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Penguins Report: Roadtrippin' with the Rookies

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

9:54 PM:
Alright guys, this is it -- the last post of the day, as I have a story I need to get going on. Thanks for tuning in, and make sure you tune in tomorrow to our live blog as the Penguins prospects take on the Ottawa Senators at 2 p.m. EST.

The wonderful Steve Mears and Phil Bourque will be calling all of the action on Penguins HD Radio (WXDX FM HD-2 and streamed live on for all three games at the tournament.

Before I go, here's one last set of pics of the players during practice.

8:25 PM:
After an exhausting day of travel and practice (or in my case, watching practice with manager of communications Jason Seidling, hockey operations assistant Erik Heasley and broadcasters Phil Bourque and Steve Mears) we've finally checked in at the hotel. The guys took their bags up to their rooms and came right back down for a team dinner.

The bus almost left without me for a second'd think I'd learn my lesson by now! Actually, they started to drive away until I looked up and realized that they meant business, then stopped so I could hop on. The entire bus clapped as I got on. Sadly to say, as embarassing as it was, this happened to me all the time when I played for Michigan State.

Here's some photos of the guys warming up before their skate...getting rid of that stiffness!

6:10 PM:
The guys are currently hard at work at practice. I'm going to take some time out to watch what's going on and to get even more photos for your viewing pleasure.

Also, I forgot to post this earlier, but click here for the full rookie tournament schedule.

5:57 PM:
The guys are making their way onto the ice. It looks like most of them are out there already. But while we wait for practice to officially begin, here's some photos of the guys getting ready for practice.

5:41 PM:
WE MADE IT!!! We decided not to stop at our hotel first and instead headed straight to the rink, getting here a little before 5 p.m. We're at one of the practice sheets of ice, so there's not a lot of seating in here. It's absolutely freezing, but the guys are pumped because that means the ice is probably fantastic.

I went around and got a bunch of photos, so they'll be up shortly.

Also, in case you were wondering, Despres finished our movie watching with Pulp Fiction. Great flick. Billy Guerin, who manned the front of the bus with Fitzgerald, pointed out that some of the prospects on the bus were just a year old when that movie was made. Yikes.

2:30 PM:
A few photos from our pit stop...

Eric Tangradi (left); Tom Kuhnhackl and Dominik Uher (right)

Alex Grant (left); guys on the bus (right)

2:23 PM:
A cool picture of the Pens' first- and second-round picks from the 2011 NHL Draft (Joseph Morrow, left, and Scott Harrington, right) sitting side-by-side in the players' lounge:

2:16 PM:
We just breezed across the border as there was no backup whatsoever. I went to Canada many times for hockey trips growing up, and it's pretty rare to luck out like this. So far the trip's going smoothly...knock on wood!

1:33 PM:
We're almost to Buffalo, so we just stopped so the guys could get some caffeine and snacks if they so desired. Also to get a stretch in...we've been driving for about 3.5 hours at this point. The Pens' 2011 second-round pick, defenseman Scott Harrington, did the head count when we got back on the bus. All 24 players accounted for.

12:10 PM:
PensTV did an awesome job of getting video of some of the guys during their media availablity this morning...


On starting the tournament:
I’m excited. I’ve got my body into a position where I feel stronger, faster, more confident than I’ve ever been. It’s a good opportunity to come in earlier than the rest of the guys, play a couple games and get some confidence under my belt on the ice.

On the advantage of the camp:
It’s huge. I’m here a week early. I’m going to be hitting, getting to the net and doing things you can’t really do until preseason games. I’ll have an edge as far as getting in game shape and game ready right now as opposed to next Friday.

On his experience at the tournament:
I was just having a conversation in the room, this year I feel more confident and know that I can make an impact. Last year, you just wanted to work and stick around. Having the mindset, I’m comfortable here and confident here. I’m just taking my game to the next level.

On being a leader with the rookies:
It’s the same thing as summer camp. The guys are young. It’s the first time we’ll compete together and put the sweater on together. It’s a unique experience for everyone. My job being 22 years old is making sure I’m leading the guys on and off the ice. Summer was getting united with the guys. Now it’s building a leadership and friendship to compete together.

