Thirty teams said no to drafting Ben Lovejoy. The Anaheim defenseman’s first contract was an AHL deal. Lovejoy required an invitation to attend his first pro training camp.
The player who fought his way into an NHL uniform once chose not to play. That decision may have been the best Lovejoy ever made.
After his freshman season in 2002-03, Lovejoy transferred from Boston College to Dartmouth, his hometown school. Lovejoy is from Orford, 10 minutes north of Hanover, N.H. The NCAA requires transfers to sit out one season.
In Hanover, Lovejoy found a program that gave him a bigger role. He earned a degree in history from an Ivy League school, and he met his future wife. Four years at Dartmouth gave Lovejoy a lifetime of benefits.
Lovejoy is not alone. He is one of five former Dartmouth players in the NHL. Lee Stempniak, David Jones, T.J. Galiardi, and Tanner Glass are the others. All five played on the 2006-07 club that went 20-11-3. The Bruins have two ex-Big Greeners in Providence: Nick Johnson and Matt Lindblad. The college is known for producing future Masters of the Universe. Nick Lovejoy, Ben’s younger brother, is in that category. Nick, a senior defenseman, will work for GE Capital in Stamford, Conn., after graduation.
Dartmouth’s other business is preparing charges for pro hockey. The Big Green have not qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 1980, when coach Bob Gaudet was a Big Green junior. Entering Saturday’s game at Clarkson, Dartmouth was 5-16-3. Tyler Sikura, Dartmouth’s junior captain and most skilled center, returned Friday night after missing nine games because of a knee sprain.
But Dartmouth’s history of producing pro players is just as good, if not better, than its ECAC and Ivy League counterparts. Lovejoy skates on Anaheim’s top pair, serving as Cam Fowler’s stay-at-home security blanket. Stempniak projects to be a double-digit goal scorer. Jones (9-8—17) and Galiardi (2-10—12) are dependable NHLers. Glass (4-7—11, 57 penalty minutes) is an energetic and abrasive forward.
Providence’s former Dartmouth players have defined roles. Johnson is an offensive-minded right wing. Lindblad, who would have been a senior this season, is a smart and dependable two-way forward. Gaudet and lead recruiter Dave Peters pick from an abridged list of players. Not every future pro can get in to Dartmouth, which doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. Small-town Hanover life is not for the collegian seeking city energy. Gaudet, Class of 1981, doesn’t view these as deterrents. Gaudet’s wife is also a 1981 graduate. His two sons are Dartmouth alums. His daughter is a Dartmouth freshman.
“They’re really, really hard-working, driven kids,” Gaudet said. “They want to be the best in what they do. To a man, they’re all really good students. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Peters starts the process. The assistant coach is well known for his ability to identify players who don’t catch the eye of other recruiters.
“If I go out on the road, I actually screw things up more than I help,” Gaudet said with a laugh. “He’s really in tune with what a 16-year-old hockey player looks like now, and what he’ll look like in three or four years.”
The process continues with development. Gaudet emphasizes smarts, hard work, and hands. Even in off-ice training, players are encouraged to use their sticks. The brains that helped them get into Dartmouth are expected to be applied at the rink. Among the current NHLers, nobody fits this profile more accurately than Glass. Sidney Crosby drives Pittsburgh’s bus. Glass, the Penguins’ bottom-six irritant, is Gaudet’s example of a lug nut. But players like Glass keep the wheels from falling off. Before his freshman year, Glass was picked by Florida in the ninth round of the 2003 draft. He projected to be a fringe NHLer. Ten years later, Glass has 353 NHL games on his résumé. That’s more than former college teammate Hugh Jessiman, Robert Nilsson, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Anthony Stewart, and Jeff Tambellini, all 2003 first-round picks. Glass is a tenacious forechecker and penalty killer. Deryk Engelland fights Pittsburgh’s heavyweight battles. But Glass is willing to drop his gloves with bigger opponents.
“What he had when he came here was what made him as a hockey player, his attitude,” Gaudet said. “He was not going to be denied. He came to the rink every single day with a smile on his face. He was just a passionate guy who was infectious and tough as nails. I knew he was going to be a coach’s dream, because he was here. When he left here, did I think he was going to jump to the NHL? I thought he had potential, but he wasn’t the guy who would just jump out at you.”
