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Thursday, 31-Mar-2011 07:09 Email | Share | | Bookmark
2011 NHL Draft Preview: Daniel Catenacci

This is the fifth installment of a pre-draft NHL series on on high profile, elgible players.

The focus this time is on Daniel Catenacci, a player that is very much Rocco Grimaldi.

Catenacci is only 5 foot 10 inches but posseses pure speed. He won the fastest skater competition this year at the NHL propspects game and has been used to pressure teams since being the first round draft pick of the Soo Greyhounds at the tender age of 16.

Catenacci has been known to be streaky. But this year he has become more and more consistent as would be expected with growing up and adapting to this leagues pace. While his game is maturing he may have to physically grow a little too before he is ready for the NHL. As long as he keeps his speed while bulking up a bit he could be a force to be reckoned with in the NHL.

Playing his amateur hockey for the Simcoe Express AAA team the year before he left for the OHL, he racked up 42 goals and 87 points in 39 games while be coached by his dad. In his first year for the Soo Greyhounds he played a full schedule of 65 games and scored 10 goals and had 20 assists. This year he has scored 26 goals and had 45 assists in 67 games. He is at a -5 though. He plays on a relatively young Greyhounds team and when he makes the jump to the next level he may be more confident if his linemates are more experienced players.

Thursday, 31-Mar-2011 06:53 Email | Share | | Bookmark
The tale of two goaltenders

Even before Tim Thomas became a full-time goaltender in the NHL for the Boston Bruins, he knew the storied history of Hall of Fame netminder Johnny Bower.

Thomas knew hockey was different when Bower played in the 1950s and 1960s compared to today's game. He knew the NHL was made up of the Original Six teams when Bower was scratching and clawing his way through the minors, waiting for his opportunity.

Thomas read and learned about Bower's brief stint with the New York Rangers in 1953-54, and how after years of toiling in the AHL, Bower finally became the starting goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1958-59 season. He was 34.
Thomas often thought of how his career path to the NHL was similar to Bower's and that if the former goalie could accomplish so much in his career, Thomas could, too.

"Definitely. He was an inspiration to me before I made it," Thomas said. "Looking at his story was one of the reasons I said, 'Hey, it's happened before.' I was aware of his story and he's been an inspiration."

Like Bower, Thomas spent the majority of the earlier part of his pro career in the AHL, and both played in Providence. Bower made his NHL debut with the Rangers at age 29. Thomas played his first NHL game with the Bruins at age 28. Bower won his first Vezina Trophy at age 36. Thomas was 34 when he won his.

There are differences between the two.

Bower won four Stanley Cup championships with the Maple Leafs, including three straight from 1961 to 1964. Bower, now 86, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and finished his career with 250 wins and 37 shutouts in 552 games played.

Oh, by the way, Bower was 45 when he retired.

"He said he'd keep playing as long as they would give him a chair to sit down in when the puck is in the other end of the ice," Thomas said with a smile. "I don't know if I want to [play that long], to be honest."

When Bower heard that, he had some advice for Thomas.

"He's 36 and I played until I was 45, so tell him he's got 10 more years and that'll give him a lot of confidence," Bower said with a laugh during a phone conversation with ESPNBoston.com.

Thomas has been impressive, too.

The 36-year-old has recorded 159 wins with 26 shutouts in 315 games played, all with the Bruins. He won the Vezina in 2008-09 and is on track to win his second this season.
"He's my favorite. We stick together pretty good," Bower said of Thomas. "I think the world of him. He's a great hockey player, a great goalkeeper. I watch quite a few games of his and he does a lot of things I used to do.

"The one thing about him I liked is he went down when he had to, and stood up when he had to. His record speaks for itself and that's why [the Bruins] are so successful and playing so well. He's the backbone of the team."

During 2005-06, the Bruins asked Thomas to live somewhere between Boston and Providence because he would likely be on the Route 95 shuttle between the NHL and AHL that season. He rented a place in North Attleboro, Mass., and was having lunch at a local Wendy's one day when he first learned Bower had played in Providence.

There were old pictures of the Providence Reds on the wall at the restaurant, and there it was, in black and white, a picture of Johnny Bower in a Reds uniform.

Thomas met Bower for the first time during the 2009 NHL All-Star game in Montreal and they immediately hit it off. The two talked about playing in Providence and Bower explained what it was like to play in the AHL back then.

