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Traverse City Blog With Frank Provenzano

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars are currently participating in the NHL Prospect Tournament held in Traverse City, Michigan. This is the second consecutive year for the Stars to participate in the tournament, sponsored by the host Detroit Red Wings. Other teams participating include Atlanta, Columbus, Detroit, Minnesota, NY Rangers, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.

Stars Assistant GM Frank Provenzano has been gracious enough to offer a blog to share his  thoughts on the tournament and scene in Traverse City, which concluded today.

Tuesday, September 11: Victory!

Frank Provenzano
The Stars captured seventh place in thrilling fashion on Tuesday afternoon, winning 6-5 over Tampa Bay after two overtimes and six rounds of the shootout. The team killed off a short-handed situation in the overtime and prevailed when it counted. The overtimes are three minutes each, going 4-on-4 for the first one and then 3-on-3 for the second before going to a possible shootout.

In fairness to the skaters in the shootout, after a full third period and then two overtimes it was like trying to stick-handle on the moon.

Today’s game was obviously our best offensive game of the tournament, scoring five goals in regulation. It was Perttu Lindgren and Alexander Naurov’s best game of the tournament. The young players that played very well today included Ondrej Roman – he looks like he got acclimated to the pace of the games over the last two days. He still needs to grow and get stronger but you can see there’s some skill level and some hockey sense there. I think he scored the third shootout try to send it into extra shooters, if I am not mistaken. Roman got stronger as the tournament went on, as did Colton Sceviour, another guy who was drafted by us this year; he scored a really pretty goal today. And Luke Gazdic had a strong tournament overall.

It was a real good learning experience for some of these kids and it was nice to get a win today and finish on a positive note. They showed some fortitude because there were some penalty discrepancies in this game; there were a lot against us and not a lot against them. I guess one way to look at this is that this is a development camp for both the players and the refs. There were some questionable interpretations of the rules.

This is our second consecutive year to come to this camp and it is very good. I think it is a valuable tool and the people who run it do a terrific job in setting it up. We’ve talked a little about this, but Training Camp is so short now that this is a great way to give your young kids and rookies some valuable ice time and see what they can do. It’s a good development level to look and see where your prospects are; you could say it’s a good base camp for these kids’ Mt. Everest of becoming an NHL player. Then once you get to your main camp, you can concentrate on the NHL level of things and go from there. I think there is a strong chance that we’ll come back here and participate again.

Another food update: I had lunch at a place called “Mabel’s” which was voted as the top family restaurant in the Traverse City area from 1995 to 2007, so they’re on a 12-year run. I’m not sure who voted. I think they beat out Schlotzskys and Tony Roma’s. It was pretty good though. Traverse City is a very big cherry-producing area, abd Mabel’s makes a pretty mean cherry pie. So if you’re here sometime, check it out. Two thumb’s up from Frankie’s Culinary Patrol.

We come back first thing in the morning and right back to another camp. I’m like a summer camper. I can’t get enough.

One thing I learned about myself this week is that even though I grew up in this area, now that I live in Texas, I’ve become much more of a wimp when it comes to temperature. I really like the Texas heat. It was in the 50’s this morning and wind and rain. Looking forward to getting back. Thanks for reading and allowing me to share some thoughts from Traverse City over the last few days. It’s been fun. See you all at Stars Training Camp!

Monday, September 10: Traverse City Tourney Beginning to Wind Down

Sunday was a day of practice for the team. It really was a free day other than that and I took advantage to sample one of the many golf courses that Traverse City has to offer. I didn’t see much of it. I can tell you that the woods here are deep and thick.

We had a team dinner on Sunday evening with all the players and the staff, which was nice. We went to a place called “Boone’s Long Lake Inn” -- sort of a legendary area steakhouse. I believe it is legendary because of the size of the portions here. The serving of prime rib is so big that it comes with a side of broccoli and a side of Lipitor. I had the filet; not because I’m a filet guy, but it just looked smaller.

