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Penguins 2009 Rookie Tournament Blog

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins will be following the Penguins prospects during their Rookie Camp Tournament in Kitchener, Ontario. Check back for frequent updates throughout the week-long tournament. 

With their 4-1 victory over Toronto on Wednesday and 3-2 triumph over Boston, the Penguins prospects finished with a 2-1 record in the tournament, giving them their third straight rookie camp title. Congratulations Pens!


John D’Aversa
Q:  As a veteran of this tournament do you consider yourself a leader in the locker room?
D’Aversa:  Yeah, definitely this is my third year now so I have been through the ups and downs that come with playing in the tournament.  Right now, I am just trying to give them some feedback and help them out if they have any questions.

Q: Have any of the first-year players approached you with questions?
D’Aversa:  A little bit here and there they ask questions about how different the lifestyle is, but a lot of them played Major Junior hockey.  Even some of the former college guys asked how it is since they haven’t really been through it before. I just tried to tell them the positives; there aren’t too many negatives, but you try and give them the best information you can.

Q: What are you personally trying to take away from this tournament?
D’Aversa:  Just get my game back in gear. I really want to have a good year. I think this camp helps out a lot in getting you back into game shape and ready for main camp. I just want to play my best, help out some of the younger guys and get ready for camp.

Ryan Schnell
Q: Who have been the leaders so far for the Penguins throughout the tournament?
Schnell:  I think a guy like (Nick) Johnson, who isn’t the most talkative guy in the room, but when you see him in practice and on the bench he is a guy that leads by example.  (Jonathan) D’Aversa is the same way, and guys that have been to these camps before and spent time in the AHL. They have shown guys like me the way you need to present yourself on and off the ice.

Q:  What do you want to accomplish in the next two games?
Schnell:  I’d like to chip in a point or two here in the next two games and have a good plus/minus rating. I just want to play consistent every game, not turning the puck over at the blue lines, take care of my end defensively and just finish the last two games strong.

Scott McConnell (Badger Bob Johnson’s grandson)
Q:  What does it mean to you to be in the Penguins’ organization knowing your grandfather was such a huge part of their success in the early 1990s? 
McConnell:  It is an honor. I am very fortunate to be given the opportunity to work in such a first-class organization.  It is really special for me.

Q:  What memories of the Penguins do you have as a youngster?
McConnell:  The last time I was in Mellon Arena was Games 1 & 2 of the 1990-91 Stanley Cup Final against the (Minnesota) North Stars when Mario Lemieux split the defense and beat goaltender (John) Casey.  That was the last time I was in Mellon Arena, back then it was the Igloo. The Penguins have been close to my heart and my families’ heart for a long time.

Q:  With you family ties, have the Penguins always been your favorite team growing up?
McConnell:  Ever since my grandfather coach it has always been, “how are the Penguins doing?”  To see what they did last season, it brought back a lot of great memories, it was really exciting.


4:21 PM:

The Penguins prospects enjoyed a one-day break in game action on Tuesday. The team will finish the tournament with games against Toronto (Wednesday) and Boston (Thursday) before returning to Pittsburgh for the start of training camp.

9:32 AM:

The Penguins dropped a 4-1 decision to the Ottawa Senators in their second game of the Rookie Tournament on Monday night. Nick Johnson tallied the lone Penguins goal with assists from Dustin Jeffrey and Robert Bortuzzo.

Bortuzzo now has two assists in his last two games. Despite the loss, Pittsburgh outshot, 41-29, and outchanced the Senators.

Here are a few comments from the Penguins following the game:

Todd Reirden - Coach
On the team getting chances but not converting goals
"I think we have to continue to be positive on some of the things we are accomplishing in our game. We are getting chances. We are carrying large portions of the play. Things haven't gone our way. We were down 3-0 and I'm proud of our response in terms of standing up for each other and different areas of the game. As well as the way we scored a late goal and had some chances at the end. We just weren't able to even it up."

On who has stood out in the camp
"Ryan Schnell has come in here and opened a lot of people's eyes with the element that he brings to the game. Zach Sill is a physical presence. We also have a lot of promising, young players. Simon Despres has a very bright future ahead of him. The addition (Monday night) of Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson and Joe Vitale continue to do a lot of good things out there."

On Brad Thiessen's performance
"It was his first pro game. It seems like he's been with us for a while now but it's his first game he's played. He has to get used to these situations. I thought he played well. He needs to continue to play games and continue to improve as a player."

Will there be lineup changes for next game
"We sat out Luca Caputi, Lane Caffaro and Casey Pierro-Zabotel, and guys that have played in Wilkes-Barre. This is a rookie camp and our organization wants to see where we're at in terms of our development. The only way to see someone's development is to let them play in games. I know we'll have lineup changes because we want to see our young players play hockey. We'll address that after to see where everyone's health is."

Robert Bortuzzo - D
On not converting on their chances
"We seemed to be a little snake bitten right now. We hit a couple of posts. Their goalie played well too. We just have to keep getting pucks to the net all tournament and things will start going our way I'm sure."

On adjusting from juniors
"I'm adapting pretty well. The puck's moving quicker and the guys are bigger and faster. I feel like I'm keeping up out there. It's just an adjustment you have to make. The play happens much quicker than in junior and you have to adapt."

