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Johansen brothers enjoy banter, but team up for success

June 10, 2015 Leave a comment

[originally published in the Kelowna Daily Courier on May 4, 2015]
[The extended audio version of this interview can be heard on my podcast]

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Rockets defenceman’s older brother is former Winterhawks star, NHLer

Posted: Monday, May 4, 2015 11:20 pm | by Dave Cunning

The Kelowna Rockets may have just beaten the Portland Winterhawks for the WHL’s Western Conference title, but while the two hockey teams were engaged in battle, there was a separate, smaller scale match-up also taking place in the background.

Ryan LucasDuring the series, Rockets defenceman Lucas Johansen was fighting a war of words with his brother, Columbus Blue Jackets centre Ryan Johansen, a Portland Winterhawks alumni. Due to conflicting season schedules, Ryan is rarely able to attend Lucas’ games in person, so the Johansen’s generally communicate through text or phone call. While generally supportive in nature through those mediums, the siblings made sure to mix in their share of barbs while Ryan’s former team squared off against Lucas’s current club.

“I’m always giving him a hard time,” said the elder Johansen, who turns 23 in July. “I told him I’m cheering for the Hawks. I’ve got texts from him saying, ‘I can’t wait to beat the Hawks tonight’ and stuff like that to rub it in on me. Deep down though, when I’m watching the games, one hundred percent I want to see him and his team be successful.”

Lucas was nearly convinced his brother was truly on his side all along.

“I think he was cheering for me, but I don’t really know,” admitted Lucas, 17. “He bugs me sometimes. He’ll send me the odd text saying ‘Go Hawks!’ as a joke, but for the most part, he’s rooting for the Rockets, I think.”

Beyond the give-and-take, Lucas has found his brother to be a well of experience and knowledge that he’s constantly able to draw from, especially during the Rockets’ series with Portland.

“He watched the games,” said Lucas. “When he played for Portland, they won the Western Conference as well, so he’s been through it. He can definitely give me pointers on what I can do better, and he definitely has. It’s good to have a guy like that in your family.”

Despite being five years apart in age, and thousands of miles away from each other at all times during the hockey season, Lucas and Ryan managed to become closer than ever this past year.

“Last year was really the first year my brother and I got really close,” Ryan recalled. “We basically did everything together. He started training with me every day. He’d stay over a lot of the time at my place. We really became close friends.

“It’s awesome that I can guide him. Whenever he needs an answer to a question, I can help him out, or show him how to do things differently.”

While mining all he can from big brother, Lucas also wants to put in his own work, and blaze his own trail in hockey. Ryan is in full support of that approach.

“Lucas is one of those kids that really drives himself,” said Ryan. “He’s got that inner drive where he wakes up every day and asks, ‘What can I do to get better at hockey?’ Whether it’s going to the gym, playing road hockey — anything that would help him be a better hockey player, he wants to do.”

“The thing I tell everyone about him is that his work ethic is non-stop,” Ryan continued in his praise for Lucas. “He’s doing everything he can right now to get in my position and play in the NHL. As an older brother and seeing him go through the process, I couldn’t be more proud of him and the way he works and carries himself.

“I love the way he plays the game. I think he can be a heck of a player. The way he’s been working, and the way he cares about the game and prepares himself, he’s definitely on the right track. He’s one of those kids that really wants to do it himself, and prove to people that he can be a great hockey player. Me playing in the NHL for a few years and having gone through the WHL, he’s got a lot of motivation to be successful. Seeing him do his own thing, I’m really proud of the way he’s developed, the way this year’s gone for him, and the way their team’s been playing. It’s been an absolute blast watching him and hearing about him grow.”

Beyond game-play matters, Ryan’s also been able to provide counsel on Lucas’ choice to play major junior rather than pursue an NCAA scholarship — a decision Ryan had to make for himself in 2009.