On the competition in the tournament:
A lot of people think just because it’s young kids that it’s slow. It’s extremely fast and extremely physical. You have guys on every team trying to earn an opportunity to play in the team’s main camp. Every game is treated like a playoff game. Guys are going a million miles an hour and throwing the body around. It’s very physical and tough game out there.


On rookie camp:
I’m very happy to see the guys, play as a team and hopefully we can win this tournament once again and have a lot of fun.

On his leadership role:
Yes, it’s my third year. I know what to expect. I can show them a little bit. There are a couple of other older guys too. I’ll be looking up to them to.

On the benefit of the tournament:
You can get into game shape a bit earlier. It’s a good thing.

On his summer and improvements:
I worked on my condition. I tried to cut my fat and get stronger physically. I’ve been practicing my skills and working on that this summer.

On training camp:
I’ll do my best. My goal is to make the team.


On taking on a leadership role:
I’ve been through this four or five times now. Every team needs someone to step up and talk to the young guys. I’m definitely going to do that. Hopefully we can find that teamwork quick and have some success out there.

On the advantage of the tournament:
I think it’s huge. You don’t want to come into training camp and get thrown into the fire with a preseason game. This is good for us, guys coming to main camp to get your feet wet and play some competitive hockey with guys that are being physical. It’s a good transition. I thoroughly enjoy these.

On his personal improvement:
Last year I stepped into a bigger role in terms of penalty killing and playing against other team’s top lines. That was one of my biggest accomplishments last year. It was one of my goals. I’m just going to try and keep improving on that and improve my puck handling skills, getting out of my own end quickly and moving it to the skilled forwards that play here.

On the competition on defense:
Regardless of the competition you’re going to go out there and put you best foot forward. Competition is healthy in sports. Pittsburgh does a good job of making sure you’re not too comfortable. That’s how we like it. Compete with other guys. They’re your teammates and you want to play well together, but ultimately they’re pushing you to get better because everyone is working for the same goal. That’s the play in the NHL.

The veteran: Sam Kasan

12:07 PM:
Looks like Simon Despres is the resident movie buff, as it's his collection that we've been picking from. The next movie up is Hidalgo.

11:51 AM:
Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald addressed the media before heading out. Here's his thoughts on the next five days...

On his thoughts about the upcoming tournament and if he’s excited:
Yeah, my thoughts are exactly that – the excitement that it generates for the whole organization and the community, because this is really the kickoff for the season for the whole organization.

On what he’s most looking forward to seeing from the guys:
Well, there’s a reason that everyone’s here, whether it’s the draft or the free agents that sign with us or free agents here on a tryout basis. Our scouts did their due diligence, and here we are. We pulled together a group of good young athletes that will represent the Penguins very well. So it’s exciting to go into a tournament like this, see the compete level, the teamwork – working together as a group – and watching the details that go into the game that our coaches will instill over the next few days. It should happen sooner rather than later. We’ve had success at this tournament in the past winning games and having fun, and it’s because of those three things – details, teamwork and the compete level.

On if that’s the message to these guys:
Yeah, that’s exactly what we said last night (at the introduction meeting), where I had to fill in for coach (John) Hynes, because of his troubles getting to Pittsburgh from Wilkes-Barre. It’s pretty simple. It’s an opportunity for all of them to show the whole organization (what they’re capable of). The one thing I talked about was that this is the only time in the year the whole organization will be together. The amateur scouts, professional scouts, NHL coaches, American Hockey League coaches, upper management – everybody’s together. And it’s an opportunity for these guys to show why we selected them to come here, why we selected them in the draft and more importantly, to have fun and enjoy yourself and compete.

On Alex Grant suffering a long-term injury early in the first game of last year’s rookie tournament:
You know what, he’s a great kid. It’s a do-over, because last night when we had our introduction meetings, I asked the kids to introduce themselves with where they’re from and where they played the majority of last year. Alex got up and spoke and said, I played the majority of last year on the IR (injured reserve). But he made light of a terrible situation, and he has an opportunity here to get back on the horse and get back in this game. And he played some games last year, so I think it’ll be a great test for him to get his career back on track.