Afterwards we just went back to the hotel and watched the Cowboys game. I’m a big football fan and I like watching on Sundays like most people when I can. Spending as much time in Washington as I did, it’s hard to switch gears and start rooting for the Cowboys. I’d love for the Stars to emultate their offense though; and to be 1-0 after our first game would be nice.

Ondrej Roman
We had the early game today (Monday) at 2:30 pm. This tournament has been like the others I’ve been to in that as the games go on, the older players start to assert themselves. We have a young team here and we’ve taken some lumps. We lost 3-1 to Columbus today, with an empty-netter. The Jackets out shot us in the first two periods. We tried to make a run in the third but could not get over the hump. One of the forwards that played better today was Aaron Gagnon. Some of the young guys who stood out to me were Ondrej Roman and Luke Gazdic. Both worked hard and competed. These guys were both draft picks of ours this year and they are 18-year-olds holding their own against some 23 and 24-year-olds. Tom Wandell continues to make you take notice of his skill. His speed is impressive and his ability to skate and make plays and handle the puck. Wandell is a guy that fans should look for at Training Camp just to see his skill set. He might be an NHL player in a few years. We’ll see.

Tobias Stephan got the start in net today and had a nice bounce-back game from Friday’s opener. He responded and gave us the saves when we needed them, keeping us in the game. Toby gave us a chance to compete in the third period but we could not get it done. It was a nice rebound game for him though.

We play Tampa tomorrow in the 7th place game. This entire tournament is an opportunity to build on a compete level for these kids and be a learning experience. Some years you’ll have an older experienced team and others you have young ones – like ours this year. We’re young and all you’re looking for is learning. This is the first step in the development of all these players. With Training Camp only being three days, this is a good chance to see them in a game situation with the way pre-season is. You’re looking for guys to just compete. It would be nice to get a win but development is the primary priority. It’s all about who’s getting better and that is a year-long process with your kids.

The biggest difference in Traverse City is the weather today. Summer here is like the opening act at a comedy club – “It’s been great and I’m out of here.” It was about 50 degrees and rainy today. Sunday was like a day at the beach. Today was “pull out your parkas.” No continental breakfast this morning (only on the weekend) although if you stuck around for the 3rd game today, they cleared out their hot dog stand. Who can turn down free dogs? As you’ve read over the last few days, it’s been a real health food tournament. This trip is not endorsed by the American Heart Association.

The tournament is over Tuesday and based on Dallas weather reports I saw today - no, I’m not looking forward to coming home (just kidding). Once I get home though, I’m going salad the rest of the week.

Saturday, September 8: Eats and Hockey, and more Eats

One of the good things about our hotel is that they offer a continental breakfast. But that’s actually always a concern because you never know which continent it’s going to be from. Last time it was from Antarctica, freeze dried. Today, in terms of continent, it was the North American continent but it clearly was a drought year.

Mark Fistric
That’s how we started the day and we met as a staff afterwards as a whole group and reviewed some of our scouting criteria overall, over viewed some of the teams in the league, and start the process the attack of scouting from both an amateur perspective and a pro perspective. It was a good start to the day and we got some things done.

Well, we lost 5-0 to the Blues’ rookie team today and unfortunately today’s score (unlike Friday’s contest) was more indicative of how the game went. St. Louis is a pretty good team and they have some good young players. Apparently the refs must have been told that they would be paid by the whistle because (conservatively) there were 7 million of them. So we had tons of penalties. The entire game was just special teams. We had chances but we didn’t cash in. But St. Louis played well and that was pretty much the story of the game.

All of the games in the tournament today had more of an offensive flow. The first day is always the choppiest and there is a little more structure in day two. After the practice tomorrow, I expect to see us play more smoothly in the last two days. The first game looks like everything was thrown in a blender and the “mix” button was hit. Then the second day looks like it was poured into a bowl and usually some baking starts going on (that’s your practice day) and the last two games look more like a finished product. At least that’s what my experiences at these tournaments have been.

