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Photo Credit: Sarah Hobday - @Sarah_Hobday

Dispatches from the Kalamazoo Wings: November 23

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – After losing back-to-back games against the Adirondack Thunder last week, the Kalamazoo Wings needed to bounce back in their lone match this week against the Indy Fuel.

The team saw the return of goaltender Michael Garteig from Utica, but defenseman Anton Cederholm was called up to Utica prior to facing the Fuel, and Mackenze Stewart was called up after the game.

Despite putting nearly 50 shots on goal, the Wings struggled to get past Fuel goaltender, Etienne Marcoux. Two goals from Josh Pitt and Tyler Heinonen kept the Wings in the game for a bit, but six goals from the Fuel, including two shorthanded goals, on only 23 shots made for a hard-fought loss for the Wings.

The Wings’ Head Coach, Nick Bootland, talked with Canucks Army about what went wrong and where the team will go from here.

Canucks Army: How are you feeling about the game against the Fuel?

Nick Bootland: Well, obviously we didn’t get the outcome we wanted as a hockey team, but I think we made strides in the right direction. It wasn’t due to lack of effort. I felt like the week before, we had some games where there was a lack of effort. The game in Indy showed that we’re definitely capable. We put up 50 shots on goal and played our way, but we didn’t execute on our power play and our penalty killing, they ended up going one for three on their power play. So special teams was a factor. We could’ve got ourselves back into that game with a timely power play goal. But the compete level was much higher than it’d been in the last two games.

CA: The Fuel had two shorthanded goals. Special teams have struggled lately, how are you addressing that?

NB: We’re going through the process of trying to improve our special teams in all different areas. We’ve broken down the power plays to meet in units, meet in groups, and do video in groups, plus practice, plan, that’s everything. And then, I mean, you look at the goals that were scored and it’s off the break out. Both breakdowns are off our break outs, where we don’t execute and they’re able to capitalize. That’s definitely not the way you want to start a game. The momentum is definitely in their favor when they’re able to score two shorthanded goals back-to-back.

CA: Goaltending has been the make-or-break factor for your opponents lately. How can you prepare for that?

NB: When you feel you’re playing against a hot goaltender, you’re playing against a guy that you gotta get second chance opportunities in. Just because you get the puck to the net – like we saw in that first game against Adirondack, we had 30-plus shots on goal, but I didn’t really feel we had the second chance opportunities that we needed to be successful. We didn’t really push that goaltender that way, so that’s important for us to work on that and continue to get those second chances and get bodies in front. And you have to be in place to do that, you have to be in place to score goals, and I don’t think we’ve done that as of late.

CA: What else are you identifying and working on in practice this week?

NB: I think the biggest thing for us is the attention to detail. Understanding that everybody, with and without the puck, has to work and what their jobs are. So whether it be the breakout and the type of support you’re gonna have, whether it has to be the entries on where you’re going and where your releases are. And then in-zone, I feel like once we’ve been in the zone, and we set up, and we’ve started to work our power play and get pucks to the net, we’ve done a great job. We just haven’t finished. Especially the last game in Indy, if you look at the scoring chances we created on our power play, that was a huge number for us compared to the last couple games. I felt we made some strides in not allowing our players to get frustrated while going through the process. It can really define a team if you get frustrated quickly.

CA: With all of the roster changes, losing Peter Schneider to Austria, Cederholm and Stewart called up, Garteig up and down through the system – how do you react to that and what adjustments do you have to make?

NB: We feel that we’re a team that has tried to create depth, and our expectation of what we want to do as a hockey team is the same, whether those guys are here with us or they’re not with us. First of all, we haven’t been living up to what the expectations are here in Kalamazoo, so that’s been disappointing. But to let them know that the expectation is the same is one of the first steps we want to make, and then other players have the opportunity to step up and take those minutes away, whether it’s a couple more shifts for someone as your tenth forward or someone who was not in the line up is now in the line up, we feel that we’ve prepared our athletes to make sure that they’re ready to go for whatever we throw at them. It’s the ECHL; we know there’s gonna be a ton of transactions. It happens every single year, it’s part of being in this league.

CA: Speaking of roster changes, you’re about a week away from Ben Wilson making his return. What’s he been doing to prepare and what does he bring to the team?

NB: Ben Wilson is one of the hardest working players on our team and he brings that every day in practice. He competes like that on and off the ice, every single day. He’s absolutely been training – for lack of a better term – kinda like a maniac right now, to make sure that he’s prepared to be the best player that he can be. He’s been working with our strength coach, Mark Olson, and they’ve been pushing him more than he’s ever been pushed because he has that time and that extra time to sort of reflect and be prepared.

