On a sweltering Tuesday afternoon in Abbotsford, there weren’t many cooler places to be than the hockey rink at Matsqui Rec Centre.
Inside, a handful of local pros pulled on their gear for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign ended, and hit the ice for the first off-season training session with local coaches Brad Bowen and Andy Neilsen.
For several, the ink is still drying on fresh NHL contracts – most notable of those having been inked by defenceman Kyle Cumiskey, who is returning to North America after two seasons in Sweden.
Back in 2010, Cumiskey had every reason to feel he’d arrived as a bona fide NHLer – the swift-skating blueliner had posted 20 points in 61 games the previous season with the Colorado Avalanche, and represented Canada at the World Championships in Germany.
But the following year, Cumiskey was limited to 18 games with Colorado after sustaining a concussion, and he struggled with the symptoms for the better part of the next two seasons, which included a trade to the Anaheim Ducks organization in October 2011.
It wasn’t until 2012, when he signed with Modo – the famous Swedish Elite League club which produced the likes of Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, and Daniel and Henrik Sedin – that he started to feel right.
And after two productive seasons with Modo, the 27-year-old has his foot in the door in North America once again, having landed a one-year, two-way contract from the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks. The deal pays him $600,000 if he’s in the NHL (just $50,000 more than the league minimum), but if he’s assigned to the AHL, he’ll make $400,000 – an uncommonly high AHL salary which speaks to how highly Chicago coveted him.
“I definitely wanted to come back, but I didn’t want to come back on not a great offer, and to a team that didn’t really show a lot of interest in me,” Cumiskey said. “But the Blackhawks were interested, and I thought I’d give it one more shot and see what happens.
“It’s tough when you have a successful year in the NHL and then you’re not back there for a while. It’s been a little frustrating in that sense, but I’m excited to try and make it back there and play like I did a few years ago.”
VAN DER GULIK JOINS DEFENDING CHAMPS
After four years in the Colorado Avalanche system, fellow Abbotsford native David Van der Gulik has been lured away by the L.A. Kings.
The 31-year-old winger signed a one-year, two-way contract ($550,000 NHL, $140,000 AHL) and said it’s nice to be wanted by the reigning Stanley Cup champs.
“It’s always fun winning and being in a successful situation, and that was a big factor in the decision,” he said.
“I know I can help an organization and just be a good depth guy for them. Hopefully with a bit of luck and hard work, I can get a chance up there in L.A.”
Van der Gulik got into just 35 games last season (33 with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, two with the Avalanche) due to a litany of injuries – knee surgery, a broken foot, and a concussion – but is back to full health now.
Van der Gulik was a member of the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat during their inaugural 2009-10 season, and wore an old Heat practice jersey at Tuesday’s skate. He expressed disappointment that the franchise has moved to Glens Falls, N.Y.
“I was actually looking to come back and play in Abbotsford again,” he said. “I really liked playing at home, and I’m optimistic that maybe another team will come here.
“I know there’s talk of a West Coast division . . . and maybe that opens up the door for the Canucks (AHL) team in Abbotsford or something like that. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open if that does happen, because that’s something I’d be really interested in.”
GRANT AIMS TO STICK WITH SENS
Heading into his fourth pro season, Derek Grant knows it’s a pivotal one for him.
The 24-year-old centre suited up for a career-high 20 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2013-14, and he’s aiming to be in the NHL on a more permanent basis this year.
He couldn’t find himself in a much better situation as the Senators are squarely in rebuilding mode, having recently traded face-of-the-franchise centre Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars.
“Obviously we’re going to miss him – he was our leader, and a great guy and a great player,” said Grant, who recently signed a new one-year, two-way deal ($700,000/$85,000).
“Apparently there’s (roster) spots to be had, and there’s a bunch of guys that want them. I’ve got to go in and have a good camp, and show them that I should be there.”
Grant has fashioned a reputation as a lethal penalty-killer at the AHL level with the Binghamton Senators – his eight shorthanded goals over the past two seasons were the most in the league during that span.
“It’s mostly offensive threats out there on the power play for the other team, and I try to take advantage of them getting extra-aggressive,” he analyzed. “I’ve kind of grown into the role, and I enjoy doing it.”