Eric Tangradi - F
On getting over the hump and getting a goal
"It's been a while since I've had that many shots in a game. I think I'm a little snake bitten right now. Hopefully I can get one and they will start pouring in a little easier. I'm still getting my chances so I'm trying to stay positive and keep shooting the puck."

On the team trying to bury its chances
"We're getting our chances. We're just not getting to the net hard enough. If we can go to the net a little bit harder with more determination then we should be alright. We ran into a hot goalie (Monday). It was just one of those games. Hopefully we can rebound and bring a lot of the positives from (Monday) into Wednesday's game and play strong."

On his hand following surgery
"I feel pretty confident and strong out there. It's just the basic things. The timing, the speed, the flow of the play. We've had only 48 hours to turn things around from the summer. It's been pretty fast. The hand is fine. It's just the simple things coming off of summer."



1:00 PM:

Penguins communications coordinator Erik Heasley caught up with a few of the Penguins' prospects at the Rookie Tournament in Kitchener, Ontario. Here's what they had to say:

Dustin Jeffrey - F
On what he wants to take away from the Rookie Tournament:
It's an opportunity to shake the rust off from the summer. It's been a while since we've played a meaningful game. It's a chance to get back into the swing of a full-paced game with the skating, competing, hitting, everything that comes with playing games. It's a chance to get that confidence back heading into (training) camp.

On the next three games:
I want to get my timing back. Get the feel for getting hit again, protecting the puck and doing what you do in a normal game. So when (training) camp comes you're not thinking about shaking off the rust. You just worry about playing your game and put your best foot forward.

On what he expects from himself:
I've got my first year under my belt. It was a great experience. I want to build on that. I don't want to be a guy that played 14 (NHL) games my first year and disappeared my second year. I want to be a guy that can help lead this team in rookie camp. Then go into main camp and earn a spot on the roster and get a few games to start the year to prove myself.

Simon Despres - D
On his first Rookie camp game:
It was a great experience. It's way faster than junior. It took me some time to get used to it. I think every shift I went on, I got better. It was good. It was very exciting. I was happy to get an assist.

On his expectations:
I came here to learn and see what it takes to be a pro. I'm learning a lot from the older guys and all the coaching are teaching me their expertise.

On what he wants to improve on:
There is always places to improve on in every aspect of the game. I want to work hard at everything. There are little details and as I get older, I want to get better.

On adjustments from pro to juniors:
The difference in time and space, your reaction time has to be much quicker.

Brad Thiessen - G
On his first game in a Penguins uniform:
It's been a long time since I've played in a game. There have been a lot of practices and waiting around for this day. I'm just excited to go out there. I'll keep things simple. Try to keep the pucks in front of me and have fun.

On what he learned being on the Penguins taxi squad during the Stanley Cup playoffs:
I watched all the guys and learned what it means to be a professional athlete, what they do to take care of themselves, what they do on and off the ice. They take everything seriously. Coming into this year I know what it takes. I think that helps me a lot.



11:12 PM:

The Penguins fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-1, in the first contest of the Rookie Tournament. Joe Vitale scored for the Penguins with assists going to Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres.

4:10 PM:

The Penguins prospects kick off their 2009 Rookie Tournament Sunday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The scratches for the game were forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Nick Johnson and defenseman Jon D'Aversa. 

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden started forwards Eric Tangradi, Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Luca Caputi, defensemen Lane Caffaro and Alex Grant and goaltender Patrick Killeen

1:15 PM:

The Penguins prospects kick off their 2009 Rookie Tournament against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Kitchener, Ontario this evening. During the week the Penguins will play prospects from Ottawa, Toronto (twice) and Boston. 

Penguins communications coordinator Erik Heasley caught up with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden before the start of the Rookie Tournament in Kitchener, Ontario. Here's what coach Reirden had to say:

On Penguins prospects participating in the Rookie Tournament for the first time:
There will be a lot of guys playing tonight in their first rookie camp, whether it's Joe Vitale who's been in college for four years and it's first opportunity to play tonight. Or Simon Despres, our newest first-round draft pick. It's exciting to watch. I can feel the energy in the morning skate that guys are excited to get into an actual game and compete against an opponent and put some of the things we worked on into a game. 

On players getting a chance to prove themselves:
I think it's a different tournament for a lot of our players. Dustin Jeffrey played 14 NHL games. It's an opportunity for him to come in as a leader and distinguish himself, being above the majority of players in this camp. There are guys right out of college like Vitale and Lane Caffaro. These are two guys are older but it's their first rookie camp action. Some guys have gone back and forth from juniors to the rookie camps. We're looking for them to improve. We have a diverse group. Most importantly we will show our organization where we are at in terms of their development. It gives me a great bottom line, starting point as we move forward with their development as pro hockey players. 

On this year's camp roster:
I think we had more of a veteran team last year but this is a good sign for our team and organization that we have a lot of young players here. We're starting to build up our depth with the draft and free agency, stockpiling young, exciting talents that we hope will turn into future stars for the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

On making a strong first impression against Toronto Sunday night:
This is a kick start to their season. This is their chance to make a good first impression when Ray Shero is at the game, or Dan Bylsma or any of the other men on the coaching staff. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I'm sure a lot of them will be nervous. We try to make sure that they're focusing on the right things tonight and enjoying the experience of the games.
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