Dave Cunning

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Matt Irwin2

He may not be a household name just yet, but San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin may work his way into your mental NHL player directory yet. Now in his second NHL season, the 26 year old British Columbian is continuing a trend from his amateur career that has seen his point totals, ice-time, and contributions to his team’s success dynamically increase every year.

Irwin spoke with me at length about his long road to the NHL and what he’ll have to do to stay there, the tough decisions he was required to make and small window of opportunity he had to live out his dream, past teammates that helped get him where he is now, current ones that help make him better, what the San Jose Sharks will have to do to win their first Stanley Cup, what it takes to be consistently inserted into a lineup full of Olympians, All-Stars, and Stanley Cup champions, and more.

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Let’s start at the beginning. In 04-05, you got to play three games of Junior A hockey just up the road from your hometown of Brentwood Bay, BC, with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL. You didn’t record any points, but did skate alongside future NHLer Jason Garisson. In 05-06, you played alongside future NHLer Colin Greening in Nanaimo for 56 games and had 9 points. In 06-07 you exploded for 49 points, was the team’s top scoring d-man, the Clippers won the BCHL, and you were named the BCHL’s best defenceman. 07-08 was more of the same, as you’re again the team’s top scoring d man, and win league’s best defenceman. So explain your rather dynamic development in junior hockey — what did you take away from the guys you played with that went on to play at higher levels of the game, and how did it help influence your junior career to produce what it did? 

Irwin: “Those three games were as an affiliate player. I played Junior B with Saanich in Victoria, and got an opportunity to play in three games [with Nanaimo] and see what it was all about. It was a big step for me. From there, I got the opportunity to sign and play [the following season] with them for the whole year where I got to play on a consistent basis. Not a lot of power play time, more five-on-five minutes. The following year when everything picked up, Bill [Bestwick] gave me a great opportunity to play on the power play. The first five games of that year I had five or six goals. It was all happening really fast, I wasn’t expecting it. I was working on my shot, Bill had me working on it all the time. That’s where the offensive side of it started to come together.”

After you completed your junior career, you moved on to play NCAA hockey with UMass Amherst from 2008 to 2010. Instead of playing four seasons you only played two, joining the AHL’s Worchester Sharks at the end of the 09-10 season, and did not return to the NCAA. Why did you choose not to stay for all four years after taking the BCHL scholarship route rather than major junior? Talk about making the choice to abandon a fully funded education. Read the rest of this entry »

Bernie Nicholls

When you think about the LA Kings and what players have meant the most to the team since their inception in 1967, most long term fans would not omit Bernie Nicholls from their list of all-time greats. Though he spent time with six different NHL clubs over 19 seasons, the nine seasons Nicholls played with the LA Kings were most his impactful, and what he is best remembered for. His 150 point season in 1988-89, team records of most points in a game and most goals in a season, and fifth place position in all-time team points left an impression on the franchise and its supporters that holds up to this day.

Nicholls was also an instrumental part of the coaching regime that replaced Terry Murray in LA in 2011, and set the Kings on course to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

I caught up with Bernie via telephone just prior to the Superbowl to talk about all things Kings, coaching, his career, what’s wrong with the slumping LA team and how he’d fix them, where he keeps his Stanley Cup ring, and why he declines his New Jersey Devils’ alumni game invitation every year.

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First of all, how’d your Superbowl predictions turn out?

I got killed. I had Denver. Every one of my bets was with Denver. It was not a good day for me.

It’s tough to find a properly defined role to say what your job description with the LA Kings is right now. “Consultant” or “unofficial assistant coach” is what I’ve read in various reports. Whatever it is, it was enough to get you a day with the Stanley Cup when LA won two years ago. Can you clarify what you do with the team?

