

"He's got a bruised knee and he skated yesterday and today just lightly and we'll see how it reacts," said Truitt, "He's going to skate again tomorrow and then with the rest of the week here we think we'll get him back again next weekend."

The Falcons played on Friday night, the first of a back-to-back weekend set but are then off until Halloween so Brule (pictured in CLB last year) will have plenty of time to rest, especially considering the fact that the team has several healthy scratches able to take his spot.

I asked Truitt if he was able to tell what the strength of his team was this year even though the schedule had only a handful of games ticked off of it.

"It's our speed and our skill," he stated, "I'll put our character on top of that too because in our first two games we had to come up with big second halves or big third periods to get the wins. We got the win in Hartford and then had to come from behind to get an overtime point in Providence. Our guys never gave up and that was a great sign of our character and we've been building off of that."

In speaking with Rob Schremp earlier in the week, he made a point of how key the recent victory over Manchester was and Truitt also points to the Hartford win as being important for the same reason; both divisional opponents posed major problems for the Falcons last year.

"To go in there and get the two points on opening night in Hartford really sets the tone for the year," agreed Truitt.

The road win in Manchester this year was something the Falcons failed to accomplish at all in 2007-08.

Line combinations have been juggled as is the case normally in an AHL season, especially early on as the coach seeks to find chemistry and rotate as many players through as possible. Rookies will often play every third or fourth game unless they have immediate success simply for the fact that others have paid their dues by going through the same thing in previous years.

Kyle Brodziak barely played in the first half of his rookie AHL season, Liam Reddox spent all of his in the ECHL and even Rob Schremp was a healthy scratch at times in Wilkes-Barre.

"We're getting closer [to set lines] but we still have juggled lines to try and find the right fits," Truitt said. "We really like our Guillaume Lefebvre, Tim Sestito and Carl Corazzini line as our all-purpose line; Tim's got a couple of goals for us already this year so not only can they provide a good defensive game but offensively they can get something done too. They've all good good speed and grit on that line which is good, and that's been a constant here for the last few games."

Last season Slava Trukhno got out of the gate very slowly and it wasn't until late February that he started to pack on the points. Once he got on a roll he was hard to stop and put together a 3-week stretch that raised serious expectations for this new year. So far, Trukhno has delivered.

"He's very strong on his skates, he's more confident in his abilities and of course his skill has always been there but how he uses that skill in tight around the net and his willingness to take a defenceman wide and things like that have really come to the forefront," Truitt explained, "You can see that he's really taken a step forward; he's wanting to get inside of a defenceman to the front of the net and he's been rewarded this year by a lot of good plays in tight to the net."

There is no question that Trukhno (left) will be a fixture in the top 6 for Springfield from now on unless something unexpected and dramatic occurs to his performance level.

Colin McDonald has been bumped back to the fourth line for the last couple of games but Truitt insists that fans of the former Providence Friar shouldn't read too much into that.

"It's nothing against Colin that he's playing there it's just that the other night [in Manchester] we decided to put Stephane Goulet up there on a scoring line and he responded really well," the coach explained, "Colin is a really big part of everything and he'll get his opportunities as well. He's been there before in the early part of the season, the only time he hasn't been is in Manchester, and that line flourished the other night and in practice that line has been pretty good so we just wanted to keep that going."

The line combination in question saw Ryan Potulny in between Schremp on the left side and Goulet on the right wing.

The continual line mixing can be tough on players but I asked the coach if it's also tough on he and his staff knowing that it's often a delicate balance trying to keep everyone happy and morale up.

"What it does is add a healthy competition, not only in games but in practices and that makes everybody better," he countered, "There are a lot of bodies here and that's fine because it creates a good atmosphere for guys to perform in practice. We flip flop things in practice as we start firming up line for when games get closer and that competition is good for everybody."

Cody Wild, who was scratched to make room for Josef Hrabal's AHL debut on Friday, has been good but is not immune to rookie mistakes.

"You can just tell that he's got an offensive flair, he likes to jump into the rush and he's certainly been a contributor with the team," said Truitt, "It's a learning process no doubt and coming out of college to the American League is obviously an adjustment for him. We've had him in to watch tape and he's learning, it's part of the education and the process a first year player has to go through but he's been a good student so far."

I asked Truitt if he'd offer up a couple names of players he'd consider to be pleasant surprises thus far but those he chose he admitted aren't really shocking choices.

"I wouldn't say that I'm surprised but Taylor Chorney has been really good," he began, "His confidence with the puck and his all around game, he's obviously a highly touted guy and deservedly so. He works extremely hard, sees the ice, moves pucks really quick but having him in rookie camp for a bit he's not really a surprise because he's a great player. We've had him with Theo [Peckham] or Jake Taylor and he's been really good every night."