What he brings for us is just a consistent effort. You know Ben Wilson’s gonna give you every ounce of what he has, every single day. How many times are you 100 percent in the hockey world, when you’re playing 72 games in a season? Maybe two or three times. The rest of the time, there’s always something that’s going on, there’s always a bump and always a bruise. So if he’s got 88 percent, he gives us 88. If it’s 4-5 and he’s only got 70 left in the tank, he gives us 70. He just brings that consistency that way for us.

CA: So the last five of six games have been losses. What do you have to do to keep this team ready to compete every night?

NB: I think they met the challenge that we really put in front of them the other night. Any time that I’ve gone through a losing streak or a stretch where you’re not getting the results you want, it usually takes a game like that Indy game, where there’s an opportunity that we feel that we played – if a puck, or if we executed on one of the power plays, there was an opportunity for us to win that game. We’re not gonna make excuses. We out-shot them immensely, and we out-shot them in the first period, and we were down 3-1. We win as a team, we lose as a team. But I think it’s one of those games that we took a stride, but we didn’t get the results. So now, it’s moving forward with that consistent effort and adding to the execution.

CA: Looking to this week, you have a back-to-back with a little bit of travel involved. Is there anything special or different that you do to prepare for a schedule like that?

NB: Our trainer, Mark Olson, does a great job of making sure that they’re prepared with the off-ice and our workload, our seven day workload, is something that we pay a lot of attention to as a hockey team, to make sure that that seven day workload isn’t too high and it’s just right. It can’t be too soft and it can’t be too light and it can’t be too high when it comes to what our workload is, it’s something we pay attention to. We feel that going into this game, and it’s a morning game in Brampton, we’re gonna go the day before. We’ll be there nice and early, so they get a decent dinner and get up to play the morning game and be home by a decent time the next night and actually play the next day at home in front of our crowd. I think it bodes pretty well, even though there is some travel involved, but we sort of have a tendency to travel in style, I guess, with a nice sleeper bus, so everybody’s gonna have their own bunk to sleep in and there should be no excuses.

The Kalamazoo Wings will take on the Brampton Beast and the Kansas City Mavericks next in an American Thanksgiving weekend back-to-back.

  • Cageyvet

    Sie, thanks for the coverage. I had to comment since your reports get little action, and just say that if the rest of the crowd is like me, it’s because I know so damn little about the players.

    Knowing that most don’t ever make the NHL, but of course also knowing the Alex Burrows story, I thought I’d ask what the goal is for most of these players? Sure, NHL if you can, but is the AHL and just getting a paycheque to play a game enough? European leagues for similar reasons + see the world?

    To not be a total ignoramus, I Googled Canucks who played in the ECHL. Not a common search, lol, but I did learn that last year’s starting rosters across the league featured 76 former ECHL’ers. Plenty of names you’d recognize, contentious fringers like Letestu and Engelland, but also Ferland, Jordie Benn, Jonathan Quick, Cam Talbot and Devan Dubnyk. Many other names you’d recognize with varying degrees of sucess.

    Here’s the link for those that are interested, cut and paste, it’s a miracle I did this with my phone, much less hyperlink it.

    https://www.echl.com/echl-has-76-former-players-on-nhl-opening-day-rosters

    I guess there’s still hope for a handful of players every year, but is it fair to say that if you do more than a year in the ECHL it’s a massive, Burrows-style hill you have to climb?

    • With current call ups, the Wings currently have Garteig, a Canucks goaltending prospect, and Danny Moynihan at forward. So obviously for those players, development is the goal.

      For the majority of players, they’re on a contract with the Wings and their goals cover a pretty broad spectrum. Some are college players who didn’t think they’d play professionally, just getting that chance. Some have already been through the upper leagues. Some are hoping to get a PTO with the AHL. Age becomes a factor in what they’re looking to get out of it. In the feature I wrote on Kyle Bushee, he talked about how the dream of playing in the NHL never dies, but you get a sense of realism about it the older you get.

      As far as making that climb actually goes, goalies have the most luck. Many fringe AHL goalies will get set down to get some ice time in, come back up, and the next season, play in the NHL. I’d say the majority of former ECHL players that make it to the NHL initially made a stacked AHL roster and were sent down to get ice time. But there are always surprises. Former K-Wing Curtis Valk made his NHL debut last week. It’s hockey; anything can happen.