Friday, August 12, 2011

Guest Author: D-man Kevin Gravel's USA camp journal

Kevin Gravel (photo: Cikiri)
Since the inception of MayorsManor, all articles and updates have been written by me. Sure, we've done countless interviews with players, coaches and other hockey people - yet, the content was always prepared by me.

We've also had the Kings' Jim Fox serve as our unofficial playoff reporter the last few seasons, providing his thoughts from the road when the team was away from Staples Center.

And yes, we've had guys like Jake Muzzin and Andrei Loktionov serve as as our Manchester correspondents, feeding us the latest Monarchs news.

Today, however, we enter a new phase at MayorsManor. For the first time ever, we have a guest author.

Kevin Gravel, selected by the Kings at the 2010 NHL Draft, has been on the site several times over the last year. This time is different though. He was kind enough to offer his perspective on what he experienced at this week's Team USA evaluation camp for the upcoming World Junior tournament.

In his own words, here's Gravel...

"Any time you get a chance to put on the USA jersey it is an opportunity you don’t take for granted. I've been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to represent my country in a few prior tournaments and I was looking forward to having a chance to do that again. When I finally got out to Lake Placid for the evaluation camp I was ready to get everything going.

The morning of the first day, we had our only practice - and it was a pretty tough practice. However, it allowed us get our feet wet for the games that were about to follow.

The first game two games of the camp we played inter-squad scrimmages. I was on Team Blue with Nick Shore, which put us up against (fellow Kings prospects) Derek Forbort and Michael Mersch.

LA Kings Summer Vacation - a chat w/ Jonathan Bernier

Jonathan Bernier (photo: D. Sheehan)
The long-rumored and highly speculated goaltending controversy in Los Angeles never really developed last season.

For anybody willing to listening, Kings coach Terry Murray proclaimed Jonathan Quick his starter prior to camp, during camp and numerous times throughout the season.

Then, Jonathan Bernier started off slowly when given a few chances in the early part of the schedule. Once the second half rolled around though, he posted very strong numbers, including a 4-0-1 stretch in March.

So, Murray surprised some people in the days before the playoffs when he proclaimed that Bernier would not even be considered for post-season play. Quick was going to play every minute of every game. Period. Although it was probably more like 'exclamation point!'

After splitting the first two games with the Sharks in their opening round series, the Kings were up 4-0 in game three and then collapsed on home ice - eventually losing 6-5 in overtime. Many saw it as an opportunity for Bernier to sneak into a game, either that night or in game four. It never happened.

Six nights later the Sharks won the series and summer was officially underway for the Kings players.

A few days ago, Bernier left for France. His brother plays hockey over there and the two will be training and spending time together for the next week. Before he headed overseas though, I spoke with him about the whole situation described above and a few more things, including trade rumors...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Exclusive: Michael Mersch on Team USA camp experience

Michael Mersch at camp (photo by Cikiri)
Playing for your country is something every hockey player takes very seriously. It's a true honor.

To play on an international stage is a process also. And for the top under-20 year old Americans, the first step towards wearing that jersey at the upcoming World Junior Championships is taking place right now.

USA Hockey's week-long summer evaluation camp began last Saturday. After a few scrimmages and then some split-squad games with Finland and Sweden, the roster was trimmed from 44 invitees down to 28.

Still in camp are Los Angeles Kings prospects Derek Forbort (2010 first round draft pick and a member of last year's WJC bronze medal winning U.S. team) and Nick Shore (2011 third round draft pick).

As reported Tuesday, defenseman Kevin Gravel (2010, fifth round) and Michael Mersch (2011, fourth round) were two of the players not asked to stay for the second half of camp.

Mersch, a former member of the U.S. National Development Program, was kind enough though to check in with us when he returned home yesterday. Here are some thoughts on his experience...

- On the overall experience of being in historic Lake Placid, NY: "There were a lot of good players at the camp and it was great to be on the ice skating with them. I felt pretty good about my play out there. Obviously, things didn't work out. But, I gained some confidence, knowing I can play with the best players in the nation. So, it was a good time overall. Going there and playing for the USA, with all that history and tradition there, being able to skate on that ice, it's very exciting. History brings a lot of motivation."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

LA Kings Summer Vacation - checking in w/ Alec Martinez

LA Kings Alec Martinez (photo: D. Sheehan)
A few weeks back we published an article highlighting some of the various activities some of the Los Angeles Kings players have been involved in this summer.

Additionally, a few of them - Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis, etc. - have stopped by MayorsManor for more detailed interviews.

Here's the latest in our summer vacation series - highlights from a conversation with defenseman Alec Martinez...

- On what he's been up to this summer: "I've been doing a lot of working out - trying to stay in shape, get better. Things like that. Taking some time off to relax as well, being able to go on vacation once the season was over. It's been a good summer, relaxing. But at the same time, I've been getting after it - just getting ready for this upcoming season."