"They weren't making a lot of money. 'As long as we had enough money for beer,' is what he was telling me," Thomas said. "It was great to meet him."

Bower concurred.

"I know I wished him luck, I know that," he said. "It was struggle for me [to get to the NHL], like it was for him."

Thomas is a strong candidate for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender, and should also be considered for the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP this season. Without his contributions, there's no way the Bruins are the top team in the Northeast Division. Bower believes Thomas deserves those accolades.

"I don't see why not," Bower said. "He's played so well, but he actually wants to see his team win the Stanley Cup, like I did. But it's well-deserving and he's done very, very well. He's kept his team together and he played good."
Even though both goaltenders played in completely different eras, the position has always been a special one in hockey and the men between the pipes are no doubt a different breed. They also know they need help to be successful.

"I've always maintained that you're only as good as what you have in front of you, and believe me, I had a good solid defense," Bower said.

Maple Leafs coach George "Punch" Imlach gave Bower some advice when the netminder began his legendary stint in Toronto in the late '50s.

"Punch said, 'I'll get you a good, strong defense and you better do the rest.' So that was a big help, and I think in Boston, Timmy has a good defense in front of him," Bower said. "Communication is a big factor and I worked very close with my defense. Hey, we've got the best seat in the house and we know everything that's going on. I'm sure Timmy works well with his defense, otherwise they wouldn't be where they are now."

Bower will be watching Thursday's game when his Maple Leafs play the Bruins at TD Garden.

"Well, naturally, I'll be a Maple Leaf all my life," Bower said. "I hope Timmy plays a good game, if he plays. I'm sure he'll play because it's an important game. I hope Toronto wins, there's no doubt about that, but I don't wish Boston any bad luck, either."

Maple Leaf fans have been suffering a Stanley Cup drought longer than the Bruins. In fact, Bower played on that last Cup team in Toronto during the 1966-67 season. Boston has been waiting since 1972.

"They want a Stanley Cup, too, in Boston; they want one as bad as Toronto," Bower said. "[Boston] fans are great. If you made a good save, they would know what a save was and they would give you a good ovation for it. Timmy's got a bushel of them and he deserves every one of them.

"He deserves everything he can get, and if he can win a few awards, why not? He deserves them, in my opinion. Good luck to him, too. Our goaltender's union is small, but we're still cheering for our goalkeepers. I wish him the best. I don't wish anybody any bad luck."

Now it's Bower who knows the story of Tim Thomas.

Thursday, 24-Mar-2011 09:16 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Former Bronco Young tries to improve NFL stock today

Former Boise State standout receiver Titus Young is being touted as one of ‘the fastest NFL prospects’ by adidas, but he has yet to produce a time to match. Today he’ll attempt to lower his 40-yard dash time and increase his draft stock — and rookie paycheck.
Titus Young inked a marketing deal with shoe giant adidas last week after he wrapped up a career in which he finished No. 1 in Boise State history with 3,063 yards and second with 204 receptions. His deep-threat abilities and his prowess as a kickoff returner could make him a first-round pick.
First, he’ll need to prove that speed to scouts at Boise State’s pro day.
At last month’s NFL combine, he was clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.53 seconds, tied for 17th among the receivers (the top time was 4.37). Young has stated his best time is 4.35 seconds. A time like that could propel him into the first round, according to some scouts, including ESPN.com’s John Clayton.
Players to whom Young has drawn a comparison helped themselves with fast 40 times in recent years.
Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
The speedster from Missouri’s personal best 40-yard dash was 4.31 seconds, but he ran it in 4.45 seconds at the combine in 2009. His body of work was enough to warrant a first-round pick from Philadelphia, and he went 19th overall.
Maclin is on a five-year deal worth as much as $15.5 million, and he had 964 yards receiving in 2010.
DeSean Jackson, Eagles
The former Cal standout ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but like Young, he had a few character issues and was drafted 49th overall (second round) in 2008.
Jackson signed a four-year deal for $3.4 million and is set for a big payday after establishing himself as one of the NFL’s premier returners and big-play threats.
Percy Harvin, Vikings
A versatile burner from Florida, Harvin ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, but he tested positive for marijuana at the combine. He still was taken 22nd overall by Minnesota in the 2009 draft and signed for five years and $14.5 million. In two seasons, he has 131 catches, 7.3 yards per rush on 33 attempts and three kickoff return touchdowns.
Dexter McCluster, Chiefs
Part running back, part receiver out of Ole Miss, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound McCluster is about two inches and five pounds smaller than Young, but his versatility echoes the former Bronco star.
After running a 4.58-second 40 at the combine, McCluster ran it in 4.44 seconds at his pro day and was drafted 36th overall (second round) by Kansas City last year. He signed a four-year, $5.15 million deal. As a rookie, he had 21 catches for 209 yards, had a 94-yard punt return for a TD and averaged 20.3 yards on kickoff returns.

