Minding Your Ps and Ks

Aug. 11, 2006

By Elliot Olshansky



Elliot is CSTV.com's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on CSTV.com.
E-mail here!


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Any coach worth his salt will tell you that having a good PK is a key to having a successful hockey team. 


As the nation's top young hockey players gather in Lake Placid for USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp, fans of three extremely successful college hockey programs are hoping that their teams will benefit from extraordinary "PKs" this season.


One might ask, "How does that make them different from the 56 other Division I college hockey teams in the country?" The answer is that for these three teams, "PK" doesn't stand for "penalty kill."


At Minnesota, fans continue to wait and watch as forward Phil Kessel, the No. 5 overall pick in June's 2006 NHL Entry Draft, weighs his choice between returning to the Golden Gophers for his sophomore year or signing with the Boston Bruins.  Meanwhile, another dynamic forward out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Patrick Kane, is trying to decide where he'll be playing next year, with Michigan, Boston University, and the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights all as options.


Of course, if either Kane or Kessel wants advice on his plans for 2006-07, neither has to look very far.  Kessel is joined at the camp by Golden Gopher teammates Jeff Frazee and Ryan Stoa, along with incoming freshmen Kyle Okposo and Mike Carman.  Meanwhile, current and future Terriers and Wolverines, including Michigan defenseman Mark Mitera and BU forward Jason Lawrence, are at the camp, along with their opinions about the ideal destination for the 5'9" native of Buffalo, N.Y.


Lawrence, for one, hasn't been shy with those opinions.  "I've been whispering in his ear a little," Lawrence said, "trying to get on the recruiting trail to get him to come over."


Lawrence's future teammate Brian Strait, a defenseman who will arrive on Commonwealth Avenue this fall, has been a bit more reserved. "I throw in the occasional comment about the school, and about trying to get him to come to BU," Strait said, "but it's not like I'm trying to push him or anything."


On the other side, Mitera is making an effort of his own on behalf of the Wolverines. "I've been giving him a hard time a little bit to figure it out," Mitera said. "He's a great kid, so I'm sure he'll make a good decision either way, but we'd like to have him come to Michigan.


Having played with him on the White Team at the camp, Mitera has seen up close just what Kane would bring to Yost Ice Arena. "He's one of those unbelievable playmakers," Mitera said. "He sees the ice so well, I think he's got eyes in the back of his head. He can hear you breathing, almost."


Kane has put those skills to good use at the camp, playing a key role in three victories for his team, and he's had fun doing so.  "The competition's unbelievable here," Kane said. "You're competing with 40 of the best players in the United States, so anytime that happens, you have to be grateful for what you have. It's just an honor to be here."


Of course, it hasn't been quiet for him. "The Michigan guys, the BU guys and the OHL major junior guys, everyone that goes which way says to go that way. It's good to be wanted."


As for which team will get what it wants, Kane says that it's "about 50/50" between major junior and college. "I'm probably going to have to make the decision in a couple of weeks," Kane said, "so hopefully I'll narrow it down."


Strait believes that it may already be "narrowed down." "He obviously knows where he's leaning towards," Strait said. "He probably knows where he wants to go, anyway, so he's just waiting for the right time to let it out."


If that is the case, though, Kane isn't tipping his hand at all, as he has plenty of good things to say about each of his possible destinations. "Michigan's close to my house," Kane said. "It's the same drive I've had for the past two years, about four or five hours, real easy. BU, some of my best friends go there - [Brett] Bennett, Strait, and [Luke] Popko - so it would be great to play with them again. The team I would be going to, their rink is unbelievable, their fans are unbelievable. We'll see what happens."


If Kane does go the college route, he wouldn't be able to join the Wolverines or Terriers until the second semester, which would present the additional challenge of adjusting to college hockey in mid-season. "I know a lot of the guys on both teams," Kane said, "so I'm sure they would help me through it."


For his part, Kessel has been as quiet off the ice as he is dynamic on it.  "Phil keeps to himself on that stuff a lot," incoming Minnesota freshman Mike Carman said.


He hasn't had much input from his hopeful teammates either. "They're happy for me whatever I choose," Kessel said.


Instead, the Madison native has focused on enjoying his time in Lake Placid. "It's been a fun time," Kessel said of the camp. "Anytime you get to play with players like this, it's always fun. I've played with a lot of these guys before, and some of them are good buddies and I've been able to hang out with them this week."


Indeed, "hanging out" has been the order of the day off the ice, not pressure. "We know we're not going to push him a whole lot," Carman said. "Obviously, we want him to stay, because he'd be a great help to the team. We'd love for him to stay, but he's going to make the best decision for him."


As for what that decision is, Kessel isn't entirely sure when it will come. "In the next couple of weeks, I'll figure it out," Kessel said, "and it'll be over."


As the weeks of summer vacation dwindle away, both Kessel's and Kane's decision-making processes will be over soon enough.  In the meantime, fans of the Gophers, Terriers and Wolverines can simply continue to do what they've done all along: watch and wait.



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