MOST ANTICIPATED 2015-2016 STORYLINES
I cannot express with words how excited I am for Star Wars Episode 7 to hit this December. I am a self confessing Star Wars fanboy and with every trailer or leaked set photo my anticipation grows. The fun part is trying to decipher what the new storylines will be and trying to predict how they will influence the film. All that really matters is there will be no Jar Jar… no midi chlorians, and no Hayden Christensen. I have so much faith that JJ Abrams will deliver and the wait is killing me.
While not on the same level, in much the same way I find myself curious as to what Hurricane related stories will be the most interesting to watch unfold. Last week we took a look at a few of the reasons Canes fans should be optimistic about the coming year. Today I would like to dive into some of the more interesting storylines heading into training camp. While not necessarily measured as positive or negative, the following are a handful of stories I believe fans will want to watch develop.
How is Brent Kisio going to put his stamp on this team? Undoubtedly it isn’t a question that can be confidently answered through training camp or even the first quarter of the season – but we should be able to see some early indicators of the type of squad he wants to build in the first few weeks. What will Kisio’s demeanor be behind the bench? How will he run his practices? What sort of identity will he work to instill and how will that identity mesh with what Peter Anholt worked to build last season? Of all those questions, I am particularly interested in how Kisio runs practice and communicates with his players. One of the major criticisms I heard of Rich Preston was that he approached practice and teaching with a lack of intensity and intentionality. Whether that is true or not is up for debate. My opinion is that there is at least some truth to that rumor. Maybe he assumed too much of the players or maybe that was just what he grew to know while dealing with NHLers during his time in Calgary. Regardless of the cause, I believe it was, and remains a major point of focus for junior hockey organizations. It is crucial that a team practices how it intends to play – with intensity and a high level of competition. Those who have been involved with sport at a mid-to-high level will understand that it is difficult to ‘turn it on’ at game time if you haven’t already been fully engaged during training periods. For the sake of long term maturation of the players, I really hope to see coach Kisio implement intense and intentional practices – helping to instill a strong identity in the team along the way.
I also cannot stress enough the importance of good communication between coach and players during practice and training periods. Players need to know exactly what the coach is asking of them in order that they follow through with confidence. Confidence is crucial, particularly when you are talking about young players (15-16 y/o) coming into their first or second training camp. It becomes about putting players in a position to succeed, in order that they will grow in confidence and live up to their long term potential. How Kisio communicates with players will be at least partially evident through his game-time interaction. Will he be an adaptive, highly conversational coach, utilizing time-outs to organize plays and calm nerves, or will he take a hands-off approach in the vein of Preston? Time will tell. How Kisio plans to practice, teach, and communicate, are fascinating questions that add to the greater intrigue of the ’15-’16 Hurricane squad. The reason I mention any of these seemingly insignificant or ‘finer’ details is that Kisio has never been a head coach. He will need to decide what elements he wants to incorporate from other coaches he has worked alongside, and what aspects will be unique to him. Watching him come into his own as a coach will be interesting to watch as a hockey fan. For better or worse I am sure Kisio has a great plan in place and will be more than prepared to put it in action come September. We as observers will get to watch from a distance and only time will tell how successful he is. *I was corrected on Twitter for accidentally saying Kelly Kisio rather than Brent. I sincerely apologize to the readers and Brent for the mix-up. It was not intentional.*
After years of speculation and doubt, Jordy Bellerive will be a Hurricane this season. For those unaware, Bellerive, the Canes first selection and second overall pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, initially refused to sign with the team. Most had him pegged to play American NCAA hockey in a move to protect his blossoming career from the tumultuous Hurricanes organization. However, as I mentioned in a previous article, Peter Anholt was able to not only defuse the situation, but also to get Jordy signed to a WHL contract. Bellerive’s signing confirms his participation as a Hurricanes and simultaneously secures the Hurricanes 2014 draft class was not a catastrophic waste of a painful season. That is not to say the Canes didn’t make good on selecting Ethan King or Zane Franklin, both promising players; but to lose out on Bellerive in the wake of the Pilon saga would have been a major loss for the organization. On a much smaller scale, I would suggest that the Bellerive signing is to the Hurricanes what the McDavid lottery was to the Oilers. Bellerive coming on board brings hope to the organization and to fans where hope had been absent. Does it make everything okay with the Hurricanes? No, of course not. But it marks a step in the right direction and the signing gave Anholt a mark of legitimacy which was further engrained through the signing of this year’s first round selection, Callen Addison.