“Leaving a full ride scholarship is probably is the toughest hockey decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Ryan said. “To have a path set up, and to throw it all behind and just take a shot at hockey — the way I felt about my game, to me it was always the right decision. It was the thing I always wanted to do, and I just went with my gut feeling. I had the confidence that I could play with those players, and be successful out there. It didn’t happen overnight — it took a lot of hard work and a lot of teaching, but like my brother, we’re both motivated to be the best players we can be. I put my mind to it and found ways to get better. I had a lot of great players and people there to guide me through it, and so does Lucas now. He’s got a great organization in Kelowna, and he’s surrounded with great players and great coaches. That’s how kids become successful. The sky’s the limit for him, just like it is for me. It’s such a fun process to go through, and one of the things I always tell him is to enjoy it.”

With the likes of Rick Nash, Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik all departing Columbus while he was on the Blue Jackets’ roster, Ryan found himself in a position where the team needed him to step up and fill holes.

In response, Johansen set career highs in assists and points last season, was voted into the NHL All-Star Game, and outscored all three of the aforementioned names.

With the Rockets now battling for the WHL championship, Kelowna will demand the same of their players if they are to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup — Lucas included.

“They looked at me as a guy who needed to elevate his game and take that next step to be an elite player,” said Ryan. “The opportunity was mine. It was right in front of me, and I had to go grab it. I’ve still got so much room to improve. I feel I can grow a lot still as a player, and that’s what they’ve been telling me leaving Columbus to come back home, they still want to see another level, and I do as well. I prepare to do the things that make me successful on the ice, and that’s what I tell Lucas — that those experiences that I go through are what made me better.

“Everything’s not going to be the same for the both of us, but at least I can share those experiences with him, which hopefully will make us both better.”

XP PSP s01e13: NHL Trade Deadline Roundup

March 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Larry Fisher

Larry Fisher from the Kelowna Daily Courier called in for episode 13 to debrief all the action from the 2014 NHL trade deadline. We talked Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan, Roberto Luongo to Florida, Gaborik to LA, Ryan Miller to Buffalo, Jaroslav Halak all over the place, Vanek’s path to Montreal, Edmonton’s moves of Hemsky and Bryzgalov, the non-moves of Brodeur and Kesler, and we both pick our winners of the day.

Follow Larry FisherXP PSP, and host Dave Cunning on Twitter.

Visit www.larry-fisher.com 

Click here to listen to the XP PSP audio podcast at Podbean

Download_on_iTunes_Badge_US-UK_110x40_1004https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/xppsp/id643817929

Brody Sutter NHL Bound — Repost of My January Interview With Him

June 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Brody Sutter of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes and the famous Sutter family signed an 3 year entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes on June 1/2012 , where his cousins Brandon and Brett are awaiting his arrival– I thought it’d be interesting to post my interview with him, his coach, and his uncle from January of this year that was printed in the Kelowna Daily Courier. Enjoy!

-SDC

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[originally printed in the Kelowna Daily Courier on January 26, 2012 ]

Late-blooming Sutter showing NHL potential

THURSDAY, 26 JANUARY 2012 02:00 by DAVE CUNNING

photo courtesy of sportphotographers.ca

Players in the WHL are used to having media surround their team, and even more so are players who have been drafted and/or have played games for NHL clubs. But when you have a famous last name stitched on the back of your
jersey, such as “Sutter”, the microscope focus intensifies.

For Lethbridge Hurricanes captain Brody Sutter, though, the bright media lights are part and parcel of belonging to his well-known hockey clan.

“It’s been like this my whole life, so I’m used to it,” said the 6-foot-4 and 205-pound Sutter. “It’d be weird if there wasn’t a lot of media and stuff. I’ve grown up with it and gotten used to it. It’s not that bad. I just try to put it all to the side.”
Hurricanes associate coach Matt Kabayama is used to the attention the Sutter name brings to his club.

“It’s fairly natural,” Kabayama said. “A lot of his uncles played in the Lethbridge area and his cousins played just up the road in Red Deer. There’s a lot of Sutters in our area, so we’re used to it.”

