The Will Sports Group

The RIG 28 for May

May 2

Andrew Campbell reflects on life in the Old Pueblo, franchise’s historic playoff run
Justin Spears
Arizona Daily Star

Tucson Roadrunners captain Andrew Campbell possibly has the Midas touch.

Campbell, or soupy as his teammates call him because his last name is a major soup brand, spent the first 10 years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings, and most recently the Toronto Maple Leafs where he served as the team captain for the AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies.

Last season, the Roadrunners finished with a 29-31 and placed seventh in the Pacific Division, which wasn’t even close to getting a sniff for a playoff spot. Ironically, the San Jose Barracuda team that Tucson beat 3-1 in the first round of playoffs this year won the division and lost in the western conference finals.

Campbell joined the team prior to the 2017-18 season and the 30-year-old was named captain and just like that, the Roadrunners morphed into the No. 1 seed in the western conference.

Campbell hails from Caledonia, Ontario in Canada, which as you can imagine, much different than Tucson, Arizona.

As the Roadrunners prepare to take on the Texas Stars in a best-of-seven series with Game One at Tucson Arena on Wednesday, the Star sat down with Campbell to hear about adjusting to life in the Old Pueblo and reflecting on the season. For the full audio version of the interview with Campbell, click here.

This is your 10th season playing professional hockey and you’ve managed to compete in the playoffs eight times, how does this season differ from the others?

AC: “I’ve been fortunate enough to play on some very good teams over the course of my career. This is my first time in the western conference and in this hot climate out here so it’s exciting. We have a great, young team, it’s pretty exciting for the organization, because this organization hasn’t had much success especially around playoff time over the last 10-15-20 years so it’s pretty exciting right now.”

What’s your favorite aspect of Tucson?

AC: “It’s got to be the weather. It’s so nice. I laugh at the days throughout the winter with my family back in Ontario going through ice storms, snow storms and cold weather, meanwhile we’re lounging by the pool and enjoying the sun so it’s pretty great.”

The Roadrunners struggled in the first season in Tucson, but picked up steam this year, what’s been the recipe?

AC: “We’re just a tight-knit group. There’s no egos, there’s no bad attitudes, there’s no lone wolf, we’re a team from guy one through guy 26 or 27 or however many guys we have here right now. We just bought into the whole team aspect of playing hockey and we love going out there and competing with each other night in and night out. We have fun at the rink, away from the rink. We just like being around each other and we genuinely like each other. It’s a pretty special feeling when you get a group like that.”

With your veteran status, what advice do you give players such as 21-year-old Dylan Strome?

AC: “You just need to keep in mind how young they are and remember how you were when you were in their shoes. You try to push them without being too hard on them and not a good guy so to say, so you find that fine line and try to help them whether it’s at the rink or away from the rink. You just give any advice that you have and let them know that you’re accessible and if they have questions, ask. I help them out any sort of way that I can.”

In Texas, football resembles a religion and is very important to the community, is hockey the same way in Ontario?

AC: “It is especially in the (greater Toronto area) and where I’m from when I was a kid, it was always hockey throughout the winter and in the summer you were playing street hockey with your buddies. Everything was about hockey. You’d watch it on Saturday nights and your parents would let you stay up and watch a game. Pretty much everyone plays. It’s a livelihood for sure.”

Growing up in Ontario, did you ever think you’d reach the professional hockey player status?

AC: “Absolutely. It’s such a small number of people that get to make (hockey) a livelihood and being able to play the game for a living. When you were you a kid, you played the game because you love the game and being around your buddies. Being 30 years old and still playing, making a life out of it and getting to live in a great place like Tucson while I’m doing it is pretty neat.”

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May 3

May 5

Capitals Sign Ilya Samsonov
Press Release

The Washington Capitals have signed goaltender Ilya Samsonov to a three-year entry-level contract beginning in the 2018-19 season, senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today. Samsonov’s contract will carry an average annual value of $925,000.