- On the two-year contract extension he signed last month: "It was really exciting. Obviously, I love playing here in LA. I love the city, the fans and everything about it. To be locked in here for two more years is good. I'm excited about it. I think the team has a lot of potential and hopefully we'll follow through with it."

- His involvement in contract negotiations with the team: "You kind of let your agent do the work. That's what you pay them for. I didn't really deal with it too much. I (received) an update every once and a while. The communication process is an ongoing thing. Management does a good job of communicating with the players too - keeping us posted on what they expect from us and also, us letting them know what we expect from ourselves."

In the plans: LA Kings vs Anaheim Ducks outdoor game

On August 11, 2009 - yes, two years ago tomorrow - I wrote the following:

GRAB YOUR FLIP FLOPS - The Kings are working to put a pre-season game together next year with the Ducks. Seems normal enough right? Well, now ponder the game played on the beach! They're looking at a game in Santa Monica, Manhattan or Redondo. While there is some concern that the capacity will probably be limited to the 6-10k range (ala a pro volleyball event)," the idea is create a unique event that will generate some media buzz for the game of hockey here in Southern California.
Right now you might be thinking 'Yeah, how'd that turn out?'

Well, later in the same article I broke the news that the Kings were putting in a bid to host the 2010 NHL Draft. Obviously, they were successful in their attempts to bring those festivities to Los Angeles for the first time. In turn, that pretty much delayed any plans of hosting an outdoor game in the summer of 2010.

What happened this year though?

Recently, I asked Luc Robitaille, Kings President of Business Operations, for an update - is that idea even still on the radar?

"We'd love to do an outdoor game," Robitaille began. "Just to make a statement to the league that it can be done. We're working on it. If that can be on the beach, I don't know. But, I'd still love to do a pre-season game outdoors with the Ducks."

And the timing?

"It could be possible next summer. It's something that we haven't looked at real seriously yet. But, I would say it's something that we're talking about."



The Mayor
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Luc Robitaille on how and why the Kings changed jerseys for next season

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Mike Richards already has ideas on how to help the Kings power play?

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Exclusive: Tyler Toffoli on Team Canada camp experience

Last summer the Kings sent six players to Hockey Canada's summer evaluation camp for their 2011 World Junior team.

This year, Tyler Toffoli was the lone representative.

The week long camp ended Sunday night and I spoke with Toffoli yesterday about the overall experience. Here are his thoughts on ten items related to being at camp...

- Overall: "It was good seeing everybody there again, like last year. I felt like camp went well though. It was tough and it was a lot of fun at the same time. We were working hard and getting back into it. It felt good."

- Ryan Smyth being an assistant coach for one of the scrimmages: "I didn't really get a chance to speak with him. He came and spoke with us before the game and was telling us about his previous experiences with Team Canada. After that, we had to get to the rink. So, unfortunately, I couldn't spend any more time with him."

- The t-shirts given to the players in camp that read 'Earned, Not Given': "I think it's kind of self explanatory. You have to work for what you want. And that's definitely what Team Canada is going for next season and moving forward. Hopefully I can be part of it."

- Spending one of the off-ice sessions at a military base: "Yeah, we went to an Army base. We did a little bit of rappelling and we did an obstacle course too. We didn't have to do it with the 40 extra pounds that they have to do it with. But, it was still tough for what we had to do. I can only imagine how tough it is for them when they go through it with all that extra gear that they run around with all the time. The whole experience was amazing. It was good to get out there and work hard."

Another former Kings, Monarchs player signs in Europe

Several weeks back, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi was visibly irritated when talking about a few of the team's prospects signing in Europe this summer.

Gone from the pipeline are center Corey Elkins, left wing Bud Holloway and forward Oscar Moller.

Today brings news that John Zeiler has joined the 'other side of the Atlantic' crew, having signed with the Augsburger Panther in Germany.

All four played in Manchester last season, the Kings top farm team.

While each situation is somewhat unique, it was eating at Lombardi that young players were willing to leave the development process and chase the money being offered in Europe.

An exception he seemed to sympathize with though was when older players, whom he described as "26-27 (years old) and they've kind of already been labeled as 'minor league players' and maybe a 'call-up' player" chose that route.

Zeiler, originally selected by the Phoenix Coyotes in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Draft, would seem to fit that mold. He's 28 and has only played 90 games in the NHL - picking up one goal and adding four assists.

He was called up for four games last season and then actually was recalled again during the playoffs (because of Jarret Stoll's suspension). However, due to the timing of paperwork, flights, etc., he never actually saw any game action the second time around.

Zeiler was not offered a contract by the Kings this summer.

He'll be joining Gabe Gauthier, another one-time Kings prospect and member of the Monarchs (2006-10), who signed with Augsburger last month.

To read Lombardi's full comments on the European situation click here.

Rich Clune, another Monarch last season, weighed in with his thoughts on the overseas defections here.

