The Will Sports Group

The RIG 28 for October

Oct 1

Oct 3

Getting To Know: Nail Yakupov
Connor Kissler
Colorado Avalanche

Forward Nail Yakupov is in his first season with the Colorado Avalanche after signing a one-year contract with the club on July 4. Selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Yakupov is seeking to establish a fresh start with the Avs. The 23-year-old right wing stands at 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds and spent last year with the St. Louis Blues after playing four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.

Originally from Nizhnekamsk, Russia, Yakupov is entering his sixth year playing in the NHL. Last season with the Blues, he had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 40 games after being acquired in a trade from Edmonton just days before the season began on Oct. 7.

After being the top pick by the Oilers in 2012, Yakupov recorded 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) as a rookie in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He has 120 points (53 goals, 67 assists) in his 292 NHL-game career.

When he became a free agent this past summer, Yakupov had offers from several other teams but eventually chose to further his professional career in Denver.

Yakupov chatted with about joining the club during training camp.

What intrigued you about signing with the Avalanche?

“There were other teams that had interest in me. I know my agent told me that other teams wanted me, but the Colorado Avalanche intrigued me the most. I have guys that I know here; I know Varly (Semyon Varlamov). It’s been a long time, but as soon as we see each other at team dinners, we’re like old friends again. I knew I was going to stay in the NHL, and I wanted to be in the NHL, especially if the Colorado Avalanche want me. So I just said yes right away.”

What are your goals for this upcoming campaign?

“You want to have more good games than bad games. I want to give everything that I can for this team, and I’ll be happy to wear this jersey and play every game. I’ll try to have fun, enjoy my game and enjoy my time because it was really tough the last few years to have that feeling. So I hope this team, this locker room and this organization will bring their best, and I’ll keep doing my best every day.”

Do you see this opportunity with the Avs as a chance to get your game back to how you used to play?

“Obviously yeah, but it’s not going to be right if I’m going to say I’m looking to have this many goals and assists. If we are going to be good as a team, everyone will have a chance to be involved. The more you’re going to do for the team, the better. I’m going to try and be as helpful as I can.”

Growing up in Russia, did you ever think that you would come to North America and play in the NHL?

“I never thought about it growing up. The reason I went to the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) was to try something new. It changed my life. I think at the time, I was really young when I first moved to North America to play in Canada. It was different and after the first year I moved here I never thought I would be in the NHL, but things just turned around and now I’m here.”

What did it mean to you personally to leave all your friends and family in Russia and transition to a new life in North America?

“I mean it’s our life. It’s our job, That’s what we do. We work our whole lives for this and spend pretty much every day playing hockey. The time flies, and you can play happy every day. At the end of the day when you get a break, you can go back home and spend time with your family.”

What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not playing hockey?

“With 82 games in seven months, there isn’t much time. I do some fun stuff in the summer at the end of the year, but right now I’m pretty much only focused on hockey.”

What was your favorite hockey memory growing up?

“I had some really good hockey memories growing up when I was in the junior leagues. I also had a really good time when I played a little in the KHL and then entering the NHL. Maybe my first NHL game because it was huge for me and I was really emotional. But I’ve done a lot of things, and I have a lot of good memories.”

If you didn’t have the opportunity to play hockey, what other career would like to pursue?

“Probably soccer. I love soccer. If the guys want to play soccer, I’ll play a little bit. But I think I’m better at hockey than soccer, for sure.”


Oct 6

Seguin goal vs Golden Knights

Oct 5

Jon Rosen

The relationship that the Kings development staff builds with its young players is well represented in the case of Kurtis MacDermid, a stalwart, rugged defender who is expected to make his NHL debut tonight.

A teammate of Connor McDavid’s with the OHL’s Erie Otters, MacDermid originally signed his entry-level contract in September, 2012, some five years before his tenure with the Los Angeles Kings was within grasp.

An undrafted defenseman, he’s the brother of former Bruin, Star and Flame Lane MacDermid and the son of Paul MacDermid, who played 690 games with the Whalers, Jets, Capitals and Nordiques. He grew up in hockey and understands the inner-workings of dressing room dynamics and the teachings that, combined with his own natural ability, have him strapping on shoulder pads and lacing up skates next to the likes of Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar.

“Nothing’s a foreign language to him,” said Sean O’Donnell, one of the members of the development staff who has lent his own expertise and playing experience as a guide to the 6-foot-5, 208-pound left-shot defenseman.

It’s a fitting partnership. In watching MacDermid either from the press boxes high above an arena’s ice sheet, or from the tables where hockey operations figures gather at Toyota Sports Center, there are the occasional gasps of “O’D!” when MacDermid asserts himself in rough-edged situations or positions himself well to take good routes in an attempt to separate the puck carrier from the puck.

Like O’Donnell, MacDermid has renowned hockey sense and the understanding of using not only his physicality, but also his size, long reach and positioning as a major asset.

“He’s awesome,” MacDermid said. “We worked a lot this summer, and that was pretty big. Similar player, and he played a long time. He was just teaching me those little tips and hints that you can only get through experience. I was really, really lucky and fortunate to be able to work with him and just be a sponge and take in as much information as possible.”