Luke Gazdic got into another good fight, so he’s 2-for-2. It’s a pretty good sign when you’re in a fight, you throw a punch and the whole arena goes, “Wooooo!” It’s a bad sign when it’s the other guy throwing the punch and the whole arena goes, “Wooooo!” Luke was the guy getting the “Whooo’s.” It was the second spirited affair in as many games for him. Tom Wandell continues to impress me. He’s a good skater and has a nice skill set. Tom looks like he is coming into North America from Finland (he’s actually from Sweden) with a polished offensive game.

Sunday is a practice day for the team and there is a team dinner. This is a true “rookie dinner” and should not be confused with the NHL’s version of the “rookie dinner,” where practical jokes and shoe-checks are engineered throughout. For those who do not know, a shoe-check is basically having hollandaise sauce or other condiment placed on the toe of your nice shoes from underneath the table without your knowledge. Basically we don’t want this first rookie dinner to be like that as their first exposure to fine dining at the NHL level (the least we can do is wait until at least the third pre-season game!). This is just your basic nice dinner with your teammates. It’s a shoe-check-free zone.

All of us scouts and staff are going to meet again late tonight. A special treat – my mom drove up here from Sault Ste. Marie in Canada and snuck a bunch of Italian cold cuts across the border. We’re going to have a nice mini-spread of cappicolas and salamis tonight. We’re meeting and we’re “meating.”

We were inside most of the day in this lovely resort town next to Lake Michigan. I think I overheard one person (outside of my mom) yelling, “Go Stars!” at our game. It was either one of the Havoc Fanatics or one of the player’s moms.

Friday, September 7

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Greetings from lovely Traverse City, Michigan.

There are eight teams here for this tournament – the most they have ever had – and it’s a round-robin format. This is my fourth time here for this camp; I’ve been twice with the Caps and this is my second go-round with the Stars. I think it’s a great way to start the season, especially under the new rules where training camp has been shortened so much. It’s a great way to give these young players a chance to put on the Dallas Stars jersey and compete against other NHL teams’ players. It’s a way to get them into some games right away and not worry about finding spots for everyone to play during the pre-season. It’s a fun camp and this is a perfect way to start the season.

The team practiced yesterday and faced the Minnesota Wild this afternoon. I watched our game and bits and pieces of the other games and honestly, the players looked like they always look on September 6 – like a teenager’s beard: scraggly and not ready for public consumption.

Another reason I think this is great for the prospects is that they are playing against their peers in this tournament. There are no Mike Modanos, Joe Sakics or Niklas Lidstroms here. These are all young prospects and draft picks of the teams that are hungry to make that jump to the NHL. I cannot remember the exact Japanese proverb that states that the young one must automatically defer to the elder or wiser man, but you have none of that here in this camp. If there’s a wide-open net, he’s not going to automatically pass it to Mike Modano. He’s going to make the correct hockey play and not worry about anything else. This is a great way to pull on the jersey and really feel for the first time that they are members of the Dallas Stars. They are competing with that crest on their chest.

The atmosphere at the rink is great. There are two sheets of ice here and we have two games at 3:00 pm and 3:30 pm, then there’s an hour break and two more games at 7:00 pm and 7:30 pm. Whatever time that Detroit is playing – the arena is packed. But the crowds are pretty good for all the games, actually. The games are staggered. If one game goes into overtime and this place was a boat, we would tip over because everyone runs over to that rink at once. There are a lot of the teams’ staffs here and there’s moms and dads and family, and of course there are fans that just like hockey.

Mark Fistric is the captain of our group and Matt Niskanen and John Lammers are the assistants. I think it is a nice way to acknowledge these guys and show the other players that these are guys that played in the American League last year and they are our leaders here. Today’s score was 5-1 but the score really wasn’t indicative of the game. They had some nice goals and we had some bad breaks.

