• RSS
Let become your destination for all the latest Lightning scoops. The Lightning Insider will be in the stands, in the locker room and on the road with the team throughout the 2007-08 season to provide you with a positive look at the Bolts as they pursue Lord Stanley’s hardware. Our resident snoop will post the latest following practices and morning skates, and he’ll make sure you’re the first to know when the Lightning are making news.
September 29, 2007 - Lightning Final Cuts

Lightning GM Jay Feaster and head coach John Tortorella started their final cuts yesterday by reassigning goaltender Karri Ramo and returning forward Justin Keller to Norfolk of the American Hockey League. Today they’ve continued the process by placing defenseman Bryce Lampman, and forwards Kyle Wanvig and Mathieu Darche on waivers. Should the three clear after the 48-hour waiver period, they will be assigned to Norfolk as well, leaving Tampa Bay with 21 healthy skaters. Defenseman Dan Boyle will start the season on Injured Reserve, and it’s likely that center Ryan Craig will do the same.

What do these moves mean? Well, for starters, it means you can assume Matt Smaby, Mike Lundin and Craig MacDonald will be on the Lightning roster when they open the regular season against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. If I were a betting man, I’d say it also means that Doug Janik, who arrived in camp in the best shape of his life, will be kept around as an insurance policy since both Smaby and Lundin are true rookies.

Janik’s experience will come in handy as Lundin and Smaby adjust to NHL-caliber competition, and while the team’s budget restraints might suggest that waiving Janik and sending him to Norfolk could be the most prudent move, Feaster and Tortorella are likely worried he’d be lost on waivers. The concern over losing the team’s most experienced insurance policy on defense certainly trumps short-term budget concerns.

With Ramo’s assignment to Norfolk, the Lightning have decided that Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis are better prepared to backstop the Lightning in 2007-08. Ramo, who is scheduled to be in net Sunday when Norfolk faces Philadelphia, will benefit from the playing time as he continues to develop as the team’s stopper of the future.

The guess here is that Tortorella will not name a No. 1 goaltender in Tampa Bay, and Holmqvist and Denis will split time based on Tortorella’s gut instincts. After strong preseason performances, Feaster and Tortorella have full confidence in both to get the job done. Holmqvist should only improve on the numbers he posted last year in his first full NHL campaign, and Denis has looked sharpest among the three goaltenders in camp as he tries to rebound from a sub-par 2006-07.

September 28, 2007

The Lightning prepare to hit the ice to face the Red Wings Thursday night.
Considering who was missing from the Lightning lineup Thursday night in Detroit, the team worked hard to stay even with the Red Wings most of the way in the 3-2 shootout loss. Johan Holmqvist played two good periods, and Marc Denis was perfect in the third period and overtime.

Defenseman Matt Smaby earned praise from head coach John Tortorella after scoring one of the Lightning goals, as did Mike Lundin.

"I thought Smaby played one of his better games and Lundin was consistent," Tortorella said. "We've got some stuff to think about."

Tortorella also had praise for the line of Jan Hlavac, Vaclav Prospal and Michel Ouellet, who scored the other Lightning goal on a one-timer from the top of the circle.

"It's encouraging the way Hlavac and Ouellet played," he said. "Both did a lot of small things well."

Tortorella also revealed that after discussions with Lightning GM Jay Feaster, they've decided to carry only 20 healthy players. That means six players will likely be sent to Norfolk following tomorrow night's preseason finale in Dallas. Dan Boyle (wrist surgery) and Ryan Craig (back) could possibly start the season on the Injured Reserve list.

There are definitely some tough decisions to be made this year, which speaks well about the competitive nature of the camp. Health permitting, it sounds like the 20 who dress tomorrow night in Dallas could be the final 20, with Chris Gratton the only real question mark.

The team went through a lively one-hour workout at Joe Louis Arena this morning before heading to the airport for a flight to Dallas. The skate featured a lot of up-tempo two-on-two battles with conditioning laps thrown in for good measure.

Team headquarters in Dallas is one of the ritzier hotels in town, located in the Turtle Creek area near the American Airlines Center. The hotel is home to trendy restaurant NOBU if you want to hang out with the beautiful people. The hotel's also a good spot if you enjoy a $25 breakfast or a $9 beer, but a more casual eatery will be in order tonight as we watch the USF-West Virginia game (Go Bulls!).

Anyone know a good sports bar in Dallas?

September 27, 2007

With center Chris Gratton still not quite ready to go tonight against the Red Wings and head coach John Tortorella wanting to rest Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis, the Lightning brought in forward Justin Keller for the game. Keller, an 8th-round Tampa Bay draft choice in 2004, had reported directly to the Norfolk Admirals' camp and had looked strong so far. Keller flew in from Norfolk this morning in time to catch the tail end of the morning skate. Dan Boyle skated on his own after the workout, his first time back on the ice since his surgery.

Lightning GM Jay Feaster met with the media prior to the morning skate today and said Gratton is progressing but while the scar tissue heals it's affecting his depth perception. Feaster added that he could be ready any day.

Tortorella will dress only 10 forwards tonight, with two extra defensemen filling out the roster.