Let me be clear that I don’t have savior-like expectations for Bellerive. From all accounts he is a promising player but projections should be made realistic. He is going to need to learn to play in a new league, just like any other rookie, and I expect Kisio to feed him minutes against softer opposition to help him do so. Hopefully Bellerive will come into his own early on and become the impact player the Hurricanes need him to be. The Bellerive signing is possibly the most interesting story heading into the season, a statement I believe most hockey fans in Lethbridge would agree with. Local hockey fans will get to watch a highly touted young prospect take the next step in his development and that is something we should all be thrilled about. The fall will mark the advent of Bellerive era and I can’t wait to see what that means for the team.
THE IGOR/EGOR CONNECTION
A fresh pair of European players will be here in September. Russian Egor Babenko (F) and Ukrainian Igor Merezhko (D) will make their way to Lethbridge as the latest European contingent looking to crack the lineup. The interesting storyline with the majority of WHL import players is that they are (almost) largely organizational wild-cards. For every Luca Sbisa there are fifty Juraj Bezuch’s. Information on foreign skaters is far less consistent than domestic scouting – making import players a gamble. With that said, it is a risk/reward scenario and the players that manage to adapt to the North American game can have a significant impact on their team. With Kade Jensen traded to the Broncos, it would be a significant help to the D-corps if Merezhko turns out to be a player Kisio can count on. As a 6’2, 181lbs, right shooting defenseman, Merezhko has all the makings of a valuable player. We will have to wait to know for sure, but his development will be something many will watch with great anticipation.
Babenko, while much smaller than Merezhko, was scoring close to a point per game in the MHL last year. GM Anholt stated about the two players, ““We are going to let their actions speak for them and we are not going to have any preconceived ideas about what kind of player they are. We’ve been told that Babenko is a skilled player, but we are going to let him speak for himself with his actions.” His comments suggest to me that he is entirely open to any number of outcomes with these players. Anholt will certainly not live or die on the Egor/Igor duo, but hitting gold on at least one of these two picks would go a long way in helping the team climb out of the Central Division basement.
I want to hear what you think. There are many storylines heading into the season but those mentioned above I personally find interesting. You very likely have your own watch-list of intriguing storylines. What are you interested watching unfold this year? Drop a comment below and remember to follow and interact with us on Twitter @CanesDomain
I also want to leave you with a little graphic teaser (above) of how the game-day blog will display the line-up. There will be tweaks, and those are obviously not final forward line-ups or numbers, but you get the picture. Those of you who follow Canes Domain on Twitter have probably already seen some of these but I wanted to make sure to share with those exclusively visiting the site. Tell us what you think!
WELCOME DOMINION LENDING
I also want to take a moment to welcome Graham Reimer of Dominion Lending to the Canes Domain network. Dominion Lending will be sponsoring each and every post-game blog entry here at canesdomain.com during the 2015-2016 season. What that means for you the reader is that Canes Domain will be able to provide you with better content for your reading pleasure. I have mentioned before that the hope is to grow Canes Domain into a vibrant online community. Your interaction and readership is the foundation upon which that community will be built. I hope that in partnering with local business, Dominion Lending foremost among them, Canes Domain can take rapid steps towards that goal. You can find out more on Graham and Dominion Lending at mortgagecrusher.ca. I cannot say enough good things about Graham and I hope you keep him and his team in mind when you are faced with a mortgage decision in the future.
Click on the photo below to check out Graham’s site and be sure to mention you heard of him through Canes Domain.