The Capitals selected Samsonov in the first round, 22nd-overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Samsonov, 21, recorded a 12-9-1 record with a 2.31 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in 26 regular season games and a 1-2 record with a 2.30 goals against average and a .913 save percentage in five playoff games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this season. The Magnitogorsk, Russia, native also represented Russia in two international games, recording a 0.99 goals against average and a .956 save percentage.

The 6’3″, 205-pound goaltender played in 27 games for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the 2016-17 season, finishing with a 15-3-5 record, a 2.13 goals against average and a .936 save percentage, twice earning KHL Rookie of the Week honors. Samsonov also appeared in the 2017 World Junior Championship with Russia and recorded a 2.11 goals against average and a .930 save percentage in six games, leading Russia to a bronze medal and earning World Junior All Star Team honors. Samsonov appeared in 19 games for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the 2015-16 season, recording a 2.04 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. Additionally, Samsonov played in six playoff games, helping Metallurg win the Gagarin Cup. Samsonov also won a silver medal at the World Junior Championship, appearing in two games for Russia with a 1.00 goals against average and a .956 save percentage. In 87 career KHL games, Samsonov posted a 33-16-9 record with a 2.20 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and seven shutouts.

Internationally, Samsonov represented Russia at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge, posting a 2-1-0 record, a 1.67 goals-against average and .952 save percentage at the tournament. He recorded a 46-save shutout in the bronze-medal game to lead Russia to a 2-0 win over Canada East. Samsonov also represented Russia at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and recorded two wins and a .942 save percentage to earn top goaltender honors at the 2015 Under-18 Five Nations tournament.

Samsonov is scheduled to attend the 2018 Capitals Development Camp in June at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

May 10

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May 23

Friedman hitting his stride as Phantoms return home for Game 3
Bill Meltzer
NHL.com

Speedy, feisty and brimming with two-way self-confidence, Mark Friedman was a standout in camp for the Flyers and Phantoms. Spending several weeks at practice with the Phantoms late last season after turning pro following his junior year at Bowling Green University helped him grasp the basics of the Lehigh Valley system.

During a bag-skate drill in camp, Friedman gained a full lap lead ahead of much of the field. He starred in the Rookies’ Game at the Wells Fargo Center against the New York Islanders’ prospects and made a solid impression overall before he was assigned to the Phantoms.

Once the 2017-18 AHL regular season began, however, Friedman went through the normal ups and downs that most rookie defensemen experience. Dressing in 12 of the Phantoms first 13 games of the season, Friedman posted two assists and was minus-10 at even strength.

At the time, Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said that one of Friedman’s biggest adjustment would be to better harness his speed defensively, especially when skating forward. Taking faster routes would help him break up plays sooner, avoid getting out of position and get to pucks first rather than getting into 50-50 battles. When he had the puck on his stick early in the season, Friedman was also sometimes guilty of trying to do a little too much.

“At the beginning of the year, the first 30 games or so, I was just kind of chasing the game around in all zones,” Friedman said to the Morning Call. “The game was coming just a little fast.”

After a roller coaster first half of the season, things started to click for Friedman. While there were some bumps in the road that followed, Friedman was a plus-five and posted 14 points (2g-12a) over his final 53 games in the regular season.

Late in the regular season, Friedman struck a good balance between being aggressive offensively – he chipped in a goal and four assists, along with 19 shots on goal, in the final 10 games – while also playing effectively without the puck.

The improvements have carried over into the postseason. Through his first 11 games, Friedman is plus-three at even strength on the Phantoms’ second defense pairing and has contributed power play and even strength goals.

In Game 2 of the team’s current Eastern Conference Final series against the Toronto Marlies, Friedman opening the scoring as he joined the rush, took a cross-ice feed from partner T.J. Brennan and, from the right circle between the faceoff dot and hash marks, sniped a shot past Marlies goaltender Garret Sparks.

According to Gordon, much of the improvement Friedman showed in the second half was simply a matter of fine-tuning the details that gave the rookie some problems before the Christmas break: it was a matter of adjustment, not talent.

