Apologies for the delayed observations but personal circumstances have necessitated a combined summary of impressions from several days I attended.
The bulk of the following observations stem from last Wednesday's 3-on-3 tournament action (I was unable to make it Tuesday) although some does come from the on-ice sessions last Sunday and Monday. Here are some thoughts on a limited number of camp participants, from those I went out of my way to watch and those my eyes kept being drawn to:
On the heels of a national holiday, 32 prospects--most drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, others signed as free agents and a handful of invitees--gathered on the ice Saturday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon to begin several days of on-ice and off-ice conditioning as well as instruction in organizational values and the culture of professional hockey for both returning and first-time participants.
"Let's call this what it is: summer hockey," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper told assembled media. "Part of what [the players] get out of this camp is the chance to get to know myself, Rob Zettler, the staff. Getting to know expectations and being a pro."
"A lot of these kids are coming from juniors programs, college, all these different walks of life, but here at the Tampa Bay Lightning we've got a certain code of conduct," Cooper noted. "This is where it starts."
Having concluded fitness testing and physicals, players hit the ice and rounded out their day with an hour-long practice spent completing basic drills as well as a forty-five minute power skating session.
"The first day is always kind of a feel out day," Cooper said. "Some of these guys, I'm sure, have been skating and some haven't been."
Keeping in mind that the 3-on-3 tournament scheduled to begin Tuesday and wrap-up on Wednesday, the final day of camp, will provide better opportunities to gauge player abilities and hockey sense, here are some brief and selected observations:
(West-3) Yale Bulldogs 4 vs (East-1) Quinnipiac Bobcats 0
F Matthew Peca, QU: 0-0-0, -3, 0 PIM, 5 SOG
Season totals: 39 GP, 15-15-30, +14, 36 PIM
The magical ride of Quinnipiac and Matt Peca was going to end anyway on Saturday, but they would have preferred it end with a win. The top-ranked Bobcats, playing in their first national tournament, were beaten by upstart Yale, 4-0. It was the fourth time the two state and ECAC rivals met this year and the first time Yale won. It just happened to be for the national championship.
There is a chance the Lightning starts Peca on the road to the NHL by signing him and placing him in AHL Syracuse next year, but that doesn’t seem like the normally patient approach by Bolts GM Steve Yzerman. If Peca returns for his junior year he will be one of the early Hobey Baker candidates.
(Midwest-3) St. Cloud State Huskies 1 vs (East-1) Quinnipiac Bobcats 4
F Matthew Peca, QU: 0-0-0, +1, 2 PIM, 2 SOG
Season totals: 38 GP, 15-15-30, +17, 36 PIM
Peca and his line with the twins, Conner and Kellen Jones, were flying all night but only scored one goal – a wrist shot by Kellen Moore from the slot. It didn’t matter as QU jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and coasted to a 4-1 win and a berth in the national championship game against conference and state rival Yale. That game will be played on Saturday night on ESPN. Peca received constant compliments from the ESPN 2 crew throughout the game as he showed off his speed and stickwork, creating multiple scoring chances. John Buccigross and former Lightning coach Barry Melrose called Peca’s line one of the best in the country this year.
We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.
The Prospect of the Week for April 3 is … Matthew Peca, W, Quinnipiac (NCAA – USA).
Matt Peca made sure his Quinnipiac Bobcats would advance to the Frozen Four in their first national tournament last week.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired left wing Philippe Paradis (pair-ah-DEE) from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman Kirill Gotovets today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced. He will be assigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.
Paradis, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, has played in 36 games with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League this season, recording a goal and eight points with 100 penalty minutes. He ranks fourth on the team for penalty minutes. Paradis has also played in five games with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL.
A native of Dolbeau, Quebec, Paradis has played in 102 career AHL games with the IceHogs and the Toronto Marlies, recording seven goals and 27 points. He recorded a career-best five goals and 16 points in 58 games last season. Paradis made his professional debut with the Marlies on April 2, 2010.
Paradis was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round, 27th overall, of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed defenseman Luke Witkowski to a two-year contract today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Witkowski, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, appeared in 38 games as a captain with the Western Michigan University Broncos in 2012-13, recording two goals and 10 points to go along with 46 penalty minutes while being named Second-Team All-CCHA. He led the Broncos with 53 blocked shots and ranked second for penalty minutes. Witkowski also added two power-play tallies.
A native of Holland, Michigan, Witkowski played in 152 games during his four-year career at Western Michigan. He accumulated seven goals and 38 points with 235 penalty minutes. He won the 2010-11 Bill Saunders Plus/Minus Award for finishing with the Broncos’ best plus/minus rating at plus-13.
Prior to attending Western Michigan, Wikowski played for the Fargo Force and the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets of the USHL. He amassed nine goals and 26 assists in two USHL seasons. Witkowski was named to the 2009 USHL All-Star Team.