It was an assistant coaching job. They said I was a consultant to the coach, Darryl Sutter. But I did everything that the assistant coaches did, pretty much. I did more with the players than the coaches. I think I was a lot closer to the players. It was still like an assistant coaching role. I worked the power play, worked with the kids. When they were slumping or getting down, I think it’s always easier for players to talk to a former player than the head coach. I had a really good rapport with the players. It was along the lines of an assistant coaching role. Read the rest of this entry »

Bodie 2

- Interview by Dave Cunning, who you should follow on Twitter

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Toronto Maple Leafs fans may not have seen a whole lot of Troy Bodie this season, but he’s no stranger to the NHL, and probably more familiar with Randy Carlyle as a coach than most of the Leafs’ current roster.

The 2003 Edmonton Oilers draft pick is a four year NHL veteran who has suited up for 121 games between the Anaheim Ducks (where he played 57 games in three seasons under Carlyle), Carolina Hurricanes, and now the Toronto Maple Leafs. Over those four seasons, he has amassed seven goals, seven assists, fourteen points, and 156 PIM. He’s been a pro for twice as long though, logging 368 games in the minors with eight different teams since 2006-07. He also played four seasons with my hometown Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, where he won the Memorial Cup with the team in 2004.

Though Leafs fans may remember him best from episodes two and three of the HBO 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the Winter Classic series (Bodie put up 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 fights and 15 PIM in that time), he’s now primarily playing with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. So far, the 6’4” winger has appeared in 16 games, scored 4 goals, 4 assists, and registered 9 PIM. His reassignment to the AHL cost him an appearance in the 2014 NHL Winter Classic, but he still got to play in an outdoor game, as the Marlies bested the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-3 outside at Comerica Park on December 30, 2013.

I caught up with Bodie recently during a Marlies’ road swing to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where the team was marooned and at the mercy of the polar vortex that had delayed the team’s trip home to Toronto.

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Playing in 14 Leafs games this season also means that you’ve missed more than 30 of their games. What factors go into Randy Carlyle giving you the call and putting you in the Leafs lineup or not from night to night? 

Bodie: “I believe that one was strictly numbers. Colton Orr, who plays primarily the fourth line right wing, was down with an injury. That’s the kind of role I play. It was nice to get the call and get up there, but it was strictly just to fill a role. He got healthy, and then I went back down.”

Most opinions from players who have played or are playing for Randy seem to concur that he can be a tough coach. This is now the fourth season you’ve played under him, how is he to play for? 

Bodie: “Randy and I actually get along fine. He’s a tough coach. He expects a lot out of his players. At the same time, I think he’s fair. If you work hard for him and play the systems, he likes you. But if you go astray and do your own thing he can be pretty rough on you.”

During the 24/7 series, there was a scene at a Leafs practice where Randy pulls Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger aside and says, “…you’re not playing tonight, you’re not giving us what we need…if you’re going to play with our hockey club, your level of play has to go up.” Did you get a talk like that from Randy when you were reassigned, or how did your exit interview go?

Bodie: “Randy doesn’t do a whole lot of that on his own. He doesn’t talk to guys really, he kind of stays to his own. The one that actually told me was assistant GM Claude Loiselle. It’s usually just, ‘hey you know we liked your game… it’s a numbers game… go down to the minors and do your thing.’ That’s usually about it.” Read the rest of this entry »

jonathan cheechoo

-by Dave Cunning

Jonathan Cheechoo hasn’t exactly been making headlines over the last few years, but that isn’t because he hasn’t been around. After his award winning 56 goal season in 2005-06 with the San Jose Sharks, Cheechoo’s point production steadily headed south, along with his health – to the point where he was bought out of his last NHL contract, and relegated to the minors. After spending the last four seasons with four different AHL clubs, Cheechoo has resurfaced with Medveščak Zagreb of Croatia in the KHL — the league that many consider to be the NHL’s top rival. At the moment, he looks like the Jonathan Cheechoo of old on the scoresheet — leading his team in points, and even wearing the captain’s “C” on his jersey.

Cheechoo graciously spoke with me recently about his KHL experience, the league’s reputation, his battle with injuries, playing with Joe Thornton, his thoughts on returning to the NHL, and a whole lot more.

