Hockey players crave ice.
As the Ontario Hockey League season starts and the National Hockey League lockout continues, more and more locked out NHL players return to the OHL to skate with their old teams.
When the Whalers played in Sault Ste. Marie last week, Dallas Stars defenseman Trevor Daley was skating all alone at Essar Centre. An excellent defenseman for the Greyhounds from 1999-03 when they played at the Soo Memorial Gardens, Daley was skating at Essar Centre for the first time under odd circumstances.
Once he finished his workout, Daley greeted the Whalers Stefan Noesen – from Plano, TX – warmly. Daley and Noesen trained together in the past.
Whaler alums James Wisniewski (2000-04) and Jared Boll (2005-07) skated with the Whalers on Wednesday. Although Wisniewski practiced and left as quickly as a good first pass out of the defensive zone, Boll will stick around for a few days.
Boll lives in Columbus while playing for the Blue Jackets and still has strong ties with Plymouth. He visits Plymouth billets Margaret and Tom Predhomme regularly. Predhomme’s son, Jesse, lives with Boll in Columbus.
“It was so much fun playing here,” Boll said. “The OHL is a great league and Plymouth was a fun place to play. We love coming back when we can. Once we get here, it’s like we never left.”
Former captain John Mitchell (2001-05) worked out with the Whalers last week. Now a veteran of the NHL, Mitchell signed a free-agent deal with the Colorado Avalanche this summer and is waiting to get started there after stops in Toronto and New York with the Rangers.
“Obviously, there’s no NHL going on right now and no training camps,” Mitchell said. “My wife (Mia) is from Plymouth, so it’s a good opportunity to come down for a week or so. I know the boys are skating out here, so I gave Mike (Vellucci) a quick call to see if there’s any ice time and he said I could come out and skate with the fellows.
“The main part is to try to stay in shape, stay on the ice and keep skating. Unfortunately, there’s no timetable on when we’re going to be back skating in the NHL. You have to stay on top of things and stay in shape.”
The NHL lockout affects more than players. Detroit Red Wings’ head coach Mike Babcock sat alone at Compuware Arena on Tuesday, watching Plymouth practice.
Red Wings’ assistant coach Bill Peters attended Saturday’s Plymouth-Belleville game and was seen speaking with Wisniewski yesterday. Peters – who at one time coached the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs to the Memorial Cup in 2008 – knows Wisniewski from his days with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I got to know Wiz when I was coaching Rockford of the American Hockey League and he came down for an injury rehabilitation assignment,” Peters said as he watched the Whalers practice. “If we don’t get back to work soon, you might see me here more often.”
Earlier this week, Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman (who played with Sudbury and London from 1999-04) skated with the Kitchener Rangers.
“The young guys work hard and it’s a little quicker pace than I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks so it’s good to get out and do some actual drills,” Wideman told the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. “It was an awesome time. When you’re playing junior you don’t really think about how much fun it is. There is a lot more pressure and scrutiny when you’re playing pro. I’m wishing sometimes I could go back for a little bit.”
The Whalers host Sudbury on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena.
A LOOK AT THE WOLVES: Sudbury is off to quick start, with victories at home last weekend against Oshawa and Brampton. They take a swing through the West Division this weekend, playing in Saginaw on Thursday, Plymouth on Saturday and Windsor on Sunday afternoon.
"We feel optimistic about this road trip," Wolves left wing Nathan Pancel told the Sudbury Star. "We think we can keep this streak going."