“If you’re not taking advantage of your skating by playing the rink inside the rink, meaning staying inside the dots or closing your gap or holding your gap, all of a sudden your skating gets negated and that’s one of the areas that he’s been a lot better at, as far as not just skating around the full board-to-board ice surface. Or when the puck is in the offensive zone, trailing the play by a full zone or backing up a full zone before you have to even leave the blue line in the offensive zone,” Gordon said to the Morning Call.

By nature, Friedman is highly competitive and holds high expectations for himself. He takes a lot of pride in his game and strives to make his mark as a two-way defenseman. A mobile puck-mover with good offensive instincts and above-average first-pass ability, the Flyers drafted Friedman out of the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks with the 86th overall pick of the 2014 draft. He was signed to an NHL entry-level contract on March 21, 2017 and dressed in one late season AHL game with the Phantoms.

With each year of collegiate seasoning, Friedman raised his stock. His play without the puck, once the primary question mark about his game, improved considerably before turning pro. He then had to pick up from there as a rookie this season with the Phantoms.

Although the 5-foot-10, 190-pound blueliner is far from the biggest player on the ice, he is a deceptively strong young man who can bench press 300 pounds. He is unafraid to take a hit to make a play and he competes tenaciously.

“I think my skating, my strength and my competitiveness in all situations are my biggest assets,” Friedman said during training camp.

Friedman has added about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle since his NHL Draft year. The Toronto native has never been not shy about mixing it up with bigger forwards, as he has always played with some sandpaper to his game. As a freshman, he racked up 75 penalty minutes in 39 games. Playing with more discipline but no less competitiveness, Friedman cut his PIMs to 40 as a sophomore and 26 this season as a junior.

With the Phantoms this season, Friedman took just 18 penalty minutes. When challenged physically, however, the rookie did not back down.

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After Busy Year, Finnish Defenseman Miro Heiskanen Eyeing NHL
The Associated Press

It has been a busy year for Miro Heiskanen and it’s not over yet.

The talented defenceman opened up his year at the junior world championship in Buffalo before becoming a mainstay on the Finnish men’s national team at the next two top tournaments: the Pyeongchang Olympics and the ongoing world championship.

In that time the 18-year-old has established himself as a reliable defenceman who has passed the test against top NHL talents at the tournament in Denmark.

NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid can attest.

On Saturday, Finland upset star-studded Canada 5-1, and Heiskanen was one of the stars on ice.

He played 18:25 but his best moment came in the second period when Canada was trailing 3-1 and desperately pressing to score. At one point, McDavid had just an empty net in front of him. Goaltender Harri Sateri was still at the far post and McDavid’s shot from the left circle was heading for back of the net.

But Heiskanen came seemingly out of no where to Finland’s rescue, tipping the puck to safety.

‘It was a good save’

“It was almost in the net but I hit the puck,” Heiskanen said. “It was a good save.”

When the two met in the third period, the result was a Mcdavid double-minor for high sticking, effectively ending Canada’s chances of a comeback.

Finland captain Mikael Granlund praised Heiskanen.

“I have seen him at the games here and nothing really surprises me about him,” Granlund said. “The way he skates, the way he handles the puck and sees the ice. He can play these games. He’s been really, really good this tournament. He’s got a great career ahead of him.”

The obvious next step is the NHL.

The Dallas Stars picked him with the third overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft and signed him to a three-year entry level contract. He spent last season on loan with IFK Helsinki.

He finished with 23 points including 11 goals in the regular season and added three goals and nine points in the playoffs.

He said the transition has not been a problem.

“It was tough sometimes but mostly quite easy because I play with smarter players. Of course, the play is faster than at the junior category and I face stronger guys,” he said.

The Denmark tournament proved he is ready to stop the best.

“It’s nice to face those guys and see where I am,” Heiskanen said. “It’s a good test to play them, maybe I will play them next year in the NHL. I want to play there as soon as possible, that’s my goal.”

There’s no doubt that he has the skills to become a highly-effective defenceman. But he knows he still has homework to do.

“I have to practice hard this summer and get little bit stronger,” he said.

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