After posting an American Hockey League best plus-42 rating and leading all Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenders with 31 points (7G-24A) in 76 games for the Baby Penguins in 2008-09, Ben Lovejoy
had to feel pretty good about his chances of making the big club at the outset of this season.
However an injury to Lovejoy’s left shoulder suffered during an exhibition game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sept. 22 forced him back to WBS for a third-consecutive season. Despite the temporary demotion, Lovejoy is seen as a big part of the Penguins’ defense in the future.
Now a veteran at the AHL level, Lovejoy has been given added responsibilities in ’09-10 by WBS head coach Todd Reirden in an effort to make Lovejoy’s game more well-rounded in anticipation of him becoming a factor at the National Hockey League level.
A key penalty killer for the Penguins his first two seasons, Lovejoy now sees time at the point on the second power-play unit in an effort to further develop his offensive skills.
“I am out there on the tail end of power plays to shoot the puck,” Lovejoy said. “Power play is never going to be my specialy but they want me to continue to add things to my game. I am out there to try to make things happen. I am just trying to get pucks to the net and allow our skilled forwards opportunities to bang home rebounds.”
What Lovejoy’s game is about is moving his feet and possessing the foot speed to match wits with players of all skills levels, a tremendous outlet pass and superb penalty killing. He is the perfect defensive defenseman in the new NHL – blessed with outstanding size at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds yet still able to skate with today’s forwards.
The strength of my game has always been my skating. I feel that at the next level I am going to be a defensive defenseman who keeps it simple and moves his feet and is a hard guy to play against. That is definitely my goal if I get to the next level. - Ben Lovejoy
“The strength of my game has always been my skating,” Lovejoy said. “I feel that at the next level I am going to be a defensive defenseman who keeps it simple and moves his feet and is a hard guy to play against. That is definitely my goal if I get to the next level.”
Before he gets to Pittsburgh Lovejoy was given an area of his game the Penguins would like to see improve before the 25-year-old sees full-time action in the Steel City.
“They want more consistency. They really wanted me to focus on not necessarily eliminating mistakes but if and when I do make a mistake, to rebound from it and mentally get passed it.
“In the past I have had trouble when I do make a mistake that it would affect the rest of my game. One of the things I am trying to concentrate on is being mentally tougher and putting those mistakes past me, rebounding and playing really well after I do make a mistake.”
That sounds easy to correct, but if it was then you wouldn’t see a majority of young defensemen advancing through the minor-league ranks taking several years of seasoning before they become established at the NHL level. Lovejoy has a plan for working to overcome this shortcoming.
“For me, it’s kind of having a short-term memory and forgetting about plays that I make. Not going out there and thinking I have to do something extra special because I made a mistake the past shift. If anything, go out the next shift and keep it even more simple and make the smart play every time rather than try to do something extraordinary.”
While rehabbing his shoulder, Lovejoy sat out the first five games of the AHL season, making his season debut Oct. 23 against the Hershey Bears, scoring once and finishing with a plus-2 rating. Lovejoy said it is never a good thing to be out of the lineup, but having the injury occur during a stretch where WBS played only five times in 19 days beat sustaining one later in the season when the schedule is more condensed.
Lovejoy has played all sevens games upon his return, scoring twice and adding one assist to go with a plus-2 rating. Thus far, he says he has had no problems with the shoulder, which did not require surgery.
“It feels really good. Every once in a while I feel it, but for the most part I am feeling strong. The shoulder is feeling pretty good.”
Pretty good is also how Lovejoy would describe the way WBS has played thus far in the season, as the team has a record of 6-4-1-1 despite breaking seven rookies and six veteran newcomers into the lineup. Lovejoy, who has been paired with the recent Pittsburgh call up Deryk Engelland
since coming back, calls the Penguins “a tough team to play against.”
“We have found ways to win,” Lovejoy said. “We are not an offensively-gifted team right now. That will come with the development of the young goal scorers in our lineup. We are finding ways to win and I would hate to play against us. We work really hard.”
Lovejoy credited his team’s success with the way Reirden has stayed with the same principles and philosophies taught the first three-quarters of last year by Dan Bylsma before his promotion to Pittsburgh.
“Everything coach Reirden does is modeled after what coach Dan did when he was here," Lovejoy said. "You can tell that even in the short time they worked together coach Reirden was a sponge and is doing everything he can to channel everything Dan taught the team and taught him.”
And speaking of sponges, as long as Lovejoy continues to be one in regards to the message being preached by Reirden, he will join Bylsma with the parent team sooner rather than later.