In my previous piece from training camp, I wrote about my conversations with a trio of potential newcomers to the Utica Comets 2019/20 lineup. Now, after a full day of travelling home, I will share some of my conversations with four players who will likely be returning to Utica for the upcoming season.
Let’s start with left-shot defender, Guillaume Brisebois.
Brisebois will be entering the final year of his entry-level deal when this season kicks off. The third-year defenceman is ready to make his mark after getting into eight games at the NHL level last season.
Brisebois finished his season in Vancouver after suffering an injury that has since been rehabbed. I asked Guillaume how that rehab went for him.
“It went really well. I tried to get stronger and I did some rehab work with the Vancouver staff. It was good on that side.”
I remembered from our conversations at camp in Whistler last year that Brisebois was asked in his exit meetings with the coaching staff to work on the crispness of his outlet passes. I wondered if there was anything similar asked of him for this offseason.
“I think it was more of the same thing, just get crispier and try to get more confident in my play, just trust my skills and trust in myself as well when I’m playing. This offseason, I worked on my skills, and my shot, and my skating, and I think that it’s going pretty well so far.”
With the plethora of left-shot defencemen in the system this season, I asked Brisebois if his ability to play the right side is something that could help him continue to see minutes this year.
“I’m up for anything. That’s a coaching decision, it’s something the organization will decide. I’m up to play anywhere, it doesn’t matter if it’s on the left side or the right. I just want to play and I think I can do the job on both sides.”
Brisebois has been in the organization for a few years now, so I asked him how this camp has felt for him compared to previous years.
“I’ve felt really good. I’ve felt more confident on the ice, more confident in practice. I think just getting older, you understand and you realize with some stuff, you get more confident. You realize it’s a camp and you just have to trust yourself and your skills and just show them who you are as a player.”
As this was my first opportunity to speak with Guillaume since he made his NHL debut last year, I asked him how that experience went for him and what he took away from his eight-game audition.
“When I did the warmup in LA, I think it was a great moment and I realized that I was in the big leagues now. It was a really nice moment. The whole experience was awesome. I think I learned a lot from the older guys and I learned that it is a really good league and if you want to play there, you’ve gotta be a really good player and you’ve gotta be confident as well.”
I’m looking forward to seeing how Brisebois’ season goes this year.
Moving on from Brisebois, we turn our attention to Kole Lind.
Lind has been interviewed time and again about the way last season went. I asked him if he was sick of talking about it yet and the young winger shrugged it off.
“It’ll happen. It’s alright.”
As we know, Kole went through some injury issues last year and it was after he returned from his first one when his season started to turn a corner. I mentioned a run of games that he played with energy winger Vincent Arseneau specifically as a turning point.
“Yeah, it definitely makes me more engaged, especially being out there with him. You gotta be ready for anything, so obviously it was really good when I got back to get some games in. I started to put up points when I was playing with Vinny and he started to heat up too and I got to be a big part of it. I learned a lot from playing with him. I think my energy levels were a lot higher, I was getting in on the forecheck more, getting on the body a lot more and creating a lot more turnovers.
That’s obviously some little things that I took out of his game that can help me.”
I followed up by mentioning that I thought that Kole looked more comfortable trying things in games that maybe he wouldn’t have tried earlier in the year.
“Yeah, that’s obviously something that I tried to carry over from last year. I ended the year with a bunch of confidence and I was making a lot more plays that I wouldn’t even have tried earlier in the year and I just want to take that into camp here.
I’ve been trying to do stuff that I normally wouldn’t here. I’m trying to show the coaches that I’m comfortable playing against NHL guys. I want to be able to make more plays and be more creative out there.”
I asked Kole if there was an area of his game that the coaching staff was looking for improvement in for this season.
“They clearly spoke to me. They wanted me to get quicker and faster. That was the number one priority. I did lots of power skating this summer, and you know, got my legs a lot stronger and a lot quicker this year. I think it goes to show for this weekend that I’ve had a good showing and that I’ve been using my legs a lot more, and I was creating a lot more because of that too.”
I remembered that Kole had spent his last offseason working with former NHLer, Rich Pilon and checked in to see if that was something that he did again this season.
“I’d go out with him on Mondays…or when I could on Mondays. I do lots of power skating on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as well. I actually lived with him for two years when I played midget hockey, so I’m really good friends with their family. When I stay in Saskatoon, I go over there as much as I can. I didn’t stay with them this year, but I still got to see a fair bit of them this summer.”
There was a little bit of a home feel for Lind last year as former Comets pivot Brendan Woods was also from Lind’s home province of Saskatchewan. This year, the Comets signed Dyson Stevenson to an AHL pact after he impressed on a PTO late last season. There is more than a little familiarity there for Lind.
“It’s really cool, you know. Coming from a town of 1800 people to end up on the same pro hockey team as a guy…that’s obviously really cool. Our families are like best friends too, so it’s even crazier that way. I know Dyson really well and you know, it will be cool….it was cool to suit up with him late last year.”
I talked to Kole about special teams work in Utica and asked if he thinks he could take on some penalty killing duties this year if the coaching staff decided to go that way.
“Yeah, I’m just trying to get ice-time, no matter how I can. You know, obviously I want to be more responsible in my own end this year and hopefully get some penalty kill time like you said. I’m learning a lot about taking away passing lanes and trying to block shots when I can too, so that’s obviously something I’d love to do if I can this year.”