Tonight's scheduled lines




Detroit's 22-player roster on today's game notes includes some of their stars, like Nicklas Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek and Chris Chelios, but Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom are noticeably absent.

After a white-knuckle glass elevator ride to the 72nd floor of the hotel last night, the team enjoyed a solid meal at Coach Insignia, one of Detroit's finest. The lobster corn dog appetizers were outdone only by the view, which included a clear shot of the Detroit Tigers unsuccessfully trying to keep their playoff hopes alive at Comerica Park.

As you can see in the picture, there's no shortage of history in Joe Louis Arena. The hallway walls outside the locker rooms are covered with lists of championship teams and award winners from the Red Wings' long history. After the wings skated this morning, a large group of players were seen packing their bags and throwing them on the truck for the trip to the minors. The Wings started camp with 68 players, 35 more than the Lightning.

September 26, 2007

Today marks the first trip of many for the Lightning during the 2007-08 season as we head to Detroit to face the Red Wings tomorrow night. The day started with a practice in Brandon; another power play session and some four-on-four overtime work before a full practice devoted to breakout rushes and entering the opposing zone. Brad Richards was back on the ice, and Jason Ward (strained tendon in his ankle) participated in the power play work but not the full practice. Ryan Craig sat out once again.

It's nice to see Bonnie and the folks from Miami Air who take such good care of the team throughout the season. At the direction of Lightning Team Services Director Phil Thibodeau, Miami Air shuttles the Bolts throughout North America on a fleet of custom 737s that make the travel grind a lot more tolerable. For this trip the team plane is outfitted like a commercial plane because extra seats are needed for the 4-5 additional players and a group of sponsors that came along. Usually it's a first class seat for everyone. The team will likely see the inside of an airport terminal only a half-dozen times this season as most cities allow the team bus to pull alongside the plane to load or unload. You can't beat it.

Detroit is a bit cooler (high 60s), gray and rainy today, and you can't miss the billboards beckoning the natives to FLORIDAAAH! It's good to have Dan Boyle on the trip. He'll likely stay with the team so he can skate to stay in shape while his wrist heals. Ryan Craig stayed back in Tampa so his back doesn't have to deal with the flights and hotel beds.

Tonight, the Lightning get together for a team dinner in the massive Marriott Renaissance Center hotel facing Windsor, Ontario (casino anyone?) that will be home until Friday morning. Upon arrival at the hotel head coach John Tortorella held court with the media and said Johan Holmqvist will likely get the start in goal tomorrow night. He also said Vinny Lecavalier will likely get the night off, and that he’s hoping to have Chris Gratton in the lineup if his vision is clear enough after his scratched cornea. Gratton is being fitted with a contact tonight and according to Tortorella, “if he can see he’ll play.”

I'll post an update, with the Lightning's planned lineup vs. the Red Wings, tomorrow after the morning skate at Joe Louis Arena.

September 25, 2007

The Lightning started things off this morning in Brandon with a half-hour power play practice before an up-tempo full team skate. Assistant coach Mike Sullivan ran the team through various fast-paced skating and shooting drills to start things off, then they focused on battles down low, neutral zone work and defensive coverage. Jason Ward left the ice with a strained tendon in his left ankle and is listed as day to day, but isn't expected to miss much time.

In the power play practice, Shane O'Brien and Doug Janik ran the points for one unit with Chris Gratton (back on the ice wearing a visor), Ward, Jan Hlavac, Vaclav Prospal and Andreas Karlsson rotating through the forward spots. The other unit was comprised of Filip Kuba on one point with Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards, Vinny Lecavalier and Michel Ouellet joining him.

Following practice John Tortorella wouldn't commit to a goalie plan for the two remaining preseason games, and he said he expects Gratton and Ouellet to be ready to go. He also said he expected to carry only one or two extra players after the final cuts, likely one forward and one defenseman.

The team will skate at 10 a.m. on Wednesday in Brandon before heading to the airport for a 1 p.m. flight to Detroit.

Observations from Monday night's 4-3 win against the Red Wings;
  • Karri Ramo had a tough start, allowing two quick ones, but settled down and turned in a solid performance in the win. The goalie competition still seems wide open.
  • Andre Roy and Nick Tarnasky deserve a lot of credit for getting the Bolts going after the rough start. Their back-to-back tilts in the first period energized the crowd and the Lightning bench.
  • Prospal had a strong game, and his no-look cross-ice pass that resulted in Karlsson's goal was a beauty.
  • The new RBK Edge white (road) unis are sharp! The Bolts showed them off for the fans last night, with Detroit wearing red.
  • I'm still amazed at the color and picture quality on the new Lightning Vision scoreboard. It livens up the entire arena bowl, and I can't wait to see it when everything's up and running on Oct. 4.

