Vancouver Cancuks Training Camp
In the first two installments of this training camp series, I broke down my conversations with Justin Bailey, Tyler Graovac, Francis Perron, Guillaume Brisebois, Lukas Jasek, Kole Lind, and Jonah Gadjovich.
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Today, I will share my conversations with Zack MacEwen, Richard Bachman, and Jalen Chatfield.
TheBigFella has been mentioned by many in and around the Vancouver Canucks organization as a bright star in terms of player development and how things work well in Utica. He is entering the third and final year of his entry-level deal with the team, so I figured I’d ask him if this camp has been any different for him than his previous ones, and if so, what the biggest differences were for him this time around.
“I think it’s confidence and knowing what to expect a bit more. Knowing the guys a bit better, being more comfortable around the guys. Getting that taste last year was good too. It gave me some things to work on over the summer, so you know, it’s time to implement that and try to keep implementing the things that you need to work on when the preseason games start. It’s exciting and fun to get going right now.”
Speaking of that offseason training, for the second summer in a row, Zack trained with Olympic Gold Medalist bobsledder Eli MacEachern. I asked Zack how that training went and if the goal was to improve his explosiveness again.
“Yeah, exactly. He’s really good for improving that foot speed and explosiveness. He’s helped a lot of guys do that and a lot of guys have cranked up their game. I’m excited for this year after the summer that I’ve had.”
To my eye, Zack looks bigger but leaner. I asked if that was something that he was working toward as well.
“Yeah, I’d say that comes with a little more quickness than I had last year. I worked on my agility a lot this summer as well.”
This interview was conducted as Zack was heading out for his first preseason game in Calgary, so I kept the questions to a minimum for him, but I had to ask him about his new niece. The smile that came across his face was something to behold. If there is one thing that I have gotten to know about Zack MacEwen, it is that family is as important as it gets for this young man.
“Oh yeah! It’s awesome being an uncle! Little Phia is pretty cute and it’s awesome. They’re living in Halifax, so I got to see her quite a bit over the summer. It’s great…It’s awesome to see my brother so happy too!”
I mean…as if this little Canucks fan isn’t melting your heart right now. Welcome, Phia!
Richard Bachman had a bit of a tough go last season. He had a rough outing in his one NHL game with Vancouver before his season came to an end after just nine games with the Utica Comets. That was due to an Achilles’ injury that shut him down and had him momentarily questioning his future. I asked the Comets veteran netminder if it was tough to suffer such a serious injury at this stage of his career.
“Yeah, definitely. It’s an emotional injury. Especially with my age and just the severity of it. You don’t know how your body is going to respond, so when it happened, it was definitely an emotional time. You know, it puts a lot of different thoughts in your head, but for me, I just took it as an opportunity to try and come back a little bit stronger, and clean up other areas of my body that have been hurting for a couple of years. You just work hard and hope for the best.”
Bachman did a great job in helping Thatcher Demko make the adjustment to the pro level, and with the Comets likely to see a four-way battle in the net, I asked him how he felt going into this camp.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a different look than we’ve had in the past, but for me, especially coming off of this injury, and really in any year, for me, I just want to prove that I can still play and still compete at a really high level and win hockey games.
I think in order to do that, it’s just been a day-to-day mentality here through camp and we’ll take it day-to-day once we get down there…but you know, you want to see the young kids do well too. I’ve been in the organization for a long time and you want the best for everyone, but at the same time, I have to be a little bit selfish and take it day-to-day and try to compete and win a job.”
The last thing that I spoke with Bachman about is how the younger players mention him as a leader on the team and I asked how it is that he helps the young guys make the adjustment to the pro level.
“Yeah, I think some of it is just by your everyday actions – your preparation, your mentality in games, your emotional control. There’s a lot of different things you can do by just showing it without even saying much.
I think there’s a lot of things…especially, you see it a little bit more now in the NHL because it’s a younger league than it used to be, but especially in the American Hockey League, you have guys coming right out of junior that are 18-19-years-old. It’s not just at the rink that you’re helping them out. It’s every day, figuring out how to take care of themselves away from the rink. We try to help them with that too…to help them make a smooth transition to pro hockey.”
Bachman played later that day and handed the Calgary Flames a 3-2 overtime loss on the back of a 36-save effort. It was nice to see the veteran back up his words with a solid effort and showing that he’s still got some gas left in the tank.
Last on my list for the final day of camp was defenceman Jalen Chatfield. Jalen missed more games than he played last year, thanks to a broken foot that sidelined him for a good chunk of the season. Before his injury, Chatfield formed one half of the Comets top pairing on the blueline with Olli Juolevi.
I asked Jalen how this camp felt compared to previous camps for him.