Along with the attention comes opportunity. Brody was the Carolina Hurricanes’ seventh-round pick in in 2011, even after being omitted from Central Scouting’s player listings.

If he were to crack the Hurricanes’ lineup next season, following what is his last season of junior eligibility, it would unite him with his cousin Brandon, and possibly Brett (currently playing in Carolina’s farm system). It would also make him the ninth Sutter to play in the NHL, behind his father Duane (who won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders and now scouts for the Edmonton Oilers) and five other uncles.

“I stayed at (Brandon’s) house during training camp for a couple nights,” recalled Brody. “He’s got a pretty nice place and lives a pretty good lifestyle. That’s the dream, and it’d be even sweeter to play with a family member. Everyone in our family seems to want to blaze their own path and go their separate ways, but it’s fun to play with family.
“I grew up playing street hockey and thinking about it, and it’d be pretty cool if it became a reality. I don’t know if I’ll make an NHL lineup next year. I’m hoping to make the AHL and work my way up. It’s a big jump that’s not easy to make, but, hopefully, I can take it one step at a time.”

His uncle, Gary Sutter, a Kelowna resident and the only first generation Sutter to not play in the NHL – though his brothers contend he was the best of them all – believes his nephew Brody is on the right path, despite an injury-hampered slow start to his junior career.

“What goes around comes around,” said the eldest Sutter. “He’s just like his dad and his uncles. He works hard and plays the game with a lot of passion. He started his WHL career fairly slow because of his development in Florida, but he’s been more or less carrying his team as of late. He’s a late bloomer, and I think he’s still got great potential.”

That potential is beginning to reveal itself, and Lethbridge’s coaching staff is among the many who have noticed.

“Brody’s come such a long way,” said Kabayama. “When he first came to us from Saskatoon, he went through some injuries and wasn’t your typical Sutter the way he played. He needed to add more grit to his game, and he’s come along by leaps and bounds. If you compared him now to then, you wouldn’t know it was the same kid. He’s always been tall, but he was only 170 pounds when he came to us. He’s gotten stronger and he’s skating like a man now, not like a gangly kid anymore. He’s just now realizing what he can do – with his size, it’s tough for guys to take the puck away from him in this league when he protects it. He’s understanding the game and working well with his linemates.”

Brody knows input on his game from the most famous family in hockey is never hard to access.

“When I’m struggling, there’s input,” said Lethbridge’s leading scorer. “When I need advice, it’s always only a phone call away. When I’m playing well, everyone just sits back and watches, but if they see something they think I can improve on, they let me know.”

Sutter currently leads his team in goals (20), assists (20), and points (40). The Hurricanes are currently two spots out of a playoff berth, with just over 20 games remaining in their regular season schedule.

Discussing NHL Teams’ Junior Roster Ransacking With 3 WHL Coaches.

November 8, 2011 1 comment

[originally printed in The Kelowna Daily Courier, October 30/2011]