September 24, 2007
Lineups for tonight:

Vaclav Prospal-Brad Richards-Martin St. Louis
Jan Hlavac-Andreas Karlsson-Jason Ward
Andre Roy-Craig MacDonald-Nick Tarnasky
Mathie Darche-Kyle Wanvig

Paul Ranger-Brad Lukowich
Shane O'Brien-Filip Kuba
Doug Janik-Bryce Lampman
Mike Lundin

Karri Ramo
Johan Holmqvist

Red Wings
4    D     Kyle Quincey
8    C     Matt Ellis
15  D     Jassen Cullimore
20  RW  Aaron Downey
21  LW   Igor Grigorenko
22  D     Brett Lebda
26  RW  Jiri Hudler
29  C     Mark Cullen
30  G     Chris Osgood
31  G     Adam Berkhoel
34  LW   Neil Clark
42  RW  Mattias Ritola
44  C     Mark Hartigan
47  RW  Evan McGrath
50  LW  Johan Ryno
51  C     Valtteri Filppula
52  D    Jonathan Ericsson
55  D    Niklas Kronwall
75  D    Brent Sopel
93  LW  Johan Franzen

The Lightning will go with an extra defenseman tonight and give Vinny Lecavalier and Michel Ouellet a little more time to rest. The good news is John Tortorella said Lecavalier will be fine and they just don’t want to rush him. He also said Ouellet should get in the lineup during the two-game preseason trip to Detroit and Dallas. Ryan Craig’s back spasms continue to keep him out of action as well.

Karri Ramo gets the nod in goal tonight, and Tortorella said the only thing he doesn’t like about the team’s short five-game preseason schedule is that he doesn’t have more games to evaluate the goaltenders.

Paul Ranger and Brad Lukowich are paired in Dan Boyle’s absence, while Shane O’Brien stays with Filip Kuba. Tortorella said he expects Boyle will be back within a month after his surgery Sunday because the tendons that were severed controlled the thumb on his top hand, and he should already be able to grip a stick. Speaking of the defensemen, Tortorella said Boyle’s injury could provide an opportunity for Bryce Lampman and Mike Lundin, who are in the lineup tonight, to play their way into a roster spot. He also said they want to take a longer look at Matt Smaby.

September 23, 2007

Just got the word from Lightning head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan that defenseman Dan Boyle is through his surgery on his left wrist. As it turns out, three completely severed tendons were successfully repaired following the freak accident in the locker room last night in which a falling skate cut his wrist. The surgery took place at University Community Hospital today and was performed by team physician Dr. Ira Guttentag and hand specialist Dr. Richard Gray. Boyle, the team's top defenseman, is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

Post-Game Update

I’ll get to the six re-assignments the Lightning made tonight after providing an injury update from tonight’s game against Washington. Vinny Lecavalier left the game in the second period with an upper body injury, but he reassured the media following the game that he’ll be fine and doesn’t expect to miss any time. Sounds like he left as a precautionary move.

The news on Dan Boyle, however, isn’t as good. According to Lightning GM Jay Feaster, Boyle was injured in a freak accident in the locker room following the game when his skate fell from the top of his locker and cut his left wrist. Boyle is scheduled to have surgery Sunday to repair the abductor tendon in his wrist, and Feaster estimated he could be out 3-6 weeks.

Six players were sent to the Norfolk Admirals training camp following the game, reducing the Lightning roster to 27 heading into Monday’s game against Detroit. The cuts were D Dan Jancevski, F Blair Jones, D Jay Leach, F Norm Milley, D David Schneider, F Karl Stewart.

Preseason Game #2 vs. Washington

Tonight might be the last chance for some players to make an impression before the first round of cuts which are scheduled to happen following the game. I’ll post them here once I receive them.

Tonight is also the second chance to check out the Lightning’s amazing new scoreboard built by Clearwater’s HiTech Electronic Displays. Anyone who had the chance to attend Wednesday’s game might have been tempted to watch the massive video screens with their crystal-clear pictures instead of the live action on the ice. The Lightning’s Jason Dixon, heading up the scoreboard project, says what fans are seeing now pales in comparison to what they’ll see on October 4 when Lightning Vision will be fully operational. The difference between the old “jumbotron” and Lightning Vision is remarkable.

The team skated in two groups this morning, with the non-game players hitting the ice at 9 a.m. for a 60-minutes session. The good news is Michel Ouellet skated on his own this morning, and Lightning athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan reports that he’s continuing to make progress and still listed as day to day. Chris Gratton didn’t skate but worked out with his teammates and appears to be making progress as he waits for his eye injury to heal.

Following the game group’s 30-minute session, Lightning coach John Tortorella met with the local media and discussed a variety of subjects. He said the early injuries to Jan Hlavac and Ouellet have given Andreas Karlsson more of an opportunity to show what he can do. Regarding Hlavac, he also said the Czech forward has always played for trapping teams so learning the Lightning system is taking some time. Tortorella believes that once Hlavac is up to speed, the Lightning’s wide open style will suit him because of his skating ability.

Tortorella also addressed the battle for spots on the blue line, praising the play of Bryce Lampman and Mike Lundin. He also said Matt Smaby and Doug Janik have looked good so far, and that he didn’t expect a final decision until after the team’s fifth preseason game next Saturday in Dallas.

Get to the game early tonight if you can and check out the red carpet on the plaza. Players in the lineup tonight, including Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle, will be arriving between 4:15-5:30 to walk the carpet, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. Players not in the lineup will likely arrive between 6:30-7:30 tonight and will be making appearances throughout the arena tonight. Players will greet fans entering the building, sign autographs during the first intermission, visit suite holders and participate in interviews that will be shown on Lightning Vision.