“I’m just a little bit older, I guess. I know the guys a little bit better and know what the coaches expect in the organization. You just get a little more comfortable as the years go on…you get older and just more proven as a player too. You get more comfortable.”
As mentioned above, Jalen’s season was shortened by a broken foot. I asked him how he managed to keep his head in the game while he was out of commission.
“It was a blessing in disguise for me. I know I missed a lot of hockey, and you never want to do that. That was the most hockey that I’ve ever missed in my career. You know, it helped me sit back and I was able to watch all of the practices and I watched a lot of NHL hockey. You know, the staff down here got me clips of players that I wanted to watch and it helped me look at a different perspective of the game and helped my knowledge of it a little more.”
As skating is one of the biggest strengths in Jalen’s game, I wondered if he was worried about that broken foot affecting the way he will be able to play going forward.
“I guess you never know when you break your foot. I mean, it was my first broken bone, but since I’ve been back, 100%, it hasn’t affected my skating. I’ve still got the speed and I think I’ve still got the power and everything.”
Players are often given a to-do list of sorts by the coaching staff at the end of the season. It’s usually a list of things that the team would like to see improvement in. I asked Jalen if the coaching staff had anything specific for him to work on this offseason.
“No, to be honest, no, not really too much. I mean, they know I work hard and I’m committed to my game and getting better. The coaches down there knew I put in a lot of work when I was hurt and coming back from the injury, I put in extra time on the ice. They knew I was going to go into the summer with the same attitude and that’s what I did.”
Chatfield’s name was one mentioned by Canucks GM Jim Benning as a player that the team was looking to get a look at in the NHL last season before the broken foot shut him down and stymied a call-up. I asked Jalen if that was a bitter pill for him, or if he took it as motivation for this year.
“Well, yeah, I mean, I’ve always had that drive and everybody wants to make the NHL. I think being hurt is something that you’ve got to go through in your hockey career. It’s just adversity and I’ve faced it throughout my career. It’s just another thing for me to get over. Hopefully, I can keep impressing them and keep playing my game and get some games up, (with the Canucks).”
Jalen was able to jump right into a prime penalty-killing role with the Comets in his rookie season and that continued for him last year. I asked him how he was able to look so comfortable as a rookie penalty killer.
“It’s nothing new to me. I mean, I’m pretty sure we had the best penalty kill in OHL history…maybe in the CHL. My first three years in Windsor, I played top PK minutes every year. It was good experience for me to get that time. When I jumped up to the pro level, not much changed. I mean, you still want to play the same way, you still want to block shots, you want to clear pucks. You want to have a good stick out there and help prevent goals because you know, the penalty kill and power play can change games, for sure.”
Jalen played 18 games with Olli Juolevi last season and so far in camp this year, he has seen the bulk of his time with Ashton Sautner. Juolevi and Sautner play very different games, so I asked Jalen how he handles the challenge of being paired with players who have different styles.
“I mean, you make it work with everybody. You’ve got to build chemistry. They’re both great guys off the ice and they’re both my friends. I’m close with both of them. Whenever I get a chance to play with either of them, the best thing is just clicking together.
You’re not really worried about what kind of player you’re playing with. You know you’re going to be playing with whoever the coaches want and you make it work. I think last year that’s what a lot of us tried to do. You know, guys were changing a lot, we had a lot of call-ups, so you’ve just got to be ready with who you’re playing with…help each other out, talk a lot, talk to each other about what you want to do, what kind of plays…you find that chemistry and definitely build your D pair to be stronger.”
My last question for Jalen was about the leadership role that Jaime Sifers has played for the last two seasons and if he thinks that is a role that he can help fill now that the veteran has retired.
“Yeah, I guess I’m a veteran, but I don’t know if I’m going to be one of the oldest guys on the backend. We’ve still got some older guys. I’ve got a few years under my belt in the pro leagues. I wore the C in Windsor and I thought I showed a lot of maturity there. I took a lot of guys under my wing.
I know how it is to jump to the pros. It can be that the way the coaches want you to play is different than what you’re used to. A lot of these guys come from one team, one type of system, one coach. So it’s all about adjustment, helping those guys adjust better is going to make them better players and it’s going to help our team win games…and that’s what we want.”
Travis Green is often quoted as saying that he wants “players that he can win with” and Jalen Chatfield strikes me as just that kind of player. Not unlike Zack MacEwen, he just gets it. This will be a big year for Chatfield. I will not be the least bit surprised if he makes his NHL debut this season and has a solid showing when he does. He might not be the sexiest prospect in terms of high offensive production, but he brings more than a few attributes that coaches generally love. Time will tell if Jalen will have a successful NHL career, but I will not be betting against him just yet.
Until next time.