Tuesday, 22-Mar-2011 02:55 Email | Share | | Bookmark
NFL players begin to pay their own training expenses

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark pulled a small plastic bag containing 13 oval-shaped pills, some white, some beige, some translucent orange, out of a duffel bag last weekend, shaking his head. That assortment of supplements, vitamins and medication — which he takes three times daily — costs him $300 to $400 a month.
Clark, a former Redskin, has no spleen or gall bladder, so he has a few special nutritional and medical needs beyond those he considers crucial to keeping his NFL body in mint condition. Yet he’s not the only player amazed at the current price tag on certain items in his personal health and fitness budget.

Cleveland Browns’ offensive tackle Tony Pashos considers twice- or thrice-weekly massages crucial to his training routine. But even the most basic rubdown runs him about $180.

“The majority of us, we are all massive,” said Pashos, whose 6-foot-6-inch, 325-pound frame occupied the better part of a conference room sofa during during the National Football League Players Association meetings here Friday. “My wife loves a 30-minute massage. Thirty minutes for me, you only cover my ankle and my foot. I need a two-hour massage.”
With the average NFL salary around $2 million, players acknowledge they have much greater financial resources to weather a work stoppage than the average out-of-work fan. But as the NFL lockout enters it second week, some players are beginning to realize how expensive it will be to maintain their chiseled — and in some cases enormous — physiques to the standard they achieved when they had the run of NFL training facilities and weight rooms, breakfast and lunch spreads, trainers, therapists, physicians, and NFL-funded health-care coverage.

In a significant blow for the NFLPA, an arbitrator ruled in February that the NFL did not have to provide health insurance coverage for active players once the most recent collective bargaining agreement expired in early March, even though the league had provided benefits to players during the 1982 and ’87 strikes.

“This is the way the NFL applies pressure from the inside out, from inside the family,” said Miki Yaras-Davis, who was the NFLPA’s senior director of benefits and still assists players even though the union dissolved on March 11. . For some it’s been “devastating,” she said. “We warned our players: This will happen.”

Players, even those injured last year when the collective bargaining agreement was in effect, now must pay out of pocket for health insurance. Government-guaranteed continuation insurance for a player with a wife and children through COBRA runs $2,400 a month, according to Yaras-Davis. But that coverage won’t provide for many health and training options that before the lockout would have been absorbed at least partly by NFL teams. Injured players will have to file worker’s compensation claims, Yaras-Davis said.

Healthy players will have to pay for their massages, acupuncture services, chiropractic treatment, personal training, fitness classes and an assortment of vitamins and supplements.

Though such goods and services might be considered luxuries for the average fan, players say they qualify as daily training necessities for professional athletes. And much of it is not covered by standard health insurance.

“For the most part, you’re doing that out of pocket,” Pashos said. “As you start getting older, that stuff, it all helps. Everything. Yoga, massages, acupuncture, it all matters.”

And it doesn’t come cheaply.

Players say a full-body massage costs at least $130. Acupuncture, active release therapy or chiropractic sessions run about $120 each. Weekly workouts with a personal trainer can cost about $1,000 to $1,500, bringing monthly personal health and training costs to $6,000 or more.

That doesn’t include the $2,000 to $3,000 price of health insurance and life insurance, which also disappeared when the collective bargaining agreement expired.

“It’s not a painless process financially,” Clark said. “But it’s not something we want to harp on. We should be able to afford that.”

Some players will absorb the additional costs without sweating it, they said. But younger and fringe players who earned the league minimum of $320,000 in 2010 could struggle in coming months, players and officials said. Though players’ 2011 salaries — which will be paid in 17 checks throughout the fall season — have not yet been jeopardized, some already are feeling the loss of certain other income.