September 21, 2007
Hot off the presses - the Lightning lineup for tomorrow night when Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals visit the St. Pete Times Forum:

Forward lines
Vaclav Prospal-Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis
Jan Hlavac-Andreas Karlsson-Jason Ward
Mathieu Darche-Ryan Craig-Kyle Wanvig
Andre Roy-Craig MacDonald-Nick Tarnasky

Defensive pairs
Paul Ranger-Dan Boyle
Matt Smaby-Brad Lukowich
Dan Jancesvki-Doug Janik

Johan Holmqvist
Karri Ramo

Looks like an entertaining lineup from a Lightning fan’s perspective, with the MVP Line, Dan Boyle, etc. Also, Darche earns another look after scoring the winner in OT Wednesday against Dallas, Hlavac will be anxious to make an impression, and Matt Smaby gets a chance to stake his claim on a defensive spot. The Jancevski/Janik pairing is also interesting, as the two are competing for the same spot as well.

Practice in Brandon today was divided into two groups again, and the guys were given the day off from the weight room for the first time. Chris Gratton (scratched cornea) and Michel Ouellet (hamstring strain) didn’t skate again, but Andre Roy looks good to go and will see his first preseason action tomorrow night as well.

Following the practice, Lecavalier taped a promotional commercial for the NHL featuring his stick-handling abilities. Ovechkin, Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby are also being featured in the campaign.

Reviewing The First Preseason Game

A win is always nice (especially in overtime) and while some teams might not worry about the outcome during the preseason, John Tortorella doesn’t necessarily concur. After practice in Brandon today Torts said he felt it was important to get a win so the players could get in the correct mindset moving forward.

“[Mike Sullivan] asked me on the bench, ‘it’s a close game, do we want to keep playing the kids,’ ” Tortorella said. “I said ‘we want to win!’ ”

On the team’s overall play, Tortorella was noncommittal.

“We did some good things, but we need to work on a lot of things,” he said. “I’m not going to break things down too much until we get closer to our roster.”

Speaking of the roster, Tortorella said he expects it to be 26 players following Saturday night’s cuts. He also praised the play of Andreas Karlsson and especially Brad Richards, and he revealed that Johan Holmqvist will start and play the entire game vs. Washington Saturday night.

Other notes from the opener:
  • Chris Gratton (scratched cornea) and Michel Ouellet (left hamstring strain) are both listed as day-to-day by the Lightning, but neither injury is considered serious. Gratton took a stick to the eye in the first period and was lucky he wasn’t injured worse. He saw Lightning eye specialist Dr. Charles Slonim after the game.
  • Jan Hlavac will also be in the lineup Saturday. Tortorella said he was upset he wasn’t on the ice Wednesday as he continued to recover from his bruised instep.
  • Richards was the best player on the ice; a fantastic sign for Lightning fans. He seems to be in the best shape of his life.
  • Darche continues to impress, and Tortorella said the injury situation could make the roster decisions a little more interesting than expected. Darche’s overtime winner affirmed his ability to be a finisher. 
  • Mike Lundin played 21:10 and showed great poise considering it was his first pro game. 
  • Marc Denis looked sharp and gave the team a chance to win – something Tortorella is always looking for. Denis took the bullet for Dallas’ first goal. “I made the initial save, then [Shane O’Brien] told me he accidentally batted the rebound in. I need to control the rebound better.”
Here’s the roster of players traveling with the Capitals for Saturday’s game:

19 BACKSTROM, Nicklas
56 BOURQUE, Chris
10 BRADLEY, Matt
87 BRASHEAR, Donald
17 CLARK, Chris
27 CLYMER, Ben
15 GORDON, Boyd
38 KLEPIS, Jakub*
25 KOZLOV, Viktor
50 MOTZKO, Joe
92 NYLANDER, Michael
28 SEMIN, Alexander
39 STECKEL, David
16 SUTHERBY, Brian
57 WILSON, Kyle

44 EMINGER, Steve
52 GREEN, Mike
23 JURCINA, Milan
26 MORRISONN, Shaone
34 POKULOK, Sasha
2 POTHIER, Brian
3 POTI, Tom
55 SCHULTZ, Jeff
89 SLOAN, Tyler*

35 CASSIVI, Frederic
1 JOHNSON, Brent
37 KOLZIG, Olie
30 NEUVIRTH, Michal

Preseason Opener

Practice this morning at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon was a little different than usual, with John Tortorella taking tonight’s game group on one sheet of ice while assistant coach Mike Sullivan worked with the non-game group on the other side. After the practices were over the non-gamers had a short off-ice workout as well.

There was a sense of anticipation in the locker room today; you can tell the players and staff are anxious to be a part of a game. It was good to see Jan Hlavac back on the ice with the non-game group. His instep injury progressed enough that hopefully he’ll be in action either Saturday or Monday. Andre Roy is still listed as day-to-day with his tailbone contusion. He didn’t skate today but worked out on his own.