While O’Donnell is one comparable that has been used by a number of people in the organization, there was actually a much different player that the team recorded tapes of and sent to MacDermid over the summer. Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter wouldn’t be the first – or even 100th – player to draw a comparison to MacDermid, but the subtleties in Suter’s game – his positioning and ability to close on gaps and channel attacking forwards to the outside – is something that serves as a model of instruction for the way the team would like MacDermid to play.

That MacDermid is also “driven” – a term used by multiple people in the organization – and has tested at an “elite” level in the gym solidified his case for a roster spot when he was clearly among the bubble players entering camp.
“Kurtis has come a long way,” John Stevens said. “He’s always one of the leaders in terms of fitness. He does everything in his power to try and get better. Our goal for him is just to continue to become a better defender.”

MacDermid has been able to improve the pace with which he plays and reduce extraneous time in retrieving pucks and sending them up-ice to his forwards, impressions he has left on the development staff and hockey operations over the course of the past year. He’ll face a good challenge with a skilled Philadelphia Flyers team entering Staples Center for the Kings’ season opener.

“The development staff and coaching staff has been unbelievable,” he said. “They’ve given me a lot of things to use to get better, and I owe it all to them, too. They’ve helped me a lot the past few years, and I can’t say enough about them. They’ve gotten me here, so it’s pretty special to have that bond with some of those coaches that started off pretty far away, and I’m now making strides in the right direction, so I’ve just got to keep that going.”

Clearly his physicality has been his calling card, but there have been some moments in his rearview mirror that are difficult to re-watch. MacDermid was assessed an eight-game suspension for a check to the head on Max Domi while in the OHL, and a 12-game suspension for a check to the head of Matt Bailey during his rookie season with the AHL’s Ontario Reign. He’s also accustomed to sticking up for himself after his punishing open-ice hits, one of which came in the preseason opener at Staples Center against Vancouver when he stepped up to (cleanly) hit Ryan White, heavy conduct that unfortunately ended the Canucks forward’s preseason as he underwent concussion protocol.

But as he has developed, he has continued to understand the nuances of his heavy play and what he’s able to do with his body and wingspan. It’s not only his physicality, or his fighting, that has served as his path to the NHL. He wouldn’t be in this position today if he hadn’t made great strides in his ability to use his stick as an asset with a terrific reach, or to separate body from puck with less forceful means.

MacDermid said he doesn’t want to be “running all over the place looking for [a big hit], but if it happens to come, then just take that opportunity.”

His coach understands such nuances of defending.

“He’s got a real physical element to his game that we all love, but we know also in today’s game that you need to go play and defend, and I think that needs to be his game,” Stevens said. “He needs to be able to get back to pucks and move pucks quickly, which he’s done a good job of, and then he’s got to be able to defend with a good stick and close plays out and get plays stopped and get pucks moving. He’s got no problem keeping up. I think his pace continues to get better, and those are the things we’re looking to continue to get from him.”

There are understated elements in MacDermid’s game that go well beyond his fighting and capacity for hits that have the potential to shift momentum in close games. Such subtlety was also noticeable in his reaction when asked if he had seen his former teammate light up the Calgary Flames for three goals in his season debut.

Connor McDavid? “Yeah, pretty good player,” MacDermid said.

Kurtis MacDermid, on how he’d describe his skill set:
Just take care of my own end, be a real solid defender in my own end, make a real good first pass, and obviously, physicality – I bring that to the game, too. Just a real solid defender in my own end.

MacDermid, on whether it was tense being a bubble player with impending cuts:
It’s always on your mind, but I just put it in the back of my head, and I just tried to focus on the here and now. You can’t control that kind of stuff, so you’ve just got to control how you play and how hard you work. That’s my mentality, and whatever happens, so I’ll go from there.

MacDermid, on knowing when and how to step in and defend teammates:
Over the past year since the OHL and AHL, the past couple of years, I’ve played with a lot of good players, and I just want to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible out there and them knowing that I have their backs any time and nothing can bother them. Anytime someone gets in their face, I’m always ready to stick up for them. Anything like that – I take a lot of pride in that and just want to make sure they can do their thing out there and I’ll be able to do my thing out there for them.

MacDermid, on striving to improve at retrieving and moving pucks out of his zone:
Yeah, for sure, the whole organization, that’s a big part of it. To play at the next level, you’ve got to be able to make those plays. I’ve been working hard the past few years with all the coaches, the development staff on those things because those are things that are a big part of my game and I need to get better at it. It’s taken a lot of time and work and process into it, and I think it’s coming along pretty good so far.


On And Off Ice, Campbell’s Captaincy About Leading Roadrunners’ Youth
Alex Kinkopf
Tuscon Roadrunners

Leadership is essential.

For teams to work cohesively, certain names are needed to overlook the daily operations, actions, and spirits of the group to maintain a healthy, positive function.

Mike Van Ryn and his coaching staff named the Roadrunners’ leadership group for the 2017-18 season Friday afternoon, one day before the team’s first regular season game, in a class that includes five individuals.

