Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make us the happiest, even if we savor those simple things from a seat 3,000 miles away from the action.
In the particular case of hockey, I’m talking about the commencement of training camp for the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. For those of you who are wondering, it is 3,120 miles from HP Pavilion to the DCU Center, which is a 48-hour drive if you can skip all food, sleep, and trips to the rest room. By the way, the drive does require tolls, so perhaps we should add an hour to the trip to allow for time to count change. Start your engines!
While it may seem a world away, head coach Roy Sommer and associate coach David Cunniff have been conducting Worcester’s training camp, and it is there where some of those simple things that make us all happy are going on. I’m talking about the irresistible feeling of drawing cold rink air into one’s lungs, accompanied by the sounds of pucks thwacking into sticks, skates cutting their way through the ice, and punctuated by the wonderful sounds of those skates shaving up ice as players start and stop their way through a practice or, very shortly, an actual game.
Worcester will hit the ice in pre-season action beginning this Thursday, when they take on the Connecticut Whale at the Hart Center, home of Holy Cross college hockey. Then on Friday, it’s a trip to one of the most traditional spots in the AHL, Springfield, for a pre-season game against the Falcons that will be on WTAG Radio for all of us to sample.
There are 35 players in training camp at the moment, and there are a few interesting stories to monitor closely. Here are just a few:
Freddie Hamilton: A draft selection from 2010, Hamilton is projected to be one of the top forward prospects in the Sharks Organization. He scored 35 goals last season for the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, the team that went all the way to the league final round before losing in the J. Ross Robertson Cup series to the London Knights. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Freddie adjusts to professional hockey.
Matt Tennyson: He was born in Minnesota, but Pleasanton is his hometown and the Sharks were his favorite team growing up. Tennyson played defense at Western Michigan University where last year his coach was former St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray. He showed some promise in a limited stint in the AHL last year after the conclusion of his collegiate career, and he’s ready to build on that this fall.
Alex Stalock: He’s already had a win in goal in the NHL, a serious injury to his calf muscle caused by a freaky play involving an errant skate, and a year split between Stockton (six games), Worcester (two games), and the Peoria Rivermen (three games). Stalock is one of the more popular personalities with the fans, and they’ll be following his every move as he continues to show excellent recovery from that injury a year ago.
Yanni Gourde: How can you not pay attention to a young man who had 87 assists in just 68 games in the QMJHL last year? The Sharks noticed that, along with his 37 goals and 124 points, and brought him to Worcester at the end of last season where he added his first AHL goal in four games played. It will be interesting to see his progress.
James Sheppard: He hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2009-10 season, but Sheppard continues his persistent efforts at recovering from a serious knee injury that has had surgeries and rehabilitation, progress and setbacks. Last year he only played in four professional games, all in Worcester, and he’s hoping for a lot more this season. Let’s not forget that James has 11 career NHL goals and was a first round selection by Minnesota in 2006.
John McCarthy: He’s a known quantity, a guy who can do a lot of different things at both the AHL and NHL level, but one of the qualities that Worcester always appreciates is his leadership ability and interest in making players around him better. He’ll be a valuable part of the Sharks’ machine in Worcester this year. By the way, his nickname is: “John McCarthy.”
Sebastian Stalberg: He’s from Gothenburg, Sweden, played college hockey at Vermont, and he showed promise when he joined Worcester scoring three goals in 13 games at the end of last season. This is an important year for his development, so Sharks fans will be watching and listening.
Harri Sateri: The Finnish youngster played in 38 games last year, winning 15. He has a lot of promise and will continue to work his way through the Sharks goaltending program that has produced so many NHL netminders.
Worcester’s season begins on October 12th on the road in Norfolk, then continues away for three games before the big home opener against Albany on October 20th. As is always the case, I’ll be listening and monitoring the progress of the game’s future stars. Under the tutelage of Sommer and Cunniff, that future continues to be bright and I hope that there is a Calder Cup Championship in that future for all of the hard-working people who make it happen.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT WORCESTER
- San Jose is the 3rd largest city in California and 10th in the United States, but did you know that Worcester is the 2nd largest city in New England after Boston? There are 181,045 people living there, compared to Springfield (153,060), Providence (178,042), Bridgeport (144,229), Hartford (124,775), and Manchester (109,565).
- Major Taylor, the nation’s first African-American athlete to win a world championship (1899 - cycling), called Worcester his home where he worked for the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company as a mechanic when he was not racing. Major Taylor Boulevard in Worcester passes right by the DCU Center.
- The official address of the DCU Center is on Foster Road. Stephen S. Foster and Abby Kelley Foster were two of the larger figures of the abolitionist movement in the 1850s.
- The first national convention advocating women’s suffrage occurred in Worcester in 1850.
- Anarchist Emma Goldman owned an ice cream shop in Worcester.
- Robert Stoddard, who owned the Telegram and Gazette newspaper, was one of the founders of the John Birch Society.
- Abbie Hoffman, who later became one of the larger political figures of the 1960s, was born in Worcester.
- The College of the Holy Cross, alma mater of former Shark Patrick Rissmiller, is in Worcester, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the alma mater of Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry, is also there.
- Worcester Sharks AHL hockey opens its home schedule at DCU Center on October 20th. Their website is sharksahl.com.