Don’t forget to come out early tonight to see the Lightning players arrive for the game tonight. Between 4:30 and 5:45, they will park on the half-circle off Channelside Drive and enter the arena through Shots after walking across the plaza on a red carpet. Great autograph/photo op! The non-game players tonight will be greeting fans as they enter, visiting suites, signing autographs during intermissions and doing in-game interviews for the fans.
Also, Dallas sent their roster for tonight’s game:

# 30 Philippe Savue
# 31 Tobias Stephan

#2 Niklas Grossman
#3 Stephane Robidas
#5 Matt Niskanen
#25 Nolan Baumgartner
#28 Mark Fistric
#46 Mario Scalzo

#15 Niklas Hagman
#17 Toby Petersen
#18 James Neal
#20 Antti Miettinen
#21 Loui Eriksson
#22 Junior Lessard
#29 Steve Ott
#32 Marty Sertich
#33 Perttu Lindgren
#44 B.J. Crombeen
#65 Chris Conner
#92 Todd Fedoruk

Lineup Announced For Preseason Opener vs. Dallas

Just got the roster for tomorrow night's preseason opener against the Dallas Stars at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The offensive lines entering the game will be - Andreas Karlsson-Brad Richards-Michel Ouellet; Ryan Craig-Chris Gratton-Jason Ward; Mathieu Darche-Blair Jones-Kyle Wanvig; Norm Milley-Craig MacDonald-Karl Stewart

The defense pairings - Shane O’Brien-Filip Kuba; Bryce Lampman-David Schneider; Mike Lundin-Jay Leach

Marc Denis and Karri Ramo will dress, though it's not known if they will split time.

Looks like Karlsson gets the first shot at impressing the Lightning brass on Richards' line, and Craig gets a chance on the third line with Gratton and Ward. The other two offensive lines are loaded with guys hoping to make an impression, so they'll have good reason to skate hard tommorrow night.

On defense, Kuba and O'Brien will be joined by four players anxious to open some eyes, so it should be a physical game by preseason standards.

In the final scrimmage today, Mathieu Darche's hat-trick in Team White's 3-0 victory was overshadowed by Andre Roy's scary injury. Andre skated into the corner of an open bench door and his backside took the brunt of the collision. He's being listed as day to day with a tailbone contusion.

Jan Hlavac didn't skate in the scrimmage as a precaution after taking a shot off his instep on Monday. He's still being evaluated.

Tampa Bay Lightning training camp, Day 5

I was starting to worry about my prediction that Team White had too much offense for Team Black to contain in the scrimmages, but Chris Gratton and Jason Ward got me off the hook today. Trailing, 1-0, in the second period, Gratton beat Johan Holmqvist with a wrister on a breakaway and Ward tipped in a centering pass by Brad Richards for the winner. The smaller but vocal crowd (how do people pull off missing work on a Monday morning?) seemed pleased that there wasn’t a third 1-1 tie.

Early on I was regretting my prediction, based on the way the Vincent Lecavalier-Marty St. Louis-Vaclav Prospal line was flying. You can tell they don’t have their timing back yet, but they are downright scary nonetheless. Prospal scored the prettiest goal of the camp so far, breaking down the right wing, shielding the defender and roofing a puck short-side that Karri Ramo still hasn’t seen.

Goaltending-wise, Marc Denis was perfect again and now has some gaudy numbers from the scrimmages with a goals-against average of 0.74 and a save percentage of 0.972. All three goaltenders were strong once again.

Other notes:
  • Jan Hlavac was back skating with the Richards-Michel Ouellet line, while Andreas Karlsson was back with Gratton and Ward.
  • Speaking of Hlavac, he took a shot from teammate Filip Kuba off the ankle and limped off the ice, but returned in time for his next shift.
  • John Tortorella commented after practice that he felt this day (the fifth of camp) is traditionally the hardest for the players, and he’s pleased with the condition the guys are in. He also said the defense and goaltending has been the strongest part of the scrimmages so far (only seven total goals scored in three games), and that the defensive coverage was excellent for both teams today, except on the Gratton goal.
  • Damian Cristodero of the St. Pete Times had to endure a 5-minute walk of shame after dropping his pen off the balcony where media and Lightning staff gather to watch the scrimmages. Can’t The Tampa Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson afford to spare one for a colleague?
  • Lightning scouts Dave Heitz and Gerry O’Flaherty should take their act on tour. These two never seem to have a bad day, seemingly always enjoying their jobs. Based in Minnesota (Heitz) and Vancouver (O’Flaherty), the two Lightning professional scouts play a large part (along with others) in helping Jay Feaster, Bill Barber and Claude Loiselle make personnel decisions.
Handicapping the race for the sixth defenseman spot:

Dan Jancevski – He’s big, steady and mobile. Some considered him a favorite to win the spot entering camp, but I wouldn’t say he’s wrapped anything up just yet.

Doug Janik – Doug was solid last year, and he’s come into camp with a new level of determination. He’s in better shape, and he’s playing with more of an edge to his game. My money’s on him.

Bryce Lampman – A similar player to Janik, he’s calm with the puck and makes smart decisions. Even if he doesn’t make the roster out of camp, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the NHL soon.