Minnesota had seven players who have pro experience and we had four. There wasn’t a lot of flow to the game, which is to be expected a little bit for the first game. There’s almost no advantage to getting a penalty in some respects because the special teams are not in sync a lot of times, and you see that in most of the games on the first day.

Matt Niskanen
Mark Fistric played well and Niskanen played well. Guys that had played pro looked like they had played pro. Lammers also looked pretty good. I thought Richard Clune played really well; he was really skating and finishing his checks and had a real robust game. I thought James Neal competed well. Of the European players, Tom Wandell looked very good.

There was a very spirited battle between our draft pick Luke Gazdic (6-3, 210) and Matt Kassian (6-4, 247) and it was a very entertaining bout. Gazdic caught my eye and I think he caught Kassian’s eye as well. I think Gazdic also caught Kassian’s nose.

The games are competitive but the final score isn’t the only thing we are focused on. At the same time you don’t want to tell the kids, “Hey, don’t worry about the score. Just go out and play.” You want to instill the attitude that this is a tournament, we’re the Dallas Stars and we want to win it. But it’s also an evaluation environment with players playing against their peers and it is a good chance to see these draft picks from all over the world in one place competing.

Our entire hockey staff is here and we are getting ready to get together tonight and chat a bit about what we saw today. We’ll also get together as a staff tomorrow and more or less talk hockey. We talk about the game, but more about players and what we see. This is about hockey and you get to see the work product of your amateur staff in a tangible way. Before, at least to me, a lot of these guys were just names and stats and video tape. I hadn’t seen a lot of them play in person (our amateur scouts had, obviously). Now they’re names with faces to me and it is great to see all of them on the ice at once working toward the goal of becoming a team.

Traverse City is a resort town that is spread out along the shoreline. I’m happy to say that in my experiences here, I have found a place that serves really good fried perch. It’s fresh right out of Lake Michigan so you’ll only glow for three days after you eat it.

We play St. Louis on Saturday before taking a day off from games on Sunday. I am looking forward to another good day of hockey tomorrow.

45 Richard Clune LW 5-11 195 4/25/87 Toronto, Ont.
68 Aaron Gagnon C 5-11 189 4/24/86 Armstrong, BC
52 Luke Gazdic LW 6-3 210 6/25/89 Toronto, ON
54 John Lammers LW 5-11 184 2/28/86 Langley, BC
34 Perttu Lindgren C 6-0 183 8/26/87 Tampere, Finland
55 Alexander Naurov RW 5-11 195 3/4/85 Saratov, Russia
18 James Neal LW 6-2 185 9/3/87 Whitby, ON
51 Michael Neal LW 6-2 188 4/3/89 Whitby, ON
53 Ondrej Roman C 6-0 170 4/8/89 Ostrava, Czech.
57 Colton Sceviour RW 5-11 201 4/20/89 Red Deer, AB
58 Aaron Snow RW 6-0 199 5/20/88 Windsor, ON
37 Justin Soryal RW 6-2 190 6/29/87 Newmarket, ON
47 Paul Szczechura C 5-11 175 11/30/85 Brantford, ON
38 Tom Wandell C 6-1 183 1/28/87 Sodertalje, Sweden
25 Scott Aarssen D 5-11 190 5/10/88 London, ON
40 Eric Doyle D 6-2 191 4/5/89 Calgary, AB
67 Keven Dupont D 5-11 188 2/9/89 Levis, QC
28 Mark Fistric D 6-2 232 6/1/86 Edmonton, AB
42 Matt Nickerson D 6-4 238 1/11/85 New London, CT
5 Matt Niskanen D 6-0 194 12/6/86 Virginia, MN
17 David Stich D 5-10 167 4/15/89 Plzen, Czech Rep.
31 J-C Blanchard G 6-4 175 12/12/87 Montreal, QC
1 Tobias Stephan G 6-2 190 1/21/84 Zurich, Switzerland

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