Gaudet will turn 55 next month. This is his 26th season as a head coach. Yale won the NCAA championship last year. Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton have combined for 15 NCAA appearances since 1997, the year Gaudet assumed his current position. Gaudet hasn’t won like some of his peers. But he’s proud of the lives he’s touched. His ex-players send pictures of their kids. They send him their marriage announcements.
“It’s not like I’m Jack Parker or Red Berenson. I haven’t had that success,” Gaudet said. “But to be in this business for 30 years of my life, I’m not sure I’m the right guy to look at. I have so many of my friends that were great at this business. But they’ve gone by the wayside. It’s a tough business to stay in.”
THEY HAD THEIR CHANCE
Battered Canucks have seen better days
The Canucks ticked off seven straight losses to stagger into the Olympic break. They are in 10th place in the Western Conference, 1 point behind No. 8 Dallas. The Canucks might have to get familiar with this type of gear-grinding.
Injuries have rocked the Canucks. The pre-break limpers included Henrik Sedin, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Chris Tanev, Mike Santorelli, and Andrew Alberts.
But good teams absorb injuries. Good players pull the rope. Depth players assume bigger roles. Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Boston, and Tampa Bay have been banged up. They’re still among their conferences’ best. The Canucks are graying at the wrong time. The Sedins are 33. Their four-year extensions start next season. Their most productive days are over.
That wouldn’t be a problem if the Canucks had young players rising, layers to their roster structure, and flexibility to make deals. Entry-level players such as Jordan Schroeder and Zack Kassian aren’t consistent NHL players yet. Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Brendan Gaunce, their top prospects, are teenagers.
Bieksa, Hamhuis, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Alex Edler, and Jason Garrison are signed through 2016 and beyond. Even if general manager Mike Gillis wanted to move any of his core players, he’d have to work around their no-trade clauses. Of the Canucks’ assets, only Tanev and Jannik Hansen are signed to reasonable deals free of no-trade clauses. John Tortorella is a good coach. He will get the most out of his charges. But the Canucks, at their best, are just good. Roberto Luongo is 34 with a contract that cannot be moved. The Sedins have about two good years left in their legs. Kesler is a handful to play against. They have smart, experienced veterans.
But there are no game-breakers. And none on the way. In the Pacific Division, with Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles assembled for greatness, the Canucks are treading water, which is no way to proceed in the NHL.
Dream of Olympics worth keeping alive
In one week, the Olympics will cease being about Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Miller, and the other NHL graybeards. Their time is over. In 2018, the Olympics will be about Tyler Seguin, Seth Jones, Valeri Nichushkin, and the next generation of hockey’s best players. For this group, NHL participation in the Olympics is all they’ve ever known. It must stay that way.
There is talk about this being the NHL’s Olympic bow. In four years, when the Winter Games commence in South Korea, the NHL might not be present. Instead, the NHL would participate in a World Cup, like the league last did in the late summer and early fall of 1996.
There is already another version of the World Cup. It’s called the World Baseball Classic. Stick salute if you recall its last winner. You’re the one.
The NHL and the rich men who wield its power have legitimate Olympic gripes. Their buildings go dark for two-plus weeks in the middle of the season. Their best players are at risk of injury. The stars return with fatigue weighing heavier than their equipment bags.
But since 1998, when the NHL gave its blessing to Olympic participation, it’s all the players have ever known. Consider the example of 20-year-old Dougie Hamilton, the Bruins’ youngest player. Hamilton was four years old when the Czech Republic struck gold in Nagano, Japan, in the NHL’s first five-rings year. Hamilton would like nothing else than to pull on a Canadian jersey in 2018. It is one of the carrots set before every young NHLer.
For the NHL, Olympic participation is a halo product. On its own, it doesn’t make sound business sense. Ford fills its checking account via the F-150 pickup, which hardly qualifies as glamorous. But the brand became a whole lot shinier last decade when the Blue Oval built the Ford GT, its $150,000, 550-horsepower supercar.
Olympic hockey is not a perfect product. The NHL is a game of conflict. On the 100-foot-wide sheet, puck battles are fewer. Big hits are risky to throw. Fights don’t happen. The NHL’s bottom-six plumbers, whose hard work gives the game a gap-toothed beauty, are not welcome. But it remains a dream for its best players. They want to be there. Their fans consider these games must-see television. At odd hours, in our slippers and sweatpants, we watch and cheer and marvel. It’s a nice ritual to have every four years.