Jay Leach – Leach is a physical specimen and plays with more of an edge to his game than some of the others. If the Lightning brass is looking for size and physicality, it helps his chances.

Mike Lundin – Mike came into camp as a bit of an unknown, and his stock has done nothing but rise. Not really expected to be in the NHL this season, Mike could turn out to be a Paul Ranger-type surprise in the next year or so.

David Schneider – A late addition to camp, David is fast, smart and moves the puck quickly like the Lightning coaches want. He’s a dark-horse candidate at this point, but he’ll be a strong asset in Norfolk is he doesn’t make it.

Matt Smaby – As John Tortorella said today, Matt will play in the NHL, the only question is, when? He’s big, he’s physical and he progressed as expected in Springfield last season. He could win a spot with strong preseason games.

Tampa Bay Lightning training camp, Day 4

Well, the intensity level was certainly up for today’s scrimmage, but the outcome was the same. The goaltenders were the stars (“the three best players on the ice today” according to John Tortorella) as Team Black and Team White battled to another 1-1 tie. It was good to see Michel Ouellet get in on the action, as he tied the game with a little more than a minute remaining after Nick Tarnasky had given Team Black the early lead.
  • As expected, Andreas Karlsson jumped up to the Brad Richards line along with Ouellet, while Jan Hlavac moved down to skate with Chris Gratton and Jason Ward.
  • Tortorella said the first cuts will be made after Saturday’s preseason game against Washington, and while he hadn’t discussed it with Bolts GM Jay Feaster yet, he’s hoping to trim the current 33-man roster to 25 or 26.
  • Karl Stewart is starting to aggravate some of the boys on Team White. Shane O’Brien gave him a couple of solid slashes and caught him with his head down at the blue line during the scrimmage, while Filip Kuba gave Stewart a nice punch to the  head when the two became tangled in the defensive end.
  • Marc Denis was on his game today, flashing his glove on several occasions to stay perfect (17 saves) in 32 minutes of action. Denis has a save percentage of .963 after two days, just below Karri Ramo’s .970. Yes, they’re only scrimmage games, but considering the rough start Denis had in the scrimmages last year, it’s a great sign.
  • Scary moment No. 1 of camp occurred in the Team Black practice session, when Andre Roy clipped Dan Boyle in the face with his stick and Boyle immediately headed to the locker room holding his right eye. Luckily, Boyle was only cut under the eye, and after athletic trainers Tommy Mulligan and Jason Serbus glued the cut together with some Dermabond (what ever happened to bandaids?), Boyle was back on the ice just in time to skate laps with his teammates. He had some playful but choice words in the locker room for Roy, one of his closest friends on the team. … Speaking of Boyle, he had the chance to meet shock rocker Alice Cooper at the Forum Friday night, talking a lot of golf and hockey. “He’s the most normal guy you’d ever want to meet,” he said.
  • Two scrimmage games remain (Monday and Tuesday) before the Lightning get a chance to hit someone who’s not a teammate when Dallas visits the Forum Wednesday night.
Some early impressions of some of the newcomers brought in by Feaster this season:

Jan Hlavac - I admit I wasn't sure what to expect out of Jan, who had spent the past three seasons in Europe. After two scrimmages, I'd have to say I'm impressed with the defensive responsibility he's shown. Nobody doubts his offensive abilities, but you need to play both ways on John Tortorella's team.

Chris Gratton - Does he count as a newcomer? Not only is it nice to see Chris back in the Lightning room where he belongs, it's heartening to see his slappers from the top of the circles and his ill temper in front of the net and along the boards.

Michel Ouellet – After a quiet camp before today, Ouellet finally gave a sample of why he was brought in with his goal in today’s scrimmage. As Richards wound to fire a shot at Ramo, Ouellet went to the net and seemed to fire the rebound at the exact moment it his the ice. Top shelf and leaving no chance for Ramo, it was a “goal scorer’s goal.”

Brad Lukowich - OK, he hasn't really been gone that long, but Luke is a different player than he was in 2004. The time he spent on Long Island and in the Jersey swamps (think he had to move when he got traded?) has made him a steadier, more confident defenseman. Luke's calming influence on Andre Roy is also important on the ice.

Craig MacDonald - This guy's a pro who doesn't seem to have a hole in his game. Though not a prolific scorer, MacDonald plays hard, doesn't shy away from anything and "thinks" the game as well as anyone. Talking to him, it's easy to see why he was the captain in Norfolk last season.

Assistant equipment manager Rob Kennedy - Bubba (or is it Bobbo??), who joins the Lightning from the Panthers, is on the ball and all business as he toils with two of the best in the game - Ray Thill and Jim Pickard. I just hope the guy is able to relax and lighten up when (if?) he goes home at night. Welcome Bub-Bobbo!

Tampa Bay Lightning training camp, Day 3

At approximately 9:48 a.m. this morning, it officially felt like hockey season had arrived. As ThunderBug worked the overflow crowd waiting for the Black vs. White scrimmage to begin, the first “let’s go Bolts!” chant of the season echoed throughout the arena. By the time Marty St. Louis fired the first shot at Marc Denis about 90 seconds in, you could tell the players were happy to finally see some pucks on the ice.