Players have not received signing or workout bonuses, and the stipends of $400 to $500 for attendance at regular offseason workouts with their teams have disappeared. Also gone: the $1,225 weekly checks veterans received during formal mini-camps, an NFL spokesman said.

“You do have guys who spent the whole season on the practice squad; they have multiple children, a wife,” Pashos said, referring to minimum-salary players. “They just can’t come up with the funds.”

Though the National Football League Players Association assembled an emergency fund for players who may struggle financially, David Thornton of the Tennessee Titans called that money a “last resort,” and said no one wants to dip into it this early.

“You have to balance it out,” Thornton said. “What can I do on my own without paying an expensive tab? That’s part of being a professional.

“But, of course, I can’t give myself a massage.”

Players say they might try to cut costs by working out at their former high schools or colleges, or soliciting training partners from amateur teams. They also may forgo or cut down on certain treatments, carry out some fitness exercises on their own, and dabble in new methods of training or therapy.

But they worry about slicing too much.

“At the end of the day,” Pashos said, “my health is where my wealth lies. They’re tied hand in hand.”

Friday, 18-Mar-2011 07:01 Email | Share | | Bookmark
The Crosby Effect

Hockey players are as indigenous to the Great White North as geese. Why, then, is Canada suddenly suffering from a shortage of skaters? Economic woes (youth hockey costs about $5,000 per season) and competing options for kids have factored into the decline in participation. But the most powerful reason may be the increase in injuries -- most notably concussions.

It doesn't help that the latest off-ice headlines are about late enforcer Bob Probert's game-induced brain damage, and the NHL's brightest star, Sidney Crosby, remaining sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.

Crosby was hit hard at the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 but continued to play despite neck pain. Four days later he was hit again. He wobbled to the bench and has yet to return. "Crosby is a marvelous player and a good kid, but the reality is he may never be the same," said Charles Tator, a Toronto neurosurgeon, at the Reebok-CCM Safety Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, last month. "We just don't know." Tator, who hasn't treated Crosby, is the president of ThinkFirst Canada, a foundation that advocates preventive measures for brain and spinal-cord injuries.

The medical community doesn't yet fully understand the effects of concussions, but the kids are learning fast. Canada's The Globe and Mail recently featured one, Markus Klaise, a 10-year-old member of Ontario's Triple-A Mississauga Rebels. Klaise knows enough to know his hero Crosby is dizzy and weak, and if the best player in the world can suffer a brain injury, it can happen to him too. Next year, Klaise graduates from Atoms to Pee Wees, where body checks are allowed.

"These boys live and breathe hockey, so to see Crosby out of the game for so long really hits home," says Markus' mom, Edite Ozols, a psychologist who works with traumatic brain injury patients. "Markus was looking forward to checking. He still is, but there's fear now. He is afraid to get hit in the head, and it's because of Crosby."

Currently, enrollment in Hockey Canada-approved youth teams is about 560,000 players, down from a peak of 584,679 in 2008-09. "If we continue to do what we're doing, we're going to have 360,000 members by 2020-21," says Hockey Canada official Glen McCurdie. "It's time to change."

Unfortunately, Hockey Canada is trying to figure out how to repopulate the game instead of altering its rules to make it safer. The group recently translated its annual recruitment mailer into 12 languages to target immigrant and First Nations children when it should have been following the lead of one of its member organizations. Decades ago, Hockey Quebec upped its checking age to the 13- and 14-year-old Bantams. The difference: better on-ice safety, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Pee Wee players in Quebec were 3.26 times less likely to suffer any injury and 3.88 times less likely to suffer a concussion than their body-checking compatriots in Alberta. USA Hockey, which has seen a rise in participation the past three years, is expected to increase the checking age from 12-and-under to 14-and-under.

"Hockey in this country is killing itself," says Emile Therien, former president of the Canadian Safety Council and father of retired NHLer Chris. "Kids are bailing on the game. In two years, more American kids will be playing hockey than Canadian kids."

And that should concern the NHL, particularly considering that more than 50 percent of its players hail from Canada. The league's Rule 48 may ban blind-side hits to the head, but debate continues over whether head shots should be outlawed altogether, as they are in international hockey. The bottom line is the culture of safety trickles down from the highest level to the lowest, and hockey-rabid, NHL-worshipping kids such as Klaise emulate what they see on TV. And in Canada, the NHL is always on.

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