If an official guidebook for NHL tryouts existed, somewhere high up in Chapter 1 players would be offered tips on how best to catch the coach’s eye.
On Friday, on Day 1 of his life as a would-be Bruin, 27-year-old Alex Petrovic instead caught the coach’s leg, sending a wincing Bruce Cassidy tumbling to the ice. Not good. Particularly not with Cassidy, 54, only some 10 weeks removed from surgery that replaced his left knee.
Chapter 1 in the Petrovic professional tryout primer: fail.
“Yeah, that was unfortunate, flying into Bruce there,” said a somewhat sheepish Petrovic, a 6-foot-4-inch blueliner with a penchant for hitting, albeit usually against more prepared and better protected targets. “I lost an edge . . . kind of not the best spot to lose your edge.”
A stunned Cassidy, leveled near the bench area just after 11:15 a.m. at Warrior Arena in Brighton, needed a minute or so to right himself, regain his feet, and soon gingerly made his way across the ice, flexing the repaired left knee as he skated.
Had the hit been harder, or perhaps his leg in a more vulnerable position, the good-tempered coach could have been training camp’s first casualty. Operating room, dodged. He shook it off, and worked his whistle with vigor the rest of the day, departing the rink in the afternoon with Petrovic’s name still penciled in for Saturday’s workouts.
“Took a wipeout,” a smiling Cassidy said some four hours later, when he met with the media. “It actually hit a tendon on the side [of the knee], so I couldn’t put any weight on it . . . couldn’t get up. Anyway, it feels good now. Good to find out I can take a hit.”
Meanwhile, Petrovic, once a second-round pick (No. 36 overall, 2010) of the Panthers, often paired up in drills with first-round draft pick Urho Vaakanainen. He did not look out of place, as expected for a guy who has played 263 NHL games and has crafted a reputation as a willing, stout hitter.
“What I try to do in these practices is keep the pace going on, so I am not watching every individual,” said Cassidy, asked if Petrovic made an impression. “First day, I thought he was fine . . . kind of as advertised. I don’t think he is a flashy guy by nature, anyway, someone who would stick out in drills. It’s more a day-to-day evaluation for him, see how he performs in a game and if he can help us.”
Rarely have PTOs caught on for NHL deals with the Bruins. The best case was training camp 2007, the second for then-GM Peter Chiarelli, when a 33-year-old Glen Metropolit dazzled in camp and earned an NHL deal. The pepperpot Metro collected 11 goals and 33 points in 82 games and inked an offseason deal with the Flyers.
However, many others have come and gone, usually quickly and unsuccessfully. In recent years, the likes of Christian Ehrhoff, Peter Mueller, Teddy Purcell, and Daniel Winnik failed to turn their PTOs into NHL paychecks. Last year, Lee Stempniak hung around all season after not converting his PTO in September, but came aboard for two games after the February trade deadline.
Petrovic, who has made some $6 million over the last four seasons, knows the odds are not in his favor.
“I know, it’s a very slim chance,” said Petrovic, who drove here from hometown Edmonton, with wife and English bulldog along for the journey. “But it’s a chance I am willing to take. I have a lot of confidence in myself — so I am not afraid to take that on.”
It was Chiarelli, then the Oiler GM, who acquired Petrovic from Florida last season. The big blueliner left Sunrise with a wide smile on his face.
“I was really excited,” he recalled. “I mean, you go from Florida to Edmonton, most guys would be pretty pissed off. But I am from there. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play for your hometown team, so it was cool to play some games there.”
Just not enough games. Petrovic suffered a concussion not long after arriving in Edmonton, then got caught in a numbers game, with interim coach Ken Hitchcock opting to ride night after night with the same six blue liners, none of then named Petrovic.
“I think coming here, the way the team has been [successful] in the past . . . it’s a good spot to learn from the guys in here,” said Petrovic. “They have a lot of experience in the playoffs, it’s a winning team, so it’s good to come here and maybe add to that.”
Ideally, without removing the coach from the equation.
. . .
Cassidy again will run his charges through the paces on Saturday, with sessions again starting at 10 a.m. and 12:20 pm. Workouts are open to the public . . . Patrice Bergeron, Trent Frederic, and Joakim Nordstrom, all nursing niggling injuries, skated on their own early in the morning and their availability will be assessed as workouts continue. Cassidy sounded confident that Frederic will be on the ice Saturday.