There's an old saying in Newfoundland: smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.
For many years, the junior team destination for any Newfoundlander was in another province. Some moved to Quebec to play junior hockey, while others developed in Ontario or the U.S. college circuit. Although the island boasted a highly competitive senior hockey league, young prospects had to move away to get the notice of NHL scouts.
That changed in December of 2004 when the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League awarded a franchise to North America's oldest city.
The St. John's Fog Devils hit the ice for the start of the 2005-06 season and over the course of three years several Newfoundlanders got a taste of playing major junior hockey with the team. It was great for the local kids. Playing in front of fans from their home province and never being far removed from family support was both exciting and reassuring. But it was not to last. Reality set in when attendance problems forced the sale of the franchise to a buyer who will move the team to a Montreal suburb for the start of the 2008-09 season.
"It's a sad commentary that they've lost their major junior team," says NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire, who always enjoyed his scouting trips to the most easterly point in North America. "A lot of the youth hockey kids would look up to the Fog Devils players and aspire to be there and of course on television you always look up to the NHL and that's the ultimate goal. Losing the Fog Devils leaves a tear in my eye. As a scout I loved visiting St. John's."
But Newfoundland is a resilient place inhabited by people with a quick recovery quotient. It's the same with their hockey. Whether playing in St. John's, Montreal or Timbuktu, the players from Newfoundland will typically leave it all on the ice for their team. That's just the way they play.
"That toughness is one thing that we hope never fades from our game," McGuire said. "While the skill influence is pretty, our game is still an entertaining, banging game. I think that suits the Newfoundland mentality of hard work, feistiness, and enjoyment of the game at the same time."
"I like the kids from Newfoundland," adds San Jose Sharks Director of Scouting Tim Burke, who was chiefly responsible for drafting power forward Ryane Clowe.
"Every one of them I've been around has been great team guys. They don't get the respect they deserve sometimes and maybe that makes them harder. The thing I like about the Newfoundland kids is they get along with everybody and they don't complain. All the guys I've known over the years from Newfoundland were pretty tough too. They've got an edge to them, but they're not over the edge."
Having an edge but not going over the edge … that's what attracted the Buffalo Sabres to the latest top prospect from Newfoundland -- Luke Adam.
"I think that describes him well," says Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier. "Luke has very good skills now and the expectations are that he will build them. With another year or two of development he is going to get stronger and he is going to get more proficient on the scoring side. We need his size and physical play."
The Sabres made a clear statement at the 2008 Draft that the club gives equal billing to size and skill.
"That's true," Regier said. "We kind of did the extremes with the first two picks in that our first pick (Tyler Myers) is 6-foot-7 and our second pick in the first round (Tyler Ennis) is 5-8. You need all different types. You need a balance and I think these players fit in there."
Exactly where Adam will fit into the Sabres' lineup remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, hard work got him drafted and it will be the same dedication both on and off the ice that will propel him to the next level.
"Being the first Newfoundlander selected in the draft was a huge honor," said Adam after being selected by the Sabres 44th overall, "but there's lots of hard work before I get to the NHL. I'm going to keep working hard in the offseason and taking little pieces and putting them together to form the big picture."
Interestingly, Adam will use the same formula employed by his role model who came up through the hockey school of hard knocks.
|The Sabres are hopeful that Luke Adam will continue to develop, and eventually draw comparisons to fellow Newfoundlander Ryane Clowe, who is a star left winger with the San Jose Sharks. |
"Ryane Clowe is a great role model for me and he is definitely someone that I look up to for inspiration," Adam said. "Ryane was always nagged about his skating and people said that he was too big and he wasn't going to make (the NHL) but look where he is today. In my opinion he is one of the best power forwards in the National Hockey League.
"I work out alongside of him during the summers and being able to push along with him is great training. Ryane is in the NHL so I know what it's going to take to get there. It's great to have a role model like Ryane Clowe."
"Clowe is a good role model for Luke," McGuire said. "Clowe is a hard-working guy and really contributes well to the Sharks. If Luke sticks with his example and follows his pattern he's got the potential to be a long time NHLer. There's a lot of upside to Luke's game. If he follows Ryane Clowe's lead it will be the work that gets him there and the amount of goals will keep him there."
The son of former Toronto Maple Leaf Russ Adam, the Sabres' 18-year-old prospect is a persistent, determined power forward who creates opportunities for himself and his teammates through his work down low and hockey sense around the net. Those are timeless qualities in a hockey player. In the case of Clowe, it has made him a regular on a talented San Jose team and a fixture on their power play.
"And it's because of his work ethic and not because of his skating," McGuire said. "Ryane will be quick to smile when you say that when his hockey career is over the Ice Capades are not going to give him a phone call. But, credit to him, every team needs that type of player. We talk about Steven Stamkos and all of the top level players, but the teams that win Stanley Cups are the teams that are deep and have contributions from more than just their flashy stars."
Adam's favorite player while growing up was Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman. He even wears the same number as the "Hockeytown" legend. But don't expect Luke Adam to be the next Steve Yzerman. The next Ryane Clowe? Perhaps.
"We'd love to get Ryane Clowe out of him," Regier said. "Ryane Clowe is a very good player. I think that would be a real good deal for the Buffalo Sabres."