Andrew Campbell will be the second captain and team history; forwards Mike Sislo, Michael Latta, and defensemen Dakota Mermis, Joel Hanley, will serves as alternate captains on a rotating basis.

Being a good model for the Roadrunners’ young core will be important, as the club’s opening night roster, with a median age of 23.08 years, chimes in as the second youngest in the American Hockey League behind only the Springfield Falcons.

Campbell brings a wealth of experience in this role, serving as a captain on two prior occasions during his AHL career with the Manchester Monarchs and Toronto Marlies.

“I think it’s definitely a special honor, something I’ve had the privilege to do already in my career,” Campbell said. “I have experience in [being a captain], and to come here to a new group of guys and to be able to receive that honor and get going here, I’m really looking forward to it.”

His leadership qualities are polished, and that’s certainly a positive.

“I like to lead by example on the ice, for sure,” he said. “I like to be one of the hardest working guys and do whatever it takes on the ice. I’m more of a guy who will pull guys aside one-on-one if they need a little talking to, if they’re struggling in an aspect and I feel that I can help them out in that area. In the room in between periods I like to be a vocal guy, making sure everyone’s ready, and go about it that way.”

Having reached out to the Roadrunners’ community relations staff on his second day in Tucson, Campbell is well educated on the importance of the team, its players and leaders, being visible and active members outside of the rink and away from the game.

“It’s huge,” he stressed in regard to community activation. “Every single player is a representative of the team here in Tucson and the Arizona organization. I think the more the older guys and the leaders do, the young guys can see that and they can follow in their footsteps. It’s just about trying to be a positive example and making sure you’re doing the right things for them to follow you with.”

Those who are pure, natural leaders often bring a balanced mindset and direction of earnestness and entertainment. For Campbell, that’s a focal point.

“I try to make sure that everyone is together and having a good time,” he noted. “I like to keep things pretty loose; I like to have a smile on my face, so I think that rubs off and people see that. When you get the group together and everyone is doing the same thing, it makes for a pretty healthy environment around the rink.”

Bringing 250 games of AHL experience into leading a bubbling, blossoming roster that’s in the midst of embracing change, Campbell looks to be the nucleus the Roadrunners’ exciting, energetic roster needs.

“It’s a very young team,” he said with a smile. “There are a lot of guys starting out their careers whether it’s their first, second, or third year. It’ll be a process, and we’re getting better every day. Everyone seems to get along, which is awesome. There are a lot of guys living in the same areas, in the same communities, so we spend a lot of time together, and we’re looking forward to getting tighter as we go here.”


Oct 7

Oct 8

Rampage season opener features the return of Agozzino
David Hinojosa

Happenstance brought Rampage left winger Andrew Agozzino back to the Alamo City this year.

After playing with the Chicago Wolves last season, Agozzino has returned after he signed a one-year, two-way contract with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, whose AHL affiliate is the Rampage.

Agozzino was in the starting lineup Saturday in the Rampage’s 2-1 season-opening victory against the Ontario Reign at AT&T Center.

“My time here was great,” Agozzino said before Saturday’s game. “I enjoyed playing for this organization and for the city.”

His first order of business was taking the ceremonial puck drop before the game. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact in the game. Agozzino, along with Rocco Grimaldi, were credited with assists on Samuel Blais’ goal at the 9:12 mark of the first period. Agozzino won the puck at the center line and fed Grimaldi along the board. Grimaldi crossed to Blais, who was crashing to the net.

Agozzino was a member of the Rampage two seasons ago before he signed with the St. Louis Blues, who was then affiliated with the Wolves. The Wolves are now affiliated with the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Agozzino never received a call-up to the Blues last season. Instead, he played 71 games with the Wolves and tallied 18 goals and 36 assists.

Agozzino’s return to San Antonio wasn’t by design. It just turned out that way.

In July, Agozzino signed with Colorado and participated in the Avalanche’s training camp before he was assigned to the Rampage.

Although he was hoping to stick with the big club, returning to a team that is familiar was comforting. In fact, four of his former Wolves teammates are with him in San Antonio this season.

“It’s good to be back with the guys,” Agozzino said. “I know a lot of them so that helps out a lot.”

During the summer, the Rampage signed a five-year affiliation agreement with the St. Louis Blues that’s set to begin in 2018-19. The Blues have already started sending players to San Antonio as part of that transition.

The biggest difference Agozzino has noticed from his previous stint with the Rampage is an upgrade in the team’s training facility. Coach Eric Veilleux, who is in his second season as the Rampage head coach, is also new to him. Outside of that, hockey is hockey and Agozzino was ready to get started before Saturday’s game.

“It’s been a grind in camp for the last month and a half,” Agozzino said. “It’s exciting to play real games.”

The last time Agozzino played real games for the Rampage, he recorded 12 goals and 17 assists in 41 games during the 2015-16 season.

Agozzino received a call-up to the Avalanche that season. He appeared in nine games and recorded two assists.

Now that he’s back in the Avalanche fold, he hopes for another chance to play at the NHL level. While he’s in San Antonio, he plans on doing what he can do show he’s ready.

“When you are in a position that I’m in,” Agozzino said, “you want to go all out game by game and play by play.”


Oct 9

Yakupov goal vs Bruins