Minors start no major issue for Adam

Robin
Robin Short
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Two years after he was the American Hockey League’s best rookie, 12 months after bolting from the starting gate with a dozen points in 11 NHL games, Luke Adam figures to be punching his ticket back to the minors.

Which, in this case, is not such a bad thing.

Adam, now 22, is in the final year of his entry level contract with the Buffalo Sabres, which means should the NHL owners lock out their players next week — which, by all accounts, is looking more and more like a given — Adam would be sent to the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

Adam wound up last season with the Amerks, following a topsy-turvy opening half to the year in Buffalo, one in which he registered 14 points in 20 games, but then hit hard times in early December, scoring but once in his next 25 starts.

His ice time went from anywhere between 13 and 17 minutes a game to 10 or so. He was banished to the press box as a healthy scratch and eventually dispatched to Rochester, an hour or so east of Buffalo, across Interstate 90.

But that was then and this is now, and in this instance, Adam couldn’t be happier if he starts the year in the American league.

“No one wants a lockout,” he saying this week, “not the players, not the owners, not the fans. It’s not good for anyone.

“There’s 18 of us here in Buffalo skating, and we’re all trying to make it business as usual. We’re still hoping something will get figured out. But if not, playing in the AHL won’t be so bad.”

No one knows for certain — well, maybe the NHL executives do, but they’re not saying — who will be permitted and not permitted to play in the minors to start the season. What is a given are those players signed to minor-league deals, two-way contracts and those, like Adam, on entry level deals.

Which means the big centre from Kilbride will have a leg up on the Sabres veterans who will be idle for however long the dispute lasts.

“It’s definitely an advantage to play, and if the season is locked out for a couple of weeks or a month or two months, I’ll be playing which means when the (NHL) season turns around, I’m that much more ready.

“If there’s no NHL, the AHL is probably the next best league in the world. And there will be a lot of guys with NHL experience in the league so really, there’s no better place to get ready for the NHL than the American league.”

Last season, Rochester was just about the last place Adam hoped to be.

And given his quick start, which brought about whispers of rookie of the year, the likelihood of another trip to the minors, one season after top freshman honors while toiling for the Portland Pirates, seemed remote.

But professional hockey teams go through long campaigns, dotted with hot streaks and slumps, bumps and bruises, aches and pains, lots of ice time and reduced minutes.

“Yes, for sure,” he replied when asked if he was ready for full-time NHL employment last year. “I started well, we had 10 wins in our first 15 games and then it happened.

“Everyone gets in slumps here and there, and it’s hard to break out of them. But by then I wasn’t playing too much, and the team started to lose games and when a team loses games, there are shakeups.

“It wasn’t a good situation.”

Even in Rochester, Adam didn’t exactly set the world on fire, scoring only four goals in 27 games.

But when asked by Sabres GM Darcy Regier during exit meetings to comment on his time with the Amerks, Adam felt he played well.

“He said I became a lot better player and he saw a lot of good things in my game towards the end of the season and playoffs,” Adam said of Regier.

“That was good to hear.”

Adam worked out hard in the off-season with local fitness guru Bob Thompson, and he also skated in a league at Jack Byrne Arena, featuring fellow Newfoundland pros, major junior and junior A players, and local senior hockey guys.

“I was getting opportunities (last season),” he said. “The puck just wasn’t going in. But I’m not even focused on that now, not worried about that at all.

“That was last year. Now I’m excited for the new year.”

And if it’s in the AHL, that’s just fine, too.

•••••

Nathan Noel isn’t the only Newfoundland hockey player making waves in Minnesota.

Sarah Davis, the province’s best female hockey player (and maybe Newfoundland’s most underrated athlete), is one of 40 players named to Canada’s national women’s team tryout roster.

The 40 will gather in Calgary Sept. 22-30 for scrimmages and intrasquad games. Following season-long evaluations, the team that will represent Canada at the 2013 world women’s hockey championship in Ottawa next April will be selected along with the players who will be centralized with the national team in Calgary for the 2013-14 season, leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Davis is entering her junior (third) year at the University of Minnesota after helping the Gophers win the NCAA women’s hockey title last season. She was sixth on Minnesota scoring, with 12 goals and 22 assists.

The 20-year-old product of Paradise has national team experience, having played for the Canadian under-18 and under-22 teams.

And speaking of Noel, a 15-year-old prospect from St. John’s, he’s hoping to hook on with Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school team in Faribault, Minn., after finishing third in scoring on the school’s bantam squad last season (45 goals, 59 assists in 56 games).

Noel is being heralded as one of those rare, special players, perhaps the best prospect to come along in Newfoundland since Daniel Cleary.

He’s already being touted as a No. 1 or 2 overall pick in next year’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft and is drawing plenty of attention from NCAA schools, a couple of them hockey powers.

Noel is a Grade 10 and few players in that grade make the leap from bantam to prep school. Among those who did are Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews and Jack Johnson.

Nathan McKinnon, the Halifax Mooseheads’ young superstar and a sure-fire first-round NHL draft pick next year (probably top five), did not make Shattuck’s prep school team as a Grade 10.

If Noel is unsuccessful, he will probably suit up with Shattuck’s under-16 team.

•••••

In the 27 years I’ve been in the business, I’ve come to learn folks read what they want to read, hear what they want to hear and understand what they want to understand.

Last week, in fact, I praised today’s Newfoundland softball players. “Highly-conditioned” and "professional” I believe were the adjectives used.

But to question the number of players now playing fastpitch across the country is entirely plausible. Eight Newfoundlanders in the Canadian team pool? Not a sport across the country can boast such national team participation from this little province — not basketball, or soccer, or baseball, or hockey, or figure skating, or gymnastics, or tennis, or curling, or ...

It is a perfectly legitimate question.

As for the rather amusing 10-team “national” championship, with three teams from Newfoundland, two from New Brunswick and one each from Nova Scotia and P.E.I., well, if someone from softball can acknowledge they are not but a little concerned for the long-term future of their game, they are oblivious to the obvious.

This is not an attack on softball, but rather those who govern the game. What Stephen Mullaley did in Fredericton, N.B. was more than impressive. Jason Hill is as good as any amateur athlete in the province. Shane Boland may be the province’s best two-sport athlete. Colin Abbott is a lock for the provincial Sports Hall of Fame.

But for me to break out the pom-poms and herald Newfoundland as kings of the hill, national champs in a sport played by one and all across the land, well, that’s not on.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.

He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: NHL, American Hockey League, Buffalo Sabres Portland Pirates NCAA University of Minnesota Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

Geographic location: Buffalo, Rochester, Newfoundland Canada Calgary Ottawa Sochi Minnesota Faribault, Minn. New Brunswick Nova Scotia Fredericton

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