Witkowski was drafted by the Lightning in the sixth round, 160th overall, of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Since being drafted he has attended four Lightning Development Camps.
(Midwest-4) St. Cloud State Huskies 4 vs (Midwest-2) Miami RedHawks 1
Midwest Region Finals
F Jimmy Mullin, MIA: Did not play
Season totals: 38 GP, 6-8-14, E, 14 PIM
Jimmy Mullin missed the game after injuring his knee in the regional semifinals against Minnesota State. His Miami teammates could not advance to the Frozen Four, losing to the Huskies, 4-1. Mullin finishes his sophomore season with 14 points, 12 fewer than his freshman totals. He is expected to return to the RedHawks for his junior season.
(East-3) Union Dutchmen 1 @ (East-1) Quinnipiac Bobcats 5
East Region Finals
F Matthew Peca, QU: 3-1-4, +4, 2 PIM, 3 SOG, *First Star*
Season totals: 37 GP, 15-15-30, +16, 34 PIM
Lightning prospect Matt Peca had a natural hat trick in the first period and was named first star as the Bobcats advanced to their first Frozen Four on Sunday. Peca has nearly doubled his goal output as a freshman (8) and is chasing his career high for points (39). Quinnipiac, the top ranked team in the country, will play WCHA regular season champ St. Cloud State on April 11 in Pittsburgh for the right to advance to the national championship game. Yale and UMass-Lowell will play in the other national semifinal.
(Midwest-3) Minnesota State Mavericks 0 vs (Midwest-2) Miami RedHawks 4
Midwest Region Semifinals
F Jimmy Mullin, MIA: 0-0-0, -1, 0 PIM, 1 SOG
Season totals: 38 GP, 6-8-14, E, 14 PIM
Adam Wilcox’s former goaltending partner Ryan McKay stopped all 20 shots he faced to lead the RedHawks to the Midwest Region Finals on Sunday. Jimmy Mullin was scoreless in the match, and took a nasty knee-on-knee hit on Saturday. Miami will face Midwest No. 4 St. Cloud State.
(West-4)Yale Bulldogs 4 vs. (West-2) North Dakota 1
West Region Finals
F Brendan O’Donnell, UND: 0-0-0, E, 0 PIM, 1 SOG
Season totals: 29 GP, 2-8-10, E, 20 PIM
North Dakota allowed four third period goals to Yale – alma mater of Lightning radio play-by-play voice Dave Mishkin – in what turned out to be North Dakota’s final game of the season. After starting the last handful of games on the first line, O’Donnell was on the fourth line on Saturday. The Lightning prospect was in and out of the lineup all year, but had found a place recently. He will enter his junior season next fall. Yale will play UMass-Lowell in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
(East-4) Canisius Griffins 3 @ (East-1) Quinnipiac Bobcats 4
East Region Semifinals
F Matthew Peca, QU: 1-0-1, +1, 0 PIM, 4 SOG
Season totals: 36 GP, 12-14-26, +13, 32 PIM
Cinderella Canisius College – alma mater of the Lightning’s Cory Conacher – held a 3-1 lead on the top team in the country eight minutes into the third period before Peca scored his 12th of the season. The Bobcats scored two just over two minutes later then again three and a half minutes after that to advance to the East Region Finals on Sunday vs. third-seeded Union College, which beat Boston College. Cory Conacher’s brother, Shane Conacher, will play for the Griffs next season.
(West-3)Niagara Purple Eagles 1 vs. (West-2) North Dakota 2
F Brendan O’Donnell, UND: 0-0-0, E, 2 PIM, 0 SOG
Season totals: 28 GP, 2-8-10, E, 20 PIM
Brendan O’Donnell started on North Dakota’s first line as the team in green beat the Purple Eagles, 2-1 in the West Regional Semifinals. North Dakota entered the third period down 1-0, but by the 3-minute mark had the lead they needed. They will play Yale in the regional finals for the right to go to the Frozen Four.
(West-4)Yale Bulldogs 3 @ (West-1)Minnesota Golden Gophers 2 (OT)
G Adam Wilcox, MIN: OT Loss, 23 saves on 26 shots
Season totals: 39 GP, 25-8-5, 1.88 GAA, .921 sv%, 3 SO
Minnesota fought back from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime, but the Bulldogs completed the upset of the Gophers with an overtime-winning goal nine seconds into the extra period. Minnesota’s defenseman turned over the puck behind Wilcox’s net and the Yale’s Kenny Agostino – traded to Calgary in the Jarome Iginla deal earlier this week – fed Jesse Root in the slot for the winning goal. Wilcox had no chance at the game-winner. He finished his freshman season among the best goalies in the conference, and will be a big part of the Gophers’ season next year – its first in the new Big 10 hockey conference.