"Devan Dubnyk has come up big for us in a couple of games and has taken the work load and run with it here," Truitt mentioned.

"It's nice to have a guy like Brule here... Schremp, who has bought in right away and has done a great job... Corzazzini and Lefebvre who have added a really workman like attitude and professionalism, Spurgeon has been great and Reddox pretty good too..."

Last year was a growing year for Ryan O'Marra who didn't initially adjust well to the minor leagues but according to his new head coach, he's been a much different player in the early going this season.

"With Ryan, the games that he's played, he came up with a big shot block for us against Providence one night and is doing an outstanding job for us," Truitt praised, "We're seeing little things along the way that are adding to him. He's another great student of the game, always asking questions to get better. I've been really impressed with Ryan and how he's appraoched things to this point and I don't expect anything different. He's going to be a big part of this club and we're going to give him that ice time to develop and get better. He's stronger this year, you can see that in the make up of his body, I just think it will take a little bit of repetition for him before he takes off this year but he'll get that opportunity here for sure."

Some fans have been wondering where Mathieu Roy has disappered to. His name doesn't appear on the game notes the Falcons release as either an injury or a healthy scratch but it appears that has just been an over sight. According to Truitt, Roy is with the team but simply can't play right now.

"Matty hasn't played yet because of his wrist [injured in the NHL pre-season fight against Calgary]," Truitt updated, "He's here but he's still sore and with so many defencemen here there is no use rushing it so... I think it'll be another week."

Finally I had to address the outright snubbing of my recent on air suggestion to Truitt that Tyler Spurgeon should be named as his captain. In fact it was Tim Sestito who got the nod with Ryan Potulny and Jake Taylor getting the A's... I demanded an explanation.

"Well..." he chuckled, "[Spurgeon] is a young player. There is no doubt that Tim Sestito, just by his nature, has grabbed this team with its identity and has done a great job. Jake Taylor is an older defenceman for us although he's not a veteran of the league he can still help our younger guys on the back end. Ryan Potulny has won championships and that's what we want out of our leaders."

"There were lots of guys... like Reddox, McDonald or Spurgeon who could all be a part of that as well, " Truitt added, "[Spurgeon] is a natural leader anyway, I know he's well respected in the room, and we're not expecting just three guys to lead. Spurgeon is infectious because of his work ethic and enthusiasm for the game. It wasn't a matter of his character flaws because there are none."

The choice was made by Truitt and his coaching staff and as I quoted him saying earlier, leadership and character are not qualities that the farm team is lacking so it would have been extremely hard to make poor choices for the lettermen.

Farm Fodder: The Falcons will now play three consecutive games agaisnt the Lowell Devils (NJ) beginning Saturday and ending with back to back games next weekend... The Springfield power play (15.2%) ranks 20th, the PK (77.5%) is 27th in the 29 team league... G Devan Dubnyk's 3.20 GAA ranks 27th in the AHL while his .906 save percentage is 21st on the list... LW Slava Trukhno had 5 points in the first three games but has just 1 point in the last three... LW Rob Schremp has 5 points in 4 games, hitting the score sheet in each game he's appeared in so far... C Ryan Potulny has 5 points so far, all of them goals... D Theo Peckham, born November 10th 1987, is the youngest player on Springfield's current roster... D Josef Hrabal recorded an assist in his first official game in North America... The Falcons have been outshot in every one of their first 6 games by a collective total of 198-154, an average of just over 7 shots per game...


Bryanbryoil said...

Very nice article Guy, I'm surprised at how positive Truitt is about O'Marra. Outside of the PK, often times he isn't very noticeable.

raventalon40 said...

I wonder how that would translate to the NHL though? Saying somebody is a "low event" player in the AHL might mean that he is neither an offensively gifted wizard nor a defensive liability, but does that mean he'd be a good fit for a 3rd line checking role? I would be interested in seeing O'Marra added to the list of "potential call-ups" along with Schremp, Peckham and Potulny in the case of injury on the Oilers squad.

Guy Flaming said...

I suspect that O'Marra and Schremp are on similar development paths.

Year 1: struggle with adjustment to minor pro.

Year 2: find groove after summer of personal refelction.

Year 3: "breakout"

Year 4: re-sign with a 2-year deal the second of which is a 1-way. sound familiar?

Brodziak, Jacques, Roy, Pouliot...

raventalon40 said...

That's a risky way of doing it, having the 1-way deal in the 2nd year. That forces the GM's hand on roster moves and having to put guys on waivers.

In the case of Pouliot, we've already seen it as a do or die this past TC. Perhaps that pushed him to outperform his competition this year. We'll have to see how he does after the 10-game mark but its seemed to have worked on him so far.

Would you say its more benefitial for a team to have a bottom rung (or prospect level) of two-way contracts or one-way contracts?