After two days of working hard with nowhere to release any aggression, you can usually count on a dust-up or two in the first scrimmage. Defenseman Jay Leach tried his best to start the party by tangling with Chris Gratton and Shane O’Brien on the same shift about 10 minutes in. Leach dropped his gloves and encouraged O’Brien to go, but O’Brien wouldn’t accept the invitation. Leach admitted later he’d misunderstood O’Brien’s intentions.

O’Brien, who chatted with Leach on the ice after the scrimmage, said he’ll be ready to go when it matters.

Though the crowd went away happy Saturday, not everyone was pleased with what they saw. Head coach John Tortorella was direct with the media, making it clear that it’s time for the players to get in the regular season frame of mind.

“I’ve got no reason to fight in an intra-squad game. He’s trying to make a name for himself, and I understand that. If someone wants to go when we play New Jersey, I’ll be ready,” O’Brien said.

Though the crowd went away happy Saturday, not everyone was pleased with what they saw. Head coach John Tortorella was direct with the media, making it clear that it’s time for the players to get in the regular season frame of mind.

“I saw nothing good,” was his blunt assessment of the scrimmage. “I didn’t like anything about it.”

Other notes following Day 3, which included practices and off-ice workouts following the scrimmage:

  • The three-headed goaltending competition should be entertaining. All three appeared sharp in the scrimmage, with Ramo and Denis stopping penalty shots.
  • Tortorella doesn’t buy into the idea that there’s a No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in the goalie competition. He said camp will sort things out, and he’s pretty sure Ramo doesn’t consider himself to be the third guy in the race. “He wants to play in the NHL this year,” Tortorella said.
  • Andreas Karlsson was the only player Tortorella singled out – good or bad - from the scrimmage. It was mentioned here yesterday that Tortorella hoped to give Killer a shot on one of the top two lines during the preseason, and it sounds like that plan may have been fast-tracked. “He was one of the few guys blocking any shots today, and he was one of the few guys with any physicality to him.” the coach said. “He will get rewarded.”
*      *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *
In case you missed it in the papers today, the Lightning sent out a press release yesterday detailing a plan for the most fan-friendly preseason in team history. The “up close and personal” access for Lightning fans is unprecedented.

Want an autograph or picture? Instead of parking in the secured loading dock before the team’s three preseason home games, the players will pull up to the half-circle near the lightning bolt sculpture and walk a red carpet into the building. Players who aren’t in the lineup will be put to work as well, signing autographs and posing for pictures in different areas of the building.

The Lightning is creating theme nights for each of the preseason games: Rocket Richard Trophy night on Wednesday, Sept. 19 vs. Dallas Stars; “Party Like a Rock Star” night on Saturday, Sept. 22 against Washington; and Extreme Hockey N’ Heels night on Monday, Sept. 24 with Detroit in town.

According to the press release there will be giveaways, including Lecavalier “Rocket” Richard posters on the 19th and pink t-shirts for the first 2,500 ladies on the 24th, and a contest giving fans a chance to party with Dan Boyle.

Tampa Bay Lightning training camp, Day 2

Before we get into Day 2 of training camp, I need to give props to Nick Tarnasky who successfully defended his title last night in the Lightning’s three-mile run (I think “Bolt Run” is already taken?) at the University of Tampa. Tarnasky even bettered his time of 18:00 from last year, turning in a 17:48 to average an impressive 5:56 per mile. The competition this year came from Kyle Wanvig (18:05) and Andreas “Killer” Karlsson (18:57).

The first part of the day today was devoted to strength and agility testing, with the players split into teams and spread out throughout the Lightning’s locker room facility at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. Mike Lundin, a 2004 Tampa Bay draft choice who just completed his college career at Maine, took the opportunity to get himself noticed. Lundin out-jumped Karri Ramo to turn in the best performance in the standing long jump, and he managed an impressive third place in the vertical jump. If Lundin can display the poise and steadiness on the ice in the pros that were the hallmarks of his college career, his future in the organization looks bright.

Speaking of the vertical jump, Karl Stewart is an impressive physical specimen. He posted the best mark in the vertical jump, just ahead of focused and businesslike Marc Denis. Fans didn’t get too much of a chance to see Stewart on the ice last season as he appeared in only seven games with the Lightning after being acquired from Chicago at the deadline, but the guy can flat out skate and he’s fearless. I have to believe he will see some time in the Lightning lineup this season.

Other “event winners” from the testing were Martin St. Louis (a man among boys in the dips test), Matt Smaby and Brad Richards (tie) in pull-ups and (who else?), Andre Roy in the dumbbell press.

Following the strength and agility tests the boys hit the ice for the second skating test of camp, the 15-lap marathon. Doug Janik was taking some heat in the locker room prior to hitting the ice after the newspapers singled out his performance on Day 1.

“You’d better be fast out there or they’ll be printing a retraction in the paper tomorrow,” was the threat directed at Janik by a veteran who will remain nameless.

Janik didn’t need to worry, though, as he consistently lapped teammates during the test and was again one of the stars of the day. Smaby became an intriguing story as he fought hard to get past the finish line on his third 15-lapper of the morning. He then collapsed face first on the ice, only to receive a tap of encouragement on the back from John Tortorella.