On if this camp accelerates the learning curve of the Penguins system by implementing it in competition:
Absolutely, and I think it started in development camp with the majority of these kids. That’s one of the pillars of development camp, to instill the details of what a Penguin is – how we practice, how we practice with pace, how we play with pace, little details like faceoff plays – things like that that you see a difference in in a game, especially if you guys haven’t seen it before. You’ll see it this year. Again, we always pride ourselves on those details, and you can see things happening as far as teamwork. The end result is always positive, and that’s a tribute to the coaching staff and the preparation that they put forth into this tournament.

On if he expects guys like Eric Tangradi and Simon Despres to dominate:
I don’t like using the word ‘dominate.’ It’s a really strong word. There’s a lot of pressure when you throw the word dominate out. Different people think of different things. For me and the organization, (for Eric and Simon) in particular – go play a strong Eric Tangradi game. Go play to your foundations. Go play and do what you do best. Don’t go up there and be somebody other than yourself and things will always work out. We pride ourselves on foundation keys and kind of allowing these kids to recognize when they have really good, strong games and reflect back. It’s almost like a checklist of why. Then when their games aren’t up to par, you go back to those checklists of those foundation keys and I’m sure they’re missing few. ‘Dominate’ is a real strong word that’s an unfair word to give kids, because they take the word as meaning that they have to go score a hat trick and get six points. Just go dominate in what you do well. For Eric in particular? Dominate the net front. Dominate the corners. Dominate puck protection. Dominate the wall. Then the end result will be scoring chances, which will get you goals and points. That how it works. You can’t put the cart before the horse; the horse has to come before the cart.

On what the competition level is like in this tournament:
It’s always a high level of competition. Every team prides themselves in competing and putting their prospects in a situation to be successful and develop a good competitive edge and developing a winning attitude, really. That’s what we do. I cant speak for other organizations, but it’s always been a competitive tournament.

On if a lot of the guys are flying around knowing there’s an opportunity there:
Oh yeah. Everybody’s aware of the opportunity that it stands for. Some guys could come in and do very well and earn their way to Pittsburgh for an invite to the main camp, which would be tremendous.

10:32 AM:
The guys preparing to leave the arena earlier...

Simon Despres talking to the Post-Gazette's Shelly Anderson (rght)

Despres was the last player to get on the bus (left); Tom Fitzgerald walking with his luggage (right)

10:13 AM:
We are en route to Oshawa. I ran a little late for the bus -- not a good start to the day! Luckily, they waited for me. All of the players made it on board in time. They put on Good Will Hunting to start, as there's not much else to do on long bus rides besides watch movies. To top it off, they've already gotten their morning snacks of subs, chips, power bars and fruit. Everyone's happy.

8:45 AM:
Hello all! I'm pretty pumped to finally be bringing you guys a Penguins Report, as our last one was all the way back in June for the NHL Entry Draft. Summer's great and all, but I'm ready for it to be over. Everything that signifies the beginning of fall is starting to happen -- the pro and college football seasons have begun, the weather is getting sporadically chillier (in other words, perfect), the Penguins veterans are exactly one week from reporting training camp -- and we're about to hit the road for the 2011 Rookie Tournament in Oshawa, Ontario.

The  24 prospects who will be participating are currently undergoing medical testing here at CONSOL Energy Center before we begin the long trek to the Great White North, where the Penguins players will face prospects from the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks in a five-day span.

I Google mapped it, and it's going to take us about six hours to get to our final destination. The players will be available to the media after they're finished testing, so I'll bring you some insight from them shortly after. I'll then do my best to bring you behind the scenes of our travels.

The guys are scheduled to practice tonight at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa at 6 p.m., so we'll have some photos and interviews from that as well. We'll be your No. 1 source for coverage during this next week, as we'll have live blogs during all three games, behind-the-scenes highlights, player features and video interviews daily.
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