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First off, Barry Brust was nice enough to put this interview together, how has Barry been as a goalie for you guys so far? He broke Johnny Bower’s 55 year old AHL shutout streak last season with the Abbotsford Heat, and has nine wins and three shutouts for you guys as of now this season.  

Cheechoo: “He’s been great. He’s stepped in and made some big saves, and kept us on our longest winning streak of the season. He’s definitely a bit of an unorthodox goalie as far as the way goalies go today, but he gets the job done. He’s pretty solid. He competes hard. That’s one thing you don’t see in some goalies – some goalies are technically sound but you don’t really see a compete level in them. They’ll say ‘I was in the right spot, and if you beat me, you beat me’, whereas he’s passionate about making saves. You don’t see that a lot.”

Why did you choose Medveščak Zagreb in Croatia over others, say HV71 in Sweden who you played for in 04-05 during the NHL lockout, or any of the other teams and countries you could have had your pick of with your background?

Read the rest of this entry »

Many NHL pundits and fans assumed they had seen the last of Wade Redden in the NHL, after the New York Rangers swept his $6.5 million cap hit under the rug by reassigning him to their AHL affiliate Connecticut Whale from 2010 to 2012.

But those critics were proved wrong after the Rangers cashed in one of their freshly CBA-approved accelerated compliance buyouts earlier this month, and used it to sever ties with Redden and the remaining two seasons of his six year deal with them. It posted him as an available, unrestricted free agent – something that the St. Louis Blues were quick to capitalize on the day after Redden hit the market.

The 35 year old veteran of 13 NHL seasons signed a one year deal with the Blues on January 20th for $800,000 plus another $200K in performance bonuses. That’s $4 million less than what he would have made with New York this year; though he will still earn a pro-rated $3.341 million for 2012-13, and just a little less than that for 2013-14 from the Rangers.

Redden passed a physical, dealt with immigration, and suddenly found himself to be an NHL player once again faster than you can say John Tortorella.

Redden has been skating with St. Louis in the interim, and accompanied them on their recent road trip through Nashville and Chicago. He is slated to resume NHL blue line patrol as early as Thursday, when the Blues take on the Predators at home.

In the meantime, Redden took a few minutes out to chat with me. Here’s what he had to say on his new contract, his time with the Rangers, and everything in between.  Read the rest of this entry »

Logan Couture is ready to play NHL hockey again.

So ready in fact, that he left the European club he had been playing with early to return home to North American preparation and anticipation of once again donning a San Jose Sharks jersey and taking NHL ice.

The only problem is that the NHL still isn’t ready for him, nor anyone else.

In the meantime, Couture will settle for suiting up along side Steven Stamkos, PK Subban, Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and 34 other locked out NHL players on December 19th at Maple Leaf Garde—err, the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens in Toronto, for the 2012 RBC Play Hockey Charity Challenge, in support of the NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams Fund.

I caught up with Logan via telephone for an interview just prior to the event, and he graciously chatted with me about everything from his experience in Europe, to his thoughts on the lockout, the owners, and where he’ll be skating until the NHL finally calls.

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(UPDATE: Mike Danton signed with Kramfors-Alliansen of the Swedish elite league earlier in the week. For more, here’s Danton’s personal website.)

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It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that no one in the game of hockey has a stigma around them the way that Mike Danton does. Now trying to resume his professional hockey career inEurope, the ex-NHLer and ex-con deals with all sorts of prejudice and ignorance directed towards him on a daily basis – not to mention all the life roadblocks that a convicted felon could expect on the outside, because of his nearly decade-old crime – despite serving his sentence.

In our interview, Mike talked very candidly and at length about everything from hockey, his time in jail, how he’s turned his life around for the better, his thoughts on other ex-con pro athletes, his feelings on being denied entry to the UK to play, his family, and what the future holds for him. Without a doubt, the responses that he gives will at least make you reconsider the opinion you’ve come to form about him. Enjoy. Read the rest of this entry »