“It’s not always about the times,” Tortorella told the gathered media following the workout. “It’s a physical test, but it’s a mental test too. The important part for some of the guys is that they finished; they didn’t give in to it. That’s what these two days are about.”

Speaking of Tortorella, he also commented that he was happy with the overall shape the players are in as they prepare for scrimmages. He also revealed that while Jan Hlavac and Michel Ouellet would start as the wingers on Richards’ line in the scrimmages, he intends to give Karlsson a shot either in the scrimmages or a preseason game. Tortorella added that he hopes the Prospal-Lecavalier-St. Louis line will remain intact, and the additions made to the forward lines this summer might allow him to use someone like Roy more often than he did last year.

With the scrimmages set to begin at 10 a.m. tomorrow (arrive early for parking!), I’m going to go out on a limb with a prediction (keep in mind there are only two teams this year instead of the customary four). I think the overall scoring depth of the white team, with Richards, Hlavac, Ouellet, Chris Gratton, Karlsson, Jason Ward, Filip Kuba, etc, will be too much for the black team, led by the Prospal-Lecavalier-St. Louis line and the Paul Ranger-Dan Boyle defensive pairing. Denis and Ramo will alternate in goal for the white team, while Johan Holmqvist will earn all the minutes for black.

The teams:

Black White
Prospal Hlavac
Lecavalier Richards
St. Louis Ouellet
Roy Karlsson
MacDonald Gratton
Tarnasky Ward
Milley Darche
Craig Jones
Stewart Wanvig
Ranger O'Brien
Boyle Kuba
Lampman Lukowich
Leach Smaby
Lundin Jancevski
Schneider Janik
Holmqvist Denis

Tampa Bay Lightning training camp, Day 1

While this is one of the most anticipated days of the year for hockey fans because the season is just around the corner, it’s a day that lacks a little excitement from a fan’s perspective (unless you like to watch hockey players skate in circles, no pucks in sight). “Structure” is the buzzword at John Tortorella’s training camp, and after seven years it runs like a well-oiled machine. Players arrive on schedule, doctors and nurses poke and prod on schedule, players hit the ice on schedule, equipment managers sharpen skates on schedule, and the scouts in attendance are first in line for the lunch buffet – right on schedule.

Observations from Day 1, which consists of physicals, a three-lap skating test and the obligatory photos/media interaction: It’s interesting to observe the different attitudes sprinkled throughout the locker room. The players definitely come in different categories, such as “happy-go-lucky” (Shane O’Brien, Andre Roy, Brad Lukowich are examples) and “intense and focused” (Vaclav Prospal, Brad Richards, Karl Stewart). Then there’s the newcomers looking for their place to fit in and trying to stay out of the way (Mike Lundin, David Schneider, Mathieu Darche, etc.).

The three-lap test is brutal, with players skating three laps around the rink as fast as possible six times each. The rest period in between is short and unforgiving, and there’s nowhere to hide if you didn’t work hard during the summer. As former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk pointed out while he watched from above, the test definitely favors those with a smooth stride.

“I needed a runway to make that turn around the net but Marty [St. Louis] makes it look effortless.” Andreychuk said after posing for his media guide photo as “Lightning Community Representative.” Andreychuk also said he enjoyed having Tortorella as a guest on the Lightning Hockey Night radio show Wednesday, because he finally had the chance to grill the coach about “Camp Torturella.”

“He told me he doesn’t even look at the players’ times from the skating tests,” Andreychuk said. “He said he learns all he needs to know about who worked hard during the summer by watching the players’ faces during the tests.”

If I had to choose a few standouts from the skating, Doug Janik, Prospal and Stewart come to mind. Janik had the gathered media buzzing about his performance, and Stewart seemed effortless and ready to go longer. Stewart also left other players behind during the body fat percentage tests. (Less than 5%, Karl? Are you kidding me? Don’t be afraid to eat a chicken wing now and then!).

After the laps the players headed upstairs for the obligatory headshots/paperwork/media interaction. The group charged with creating the video aspects of the Lightning’s new scoreboard – Tampa Digital Studios – took over most of the area with their huge green screen contraption for video headshots. These guys aren’t messing around.

Each player was paraded to five different stops (Sun Sports, media guide photos, etc) wearing the new Lightning RBK jerseys, and I’m of the opinion that the “modernized” logo looks better every day. I know some longtime fans probably didn’t want a change, but now that it’s happened I think it was a great move.

Missing from the festivities were Steve Stirling and Darren Rumble, who had to head to Virginia as they prepare for their first season behind the bench in Norfolk. Both have good reason to be pumped about the Lightning’s new affiliate and the prospects for success this season. With the likes of Darche, Lundin, Norm Milley, Matt Smaby, Bryce Lampman, Dan Jancevski, Jay Leach and Kyle Wanvig on the ice today, along with returning AHL All-Star Karri Ramo, they have good reasons to be confident.

Tonight the boys switch from skates to sneakers for the traditional 3-mile run at a local track (look for some results here tomorrow). There was some trash talking going on, so it should be interesting.