One rookie who had a pretty solid season overall was Lukas Jasek. He proved to be a versatile player who could move up and down the lineup, seeing time at all three forward positions and on all four lines. When Lukas first joined the Comets at the end of the 2018/19 season, he did so on a tryout deal in the hopes of putting himself on the Canucks radar for an entry-level contract.
I thought I’d ask Lukas how that tryout deal came about.
Full discloser, the first thing that Lukas said to me was that his English isn’t as strong as he’d like it to be. We managed to understand each other reasonably well, but I’ve cleaned up his quotes a little to make them a little more reader-friendly but hopefully leaving enough of Lukas in there so that his personality comes across. Lukas was smiling throughout our talk and I found him to be a great young man to speak with.
“For me, it was a surprise because I played in Czech league and we already were done with our playoffs. You know, in my head, my season was done. My agent called me and said, let’s try the Utica Comets and go there and try to play top the best of my ability. I came there and what happened, happened.”
What happened was Lukas bursting on the scene with seven points in six games and looking like a player who already had a decent pro game.
As mentioned above, Lukas was used all around the lineup by the Utica coaching staff, so I asked him how that experience was for him.
“It was tough because you never know what the coach likes or how much ice-time he’s going to give you. Yeah, it was tough for me, but I think that I was ready for the American Hockey League and I’m excited for this season.”
Before joining the Comets, Jasek spent his time bouncing between leagues in the Czech Republic. I wondered what kind of differences Lukas saw between the hockey played here vs in his home country.
“The biggest thing is the ice is smaller than Europe, so you have to play faster and this league is more physical. This is the biggest thing for me.”
I followed up that answer by asking how he felt in those physical games. I’ve mentioned more than once since covering Lukas that I really enjoy his work along the boards, so I wasn’t surprised by his answer.
“For me, it’s no problem. I can play everything. Like physical games for me are no problem. Maybe I don’t look like a big guy, but I can play a physical game too. It’s not a big deal for me.”
I continued down that line of questioning when I asked Jasek if those board battles have always been part of his game.
“Yeah, I just try to do what I can do and play the best that I can. I’m just ready every game and try to play relaxed.”
We talked about the adjustment to the league, but I also wanted to know how Lukas has adjusted to his new environment off the ice and if that has been difficult for him.
“It’s really fun. When I came here, I was playing in Liberec and it’s not my hometown, so I’ve already lived on my own. I was ready for that.”
Lukas saw some time on the power play last season but didn’t get much of an opportunity on the penalty kill. I asked him if that was a role that he thinks he could take on this season.
“Yeah, of course, of course. I think I just played one penalty kill last year, but I can play penalty kill too, the coach just has to trust me and I’m ready for that.”
The final player for today is Jonah Gadjovich. Much has been made about the way last year went down for the big winger and I asked him the same question that I asked Kole Lind…was he sick of talking about last year yet?
“Ha! Yeah! You know the thing about going into the summer and the start of a new year is you can forget about what happened the previous year. I mean, I learned a lot last year and I’m just looking to carry that with me into this year.”
Jonah spent a number of games as a scratch last year and had a tough adjustment period to the AHL level, but by the end of the season, he looked like he was able to play his game more effectively. I asked if that had to do with finally getting some reps or if it was something else.
“I think a little bit of everything. You know, I spent a lot of time during the season, a lot of time after practice working with the coaches. You know, the games that I wasn’t playing, I was in the gym. I’d be on the ice, doing extra stuff, so you know, during the games I was in the stands watching, so yeah, I learned a lot throughout the year.
Toward the end of the year, I felt like I was able to play my game a little better and contributed more. For me, it was a positive that I was able to take into the summer and gave me an idea of what I needed to work on. So like I said, this year is a new year and I’m just excited to get started.”
I asked Jonah if there was a specific focus for him with his offseason training this summer.
“I mean, there was a lot of stuff. The big thing was my pace of play. That was something I worked on a lot last year and throughout the summer I was working on my skating and obviously my conditioning and stuff like that.
I came into camp in great shape. This is the best shape that I’ve ever been in, so…I’ve put in a lot of work and I’m ready to get started.”
Much like the other players in this article, Jonah saw some power play time last year, but not much time on the penalty kill. Is he ready for a look while his club is shorthanded this season?
“Yeah, I mean, that’s what I’m hoping for. In junior, I was a power play and penalty kill guy. I watched a lot of the guys last year, you know, MacEwen in front of the net, guys like Wacey and Bancksy on the penalty kill. Whatever opportunities I get, I’m going to try to do my best and hopefully run with it.”
My last question for Jonah was about the variety of linemates that he had last year and if that was something he had to adjust to.
“I mean, I definitely wasn’t used to that, but it was something that I had to work with. I’m hoping this year to establish myself in the lineup on a nightly basis and whoever I play with, I’m just going to play my game and hopefully, we can feed off of each other.”
This foursome of young players will need to have big seasons to establish themselves as regulars on the roster in Utica while also putting themselves in line for call-up duties in Vancouver. From my perspective, the drive and determination to improve is evident with the lot of them, so this should be a fun season to watch as they take their next steps towards their NHL dream.
Until next time.