Doug Mohns last pulled on a Black and Gold jersey in 1964. Half a century later, fans recalled the former Bruin with fondness upon his death Feb. 7. Mohns appeared in 1,390 career games for Boston, Chicago, Minnesota, Atlanta, and Washington. Mohns, who played both up front and on defense, scored 248 goals and 462 assists. In Boston, Mohns had his best season in 1959-60, scoring 20 goals and 25 assists for coach Milt Schmidt. In Chicago, Mohns played on a line with Stan Mikita. Mohns might be best remembered as being an early adopter of the slap shot.
Boston College freshman Thatcher Demko is likely to be the first goalie picked in the 2014 NHL draft. Demko was the top-ranked North American goalie in Central Scouting’s midterm rankings. The Eagles are coming off two excellent college puck-stoppers in Parker Milner and John Muse. But every NHL team passed on both goalies. Neither of the two projects to be a big leaguer. It’s a different story for the 6-foot-3-inch, 192-pound Demko, who could be a first-round pick in June. Demko, 18, has the size and technique NHL teams prefer. In the Beanpot final, Demko didn’t make the flashy saves like Northeastern counterpart Clay Witt, who is undrafted. That’s partly because Demko is good at positioning himself so pucks thump off his body. Demko doesn’t scramble and lean heavily on his athleticism. In that way, he is more like ex-Eagle Cory Schneider, Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2004.
The Blackhawks have 10 players in the Olympics: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Patrick Kane, and Michal Rozsival. Chicago and Detroit are tied for most Olympians on their rosters. That’s especially taxing for the Blackhawks considering their deep playoff run last season. But Chicago’s post-break schedule is generous. Nine of the Blackhawks’ 15 games in March will be at the United Center. They will have only two sets of back-to-back games. Compare that to the Bruins, who have six sets of back-to-back games in March. Chicago will start the stretch run in third place in the Western Conference, three points back of Anaheim. The Blackhawks should be in good shape to ease into the playoffs.
Pascal Dupuis underwent surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. Dupuis, Pittsburgh’s No. 1 right wing, hurt the knee Dec. 23. Dupuis had to wait for more than a month to undergo the procedure because of swelling. In comparison, Dennis Seidenberg tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee four days after Dupuis’s injury. But Seidenberg had surgery Jan. 7, more than a month earlier than Dupuis. Seidenberg is well into his rehab, which should have him ready to start the 2014-15 season.
Career Predator David Legwand has a no-movement clause. But Legwand and the Predators are four points out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Legwand, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, would be a great addition for division rivals St. Louis or Chicago. The Blues are without Vladimir Sobotka because of a leg injury. Chicago needs a No. 2 center behind Toews. By landing in either city, Legwand would have a good chance to chase his first Cup.
Plenty of star power missing in the Olympics: Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen (Sweden), Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula (Finland), Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky (Slovakia), and Steven Stamkos (Canada). No, hockey’s not dangerous or anything . . . It’s imperative for all Olympic teams to roll four lines because of the international ice surface. That extra 15 feet of width adds up . . . The Panthers have a surplus of forwards who could be complementary additions for playoff contenders. The issue for Florida is that five in this category (Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, and Shawn Matthias) are under contract through 2014-15. With so many playoff teams facing cap issues this year and next, it will be hard for them to assume term beyond this season. If the Panthers want to deal any of those players, they’ll probably have to eat some of their salaries, like they did in the Kris Versteeg trade with Chicago . . . Interesting Olympic rule: All players must wear helmets during pregame warm-ups. Their chin straps must also be properly fastened. In the NHL, some players go without helmets in warm-ups. Those who wear helmets sometimes don’t bother to fasten their straps . . . Former Harvard standout Lane MacDonald is now reporting directly to the Johnsons, the family behind Fidelity Investments. MacDonald was a Harvard teammate of Mark Carney, who is better known as the governor of the Bank of England. The rumor is that both MacDonald and Carney are shadow consultants for former Crimson teammate Peter Chiarelli on all salary-cap matters. Helps to have powerful friends.