Finally, in loosely connected news - over the weekend, former Monarchs and Kings forward Noah Clarke left Augsburger to join EHC M√ľnchen.

Clarke, the first California-born player to score a goal for the Kings, stopped by MayorsManor last summer to give a detailed account of his time in Manchester, Los Angeles and now over in Europe.  If nothing else, check it out for the prank he says George Parros played on him when they were teammates with the Monarchs. (link here)



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Forbort, Shore stay - Gravel, Mersch cut at USA WJC camp

The Los Angeles Kings were privileged enough to have four prospects attend this year's Team USA World Junior Championship evaluation camp.

That's quite the step up from the quality and depth they've had in recent years with American-born prospects.

Unfortunately, today was cut down day and only half of the crop will be staying.

Defenseman Kevin Gravel (a fifth round draft pick in 2010 and student-athlete at St. Cloud State State University) and recently selected forward Michael Mersch (2011 fourth round draft pick, who plays at the University of Wisconsin) were not included once the roster was trimmed from the initial 44, down to 29.

Sticking around for the international portion of camp are defenseman Derek Forbort (2010 first rounder, University of North Dakota) and center Nick Shore (2011 third round, Denver University).

The remaining team will now play three games - one against Finland (Thursday) and two against Sweden (tomorrow and Saturday). All of them can be viewed for free via a live stream provided by Fast Hockey on facebook.

The 'final' camp roster can be found here.

For the record, this is not necessarily the final roster that will take the ice when the tournament begins just after Christmas. USA Hockey will host a 'selection camp' in early December and any of the players cut today could be invited back to that camp to go through the process again, pending their play over the early part of next season. So, there's still hope.

Within the next few days, Gravel and Mersch are expected to stop by MayorsManor with full reports of their experience at camp.

In the meantime, here's the original article talking about the Kings history with Team USA and down below there are links to several previous MM articles on all four of the American-born Kings prospects.



The Mayor
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Post-season interview with Derek Forbort - includes NCAA playoff preview

DevCamp 2011: Pre-camp interview with Kevin Gravel

DevCamp 2011: Pre-camp interview with Michael Mersch

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LA Kings Draft update: round three - center Nick Shore

Monday, August 8, 2011

Robitaille on Rogie and Roenick - Hall of Fame worthy?

Luc Robitaille was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 9, 2009.

That was about as 'no-brainer' of a selection as the committee has had in recent years. He finished his career with 668 goals and a Stanley Cup, just to name a few of his accomplishments.

Going back even further in Kings history though, this November will make it 40 years since the Kings added their best goaltender to date, Rogie Vachon.

A few nights after the anniversary of LA sending four players to Montreal for a 5-foot-7 goalie, this year's Hall of Fame class will be inducted and once again, Vachon will not be there - just like every other year since he was first eligible in 1987.

Why? How has this happened?

Sure, he played in Los Angeles during the '70s. To say it wasn't a hockey hotbed is an understatement of epic proportions. However, his stats say he should be in. With 355 wins (including 171 in LA, with a 2.82 goals against average), 51 shutouts, a Vezina trophy, three Stanley Cups and a gold medal at the 1976 Canada Cup (where he had two shutouts in seven games played and a 1.39 GAA)...how has nor received the call?

On the other hand, it's not that surprising. The first shot on goal the guy ever faced in the NHL was against some forward named Gordie Howe. It's been an uphill battle ever since!

Recently, I asked Robitaille, now the Kings' President of Business Operations, if it's something the team can get behind and help make a push for.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

More camping for Kings' Forbort, Gravel, Mersch and Shore

How did this happen?

Over the last ten years, the Los Angeles Kings have had only two pure prospects represent Team USA at the World Junior Championships - defenseman Derek Forbort (last January) and forward Trevor Lewis (2007).

Yes, Dustin Brown played for the U.S. in 2002 and 2003. However, he hadn't been drafted by the Kings yet. You may also recall Patrick O'Sullivan skating in the WJC in 2003, 2004 and 2005 - yet, he didn't become a member of the Kings until a June 2006 trade with Minnesota.

About the only other marginal credit you could assign to the Kings would be Jack Johnson. An important note though would be that Johnson played for America in the 2006 WJC while a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Thus, he was pretty much a given for the 2007 team by the time the Kings traded for him, just a little over three months before the tournament began.

Up in Canada though, the Kings have practically dominated the World Junior summer evaluation camp rosters the last few seasons - with names like Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert, Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey, Brandon Kozun, Brayden Schenn, Kyle Clifford, Wayne Simmonds, Jonathan Bernier and many more.

And now the Kings - finally - have a big time presence at the Team USA evaluation camp for next winter's World Junior tournament.

When the roster came out in early June, the Kings were already ahead of the curve - having a pair of defensemen included in Forbort and Kevin Gravel (both 2010 draft picks). Then, a few weeks later, they drafted Nick Shore and Michael Mersch.