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Sunday, November 23, 2014

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Minor leaguers play as NHL lockout lingers

Tags: Sports
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Jacob Micflickier

WINNIPEG — Unless you’ve been on an interplanetary space flight, you’re well aware of the angst being experienced by National Hockey League fans who need a shinny fix in the worst way.

The best I can offer is an accounting of the whereabouts of the Jewish players who are still pursuing their lifelong dream as NHL draftees and are now honing their game in junior or minor-pro ranks, not to mention those in their late 20s or early 30s who won’t let go and are earning a few dollars in pro leagues in Germany, Austria, England, Switzerland and elsewhere.

Consider, for instance, never-say-die goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris, now 30. The Harvard University grad, who was a fifth-round draft pick by Philadelphia in 2002, has appeared in more than 260 minor league games with 14 different teams in five different countries.

He’s paid his dues all right, but don’t tell him he hasn’t got a shot. Last year in with the San Antonio Rampage, the Florida Panthers’ AHL farm team, he got into 34 games and boasted a goals against average (GAA) of 2.33, a save percentage of .921, with a won-lost mark of 19-13-1. He was credited with getting the Rampage into the playoffs. The Panthers recently signed the personable Grumet-Morris, whose wife, Rachel, is a surgeon in Houston, to a two-way deal.

Then there’s Winnipeg’s Jacob Micflickier, 28, who played last season with the Washington Capitals’ top farm team, the Hershey Bears. The former college star at the University of New Hampshire is a left-handed shooting forward. In only 57 games last year, he potted 21 goals and added 35 assists.

The previous year, the 5-8, 180-pounder played with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers and had 29 goals and 32 assists in 78 games. This season, he’s taken his game to Biel of the Swiss-A league, where in eight games, he’s scored three goals and added three helpers. Micflickier reportedly sees the move to Europe as a way to jump-start his NHL aspirations.

Another Winnipegger, Brendan Leipsic, a 5-9, 175-pound forward, is free of the lockout and is playing in the Western Hockey League with the Portland Winterhawks.

Last summer in the NHL Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators took the fast-skating, hard-hitting forward in the third round, 89th overall. The 18-year-old son of mother Kathleen, a gymnast who represented Canada at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and dad Greg, a high school running back in the mid-1980s, scored 28 goals and earned 30 assists in 65 games. He doubtless impressed the scouts with his strong two-way game while recording a plus-16, demonstrating hard work at both ends of the ice. Thus far, Brendan has scored three goals and added three assists in nine games.

The only other Jewish player taken in last year’s NHL entry draft was netminder Daniel Altshuller, who’s in his second straight year with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. The Carolina Hurricances took the 18-year-old in the third round at 69th overall. He fills a lot of net at close to 6-4 and 201 pounds. The Nepean, Ont.-native played in 30 games last year and for junior hockey had a respectable GAA of 3.22 and a save percentage of .900. So far in his second campaign in Oshawa, he has a 7-1 record and a 2.74 GAA to go with a .909 save percentage.   

Jewish defenceman Jonathon Blum, 23, will have a place to play with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators’ No. 1 farm team. The former Vancouver Giant of the Western Hockey League was selected by Nashville in the first round (23rd overall) in the 2007 NHL entry draft.

While he has played in 182 games with the Admirals since the 2008-09 season, the California-born skater, who is 6-1 and 190 pounds has played 56 games in the NHL and scored six goals along with nine assists. Primarily an offensive defenceman in junior, the parent club wants him to work on his defensive play. In the plus-minus department last season he was -14 in the NHL (33 games) and -11 (48 games) at Milwaukee.

In mid-September, Nashville signed Blum, a restricted free agent, to a one-year two-way deal. If he sticks in the NHL, he’ll be paid $650,000, and in Milwaukee he would earn $105,000. The contract also guarantees that if he remains in the AHL all season, he’ll get $300,000.

Ethan Werek, a 200-pound, 6-2 centre from Markham, Ont., will be back with the AHL’s Portland Pirates. Originally drafted by the Rangers in the second round, 47th overall, in 2009, the 21-year-old was traded in May 2011 to the Coyotes for Oscar Lindberg.

The one-time Kingston Frontenac of the OHL – and an all-star at the junior level as well as a winner of a gold medal in the world under-17 challenge in 2008 – scored 10 goals and added nine assists in 69 games with the Pirates last winter. There are a few other veteran Jewish players still trying to eke out a living overseas.

Centre Cory Pecker, 31, a sixth-round pick of the Flames in the 1999 NHL entry draft, is playing in the English League with the Sheffield Steelers. Since 2007-08, he has been playing primarily overseas in the Swiss-B league.

Former Barrie Colts’ star right-winger Michael Henrich, 32, a first-round draft pick at No. 13 by the Edmonton Oilers in 1998, hasn’t played in North America since he went to Europe after the 2005-06 season. The Thornhill, Ont., skater never made it to the NHL with Edmonton, but he did play 219 AHL games. He’s now playing with Dornburn in Austria after playing mostly in Germany and Italy.  

Lastly, goalie Josh Tordjman, 27, has taken his act to Asiago of the Italian league. The Montreal puck stopper played 176 games in the AHL with San Antonio and got into a pair of NHL games with the Coyotes. In seven games with Asiago, Tordjman has a 3.22 goals against average and a save percentage of .900.

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