Roster problem: Junior-aged players leaving for the NHL

MONDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2011 08:39 by DAVE CUNNING
Just how exactly do you replace an NHL-calibre player on a junior roster once he’s moved on?
That’s the conundrum many major-junior hockey teams have been trying to solve over the past month, as many elite players have had opportunities to crack rosters on teams in the best hockey league in the world. Some were sent back to their junior franchises, while some were invited to stick around with their NHL club a little longer.
Getting to the NHL is the opportunity every young player dreams about, and is the developmental principle that the Canadian Hockey League operates by.
While it’s a phenomenal achievement for a player to earn a spot in the line-up at that level, you can’t help but feel a little bit bad for the junior team that just lost a world-class player and is now trying to fill the void. It’s not like you can expect a call-up from minor hockey to score the 50 goals that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Brett Connolly was projected to score for Prince George this season had he returned to the WHL.  Or the 60-plus projected points that the Minnesota Wild’s Brett Bulmer might have again scored for the Kelowna Rockets.
“It’s obviously tough for us right now because of our inability to produce goals,” said Dean Clark, the Prince George Cougars’ head coach. “Taking a guy of Brett’s calibre from us is a tough pill to swallow. He’s probably a 50-goal guy. You just don’t put 50 goals back in your line-up.  Brett’s a gifted player and that’s why he’s playing with guys like Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St. Louis. But when a guy is taken from your team that you need in order to develop your program, that’s tough.”
Rockets head coach Ryan Huska echoed the same sentiments on Bulmer’s absence from Kelowna’s roster.
“It makes it challenging when you’re expecting a key 19-year-old to be in your line-up,” said Huska. “It’s difficult to fill the hole that has been left without Brett here.” 
And is it possible that, at just 18 or 19 years of age, these players are simply too young to be competing against the world’s biggest, fastest, and toughest grown men in the best hockey league on the planet?
“It happened to me as a player,” recalled Marc Habscheid, GM and head coach of the Victoria Royals. “I played in the NHL as a 19-year-old. As an 18-year-old, I had a good year in junior (had had 151 points). At 19, I played 32 games in the NHL (he had 13 points).  If I could turn the clock back — for me, personally, maybe I should have gone back,” said Habscheid. “I wanted to play in the NHL as quick as I could. Everyone wants to play in the NHL and make seven million dollars. Let’s face it – these kids are no different. That’s where it’s up to the NHL teams to do what’s best for the kid and their team. But it’s tough to make a blanket rule or statement for every player, because how do you keep a Sidney Crosby out of the NHL, just because of his age?”
“For a lot of them, I think it’s too much too soon,” added Huska. “Every year there’s exceptions, but a lot of times, when you bring 18-year-olds up and keep them up, it’s difficult on them. They’ll play without a lot of pressure or push from their coaches their first year, but when they start playing more years, teams will expect more out of them.  A lot of times, I don’t think they’re quite ready for it, and they have a tendency to lose a little confidence in themselves.”
Getting to the NHL is one thing, but staying there and being productive are other variables to consider. Sure, it’s great if a young player can blend in without missing a beat (as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins seems to have done with the Edmonton Oilers).
But if a player who was a first-line, clutch scorer who played every regular season game in the WHL suddenly only plays a handful of games in the NHL, or plays on the fourth line and is only used sparingly, is that really good for him to go through, developmentally speaking?
In some cases, it’s good to keep the kid in the NHL,” said Habscheid. “If he’s in sync and things are going great and he plays lots, there’s no need to send him back.  To remove him and send him back to junior might get him out of sync, and you don’t want that either. You have to look at each player individually, and his maturity level. How would he handle being sent down? Would he take it as a demotion, or would he take it as a chance to keep working on his game and become an NHL player later? Maybe there are young players there that shouldn’t be in the NHL, but, because their teams need them, they stay.  You look at the team, too. There are some kids that belong to teams that are powerhouses in the NHL that maybe could play, but don’t because their teams are power-houses and don’t need them. “
When the smokes clears, and doors close for junior-eligible players in the NHL to return to their CHL clubs, those junior teams have no choice but to move on and attempt to achieve success without them. They have to get back to doing what they do best – developing players to help their team win, and to one day be able to play in the NHL.
“It’s out of our control and we can’t stand here and feel sorry for ourselves,” Clark said. “We have to develop the guys we still have. This league is a developmental league and we’re here to produce players.”
While it’s a tall order to move on without a star player, teams and coaches feel nothing but pride for their former players that have made the jump.
At the end of the day, we’re here to try and develop these guys,” said Huska. “That’s what these guys have grown up with, wanting to play in the NHL. If we can be a part of them getting there, then I’m happy with it. I’m thrilled that Brett’s up there. I want him to have a ton of success. He continues to make our organization very proud.”
Dave Cunning is a former semi-pro hockey player turned writer, coach, and personal trainer. Read his blog on the web at https://davecunning.wordpress.com, and follow him on Twitter@davecunning.
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