Saskatchewan, Oh Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan, Oh Saskatchewan.

I don’t know much about you, but I’ll say just a few things.

Matt Bradley says you’re “kind of like the boondocks back home in Canada.” I think it’s a little funny that the police in Saskatoon actually help geese back into the river. Staying on the topic of Saskatoon, it  looks nice at night. While looking at pictures of Saskatchewan on Flickr, it seemed like people like taking pictures of old churches in the middle of giant fields. And that they do. I like the dome ones. And the one with a truck on the roof. Hockey-wise, you, like all of Canada, treat major junior hockey like we treat college football. And speaking of hockey, this is the last I know about Saskatchewan: You produce some quality hockey players.

We’ve already got three guys playing with either the Caps or Hershey, all of them heart-and-soul kind of guys. Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon play with the big club, while Quintin Laing spent the past season with the Bears. In the past two drafts, we’ve gotten Braden Holtby(’08), Joel Broda(’08), Cody Eakin(’09), and Garrett Mitchell(’09). I know Eakin’s from Winnipeg, but he’s played all his Junior in Swift Current (and he’s the only other kid I could think of who was the fourth guy from SK). [Note: Okay, so I forgot about Garrett Zemlak, who went to camp as a free agent, from Saskatoon. But I was going more for guys who were drafted.] So far, I think I’ve gotten good impressions from all of them, but I still can’t say a whole lot about them because I haven’t seen them play.

Joel Broda seems like he’s got some potential. I haven’t seen much or heard much about him, but it looks like he could be good guy to have on the team. He’s got to have some kind of good character to have kept his offensive production steady despite being traded twice in two years in the WHL. While some could be a little rattled by experiencing that, Broda showed an ability to adapt and find his place on the team in a way that his point totals didn’t drastically change. It doesn’t hurt that he’s willing to drop the gloves and stick up for his teammates when need be either. We’ll just have to wait and see on this guy, much like the other draftees.

Braden Holtby obviously posesses skill. He had glowing reviews after camp ended by nearly everyone. Although it was only development camp, he didn’t seem to be taken aback or overwhelmed by what was being said about him. Bloggers and journalists were giving him high praises, but he still went out there and showed the organization everything he had and didn’t ease off just because of early reviews. In an interview with A View From the Cheap Seats, he said that all he can expect of himself is to “go out every game and give it his best,” and from the sounds of it, he does just that. While there’s just about unanimous agreement that with Daren Machesney gone, Holtby will be the backup in Hershey, he still talks about how things aren’t solidified. I take that as him showing that he knows nothing’s a given, and you earn your spot. Some guys go into camps thinking, like Bruce Boudreau said, that since they were the top dogs in Juniors so they’ve already got a place on the team. So far, his attitude seems a little like Laich’s; he’ll go out, bust his ass every game, and stand on his head when his team isn’t doing well.

Garrett Mitchell was the youngest guy at camp this summer, being a 17-year-old with quite a lot of 20 somethings. He’s definitely a scrapper, that’s for sure. At 5’11, 185 pounds, he had 14 fighting majors, including one against the slightly larger Joel Broda(6’1, 203 pounds). The Cap that I think he kind of resembles is Matt Bradley, tenacity-wise. The kid’s willing to get his ass kicked to either pump up the team or stick up for a teammate. When you watch some of his fights, Mitchell doesn’t give up. For the first half of the fight, all you see is him getting wailed on. Then, he gets it going a little and lands a few. I think he’s got a never give up attitude and great character qualities.

Cody Eakin was probably one of my favorites after this year’s draft, and while he’s actually from Manitoba, he’s going to be included here because he plays in Swift Current. I loved the genuine look of excitement on his face after he was drafted by the Capitals. Some people started saying he’s a Brooks Laich in training, and I agreed; not only does he wear number 21, but he’s a center converting to the wing position, and his coach describes him as a natural born leader. He can play with his linemates at Swift Current and with hockey’s most talked about kid and first overall draft pick, John Tavares. After the Broncos lost in the WHL playoffs, Eakin said he’s learned that “you have to battle every shift because it could be your last.” It sounds like he already has tremendous character that will only keep building. I hope to see him in a Caps sweater in the future.

Boyd Gordon isn’t the most talked about guy on the Caps, but he’s pretty good and effective. He’s the scrappy fourth line center who won 56.1% of his 667 faceoffs. Even though he doesn’t seem to say much, it almost always looks like he’s trying his damnedest. Whenever I see him on the ice, he’ll fall on his ass but still keep the puck away from the other team and get it out to someone. He might not be very impressive with his offensive production, but his defensive abilities are what makes him a great asset. Gordo goes out there on almost every PK along side Dave Steckel and then rarely get penalized himself.

Quintin Laing became a fan favorite when he was called up in the ’07-’08 season to replace Gordon, who was out with an injury, because of his abilities on the penalty kill. He was willing to block shots with any part of his body and played every shift as if it were his last. Goalies appreciated him, and teammates praised him. Because of his willingness to sacrifice his body, opponents took fewer shots and scored fewer goals per sixty minutes. He’s got the determination and the heart to do whatever he can to stick with the Caps.

And finally, Brooks Laich, the definition of a team player. He’s a leader and a class act. Everyone remembers his epic shift (at about 0:31 in this epic video) against the LA Kings. Probably the most versatile player on the team, you could see him on the second line with finesse guys like Alexander Semin or with the grinders like Dave Steckel and Matt Bradley, on the power play or the penalty kill. He’s gained the confidence of the coaches and the general manager in that they had enough trust in him to be able to play the role of second line center had they not signed one (even though we all like him best on wing). The guy backs up what he says on a daily basis. On one message board, after Games 1 and 2 of the Rangers series, someone was saying how players talk, and they don’t do. Another replied with, “‘They’ is very different from ‘Brooks Laich’.” After a game, you can be pretty much rest assured that Brooks Laich left everything he had on the ice. With the media, he’s like a more serious, yet not stuffy, version of Ovi; he’s got quotes galore that tell you just what kind of guy he is. A lot has been said of the leadership shown by him, and, because of that, fans say he should have the ‘C’ on his chest. To me, he deserves it, but I don’t think he worries too much about it. He’s always had the heart and passion, and regardless of whether or not he gets the captaincy, Brooks Laich won’t change.

Even if you are the boonies of Canada, Saskatchewan, you sure have given us some pretty damn good, quality players.

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