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Craig Eagles

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Craig Eagles majored in Kinesiology and Education the University of New Brunswick. He once was head coach of the Moncton Purple Knights men’s AAA hockey program for four seasons, and head coach of the women’s program for another. He then made the jump to Junior “A” hockey as a video and practice coach. He returned to Moncton’s minor hockey level where he won a Provincial Championship and the Competitive Coach of the Year award in 2012. Last December, Craig joined the QMJHL Central Scouting Agency as a regional scout for New Brunswick. On top of being a High School teacher, Eagles has been broadcasting hockey on local radio stations since 2009 and has been a colour analyst for the QMJHL for the past three seasons. He started the Co Coaches Corner Blog in 2012-2013 and has been writing about the game ever since.

 


 

A Road Less Travelled

by Craig Eagles – December 14, 2017

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Drake Batherson has taken the road less travelled to accomplish his dreams in the game of hockey. His journey has been unconventional to say the least, but the nineteen-year old certainly has no regrets.

“It was a longer journey to the QMJHL for me compared to other players,” said the Fort Wayne, Indiana, product. “Being passed over in the Q draft [in] my first year eligible was tough, but I knew my time would come soon enough.”

Batherson has fully accepted and embraced his non-linear path in the game. “Playing another year of Midget at sixteen was great for my development,” he said. “I ended up getting drafted after that season, and finally got to attend my first QMJHL camp at seventeen.”

Batherson was selected in the 6th round, 97th overall, by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2015. But his dream to play in the QMJHL was put on hold yet again when he didn’t make the Screaming Eagles out of camp.

“I had a strong camp but got cut late, and obviously was very disappointed,” he remembers. “But I moved on and had another year to develop, and got faster and stronger.”

At 18, Batherson was ready to leave his mark on the QMJHL. The late-bloomer had a dominant performance in 2016-17, amassing 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points in the 61 games he played with the Screaming Eagles.

And Batherson’s body of work didn’t go unnoticed by NHL scouts, especially Ottawa Senators Chief Amateur Scout, Trent Mann.

“Drake worked extremely hard last [season] and progressed very quickly. He gained confidence early [on] and ran with it,” Mann said. “The play is never dead with Drake, something happens almost every shift. He possesses exceptional puck skills, great vision and offensive sense. Drake also shoots the puck well, so he can hurt you in a number of different ways,” Mann explained.

And Batherson’s ability to play the prototypical power forward style of game contributed to one of the top lines in the QMJHL a season ago. “Giovanni Fiore, Massimo Carozza and Drake did most of the scoring last year for the Screaming Eagles. They seemed to have complemented each other very well,” added Mann.

The Ottawa Senators ended liking Batherson’s play enough to warrant selecting him in the 4th round, 121st overall, in last June’s NHL Entry Draft.

“It was truly a dream come true to be drafted to the NHL and so surreal when it happened,” Batherson said. “Having my family there with me was amazing. They have done so much for me and my hockey career, I can’t thank them enough!”

Drake is quick to point to his father as a beacon of knowledge when it comes to the game of hockey and life. “My father has definitely been the biggest help to me from day one. Everything I learned growing up was from him,” said the Senators prospect.

It’s no coincidence Batherson’s father, Norm, also played professionally for fourteen years. “Anytime my dad wasn’t playing or on the road, he would bring me on the ice and just help me work on my game,” Batherson remembers.

Hard work and dedication is imprinted in Drake’s DNA, and that certainly paid off this off-season. “When I saw him in August at the NHL Rookie Tournament, I noticed the skill level,” Mann said.  “[I] then double-checked to see if it was the same kid as he was significantly bigger than the year before,” Mann said.

“I worked out at Pro Edge Sports Conditioning and they were really beneficial on my strength and speed improvements on and off the ice,” explained Batherson. “Jill Plandowski helped my skating, while Darrell Plandowski helped me with my skill work.”

After a strong Development Camp and Rookie Tournament, the Senators’ organization felt there was no reason to wait before signing Batherson. “I would be surprised if he isn’t in Belleville next year, with our American Hockey League affiliate,” said Mann.

“With a good finish [to this season] and another strong summer, he could have a real impact at that level next year,” Mann went on to add. “Obviously some things need to happen before, but the potential is there.”

As for Batherson, he is well aware of what it’ll take for him to play hockey professionally. “I’m trying to develop and improve all aspects of my game this season. I want to be a consistent player every night,” he explained.

Batherson’s story of perseverance and dedication to his craft is truly remarkable.

“My advice to young kids being passed over, or being cut from teams, is just to keep chasing your dreams. Your time will come,” he says. “I knew I had it in me to make it to the next level, I just had to keep working and developing my game.”

 



Moving Forward

by Craig Eagles – November 30, 2017

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When Luke Green made the decision to move on from the Saint John Sea Dogs organization, he truly believed it was the right move for his career.

The Bedford, N.S., product wanted to take a different path in the QMJHL, even if it meant leaving behind his twin brother Matt, and a team destined for a President Cup. The highly skilled rearguard was traded from the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Sherbrooke Phoenix during the 2016 season.

The gifted offensive defencemen had flourished in the Port City, racking up 77 points through his first two seasons with the Sea Dogs.

“Deals of this magnitude, when you are talking about a former first overall pick and a player of Luke’s status, take months to consummate,” said Sea Dogs GM and President, Trevor Georgie.

“Trading Luke allowed us to accumulate assets to make other moves we felt [were] necessary to compete for a Memorial Cup. Sherbrooke’s first round selection in 2018 was a key piece to our acquisition of Simon Bourque,” he pointed out.

“The 2018 second round selection was a component of our trade to bring in Julien Gauthier for our President Cup run. And the final second round selection in 2020 is still in our possession,” Georgie added.

Considering the Sea Dogs depth on defence, along with Thomas Chabot’s ascension to the role of a number one defenceman, Green’s time on ice took a hit in 2016-2017. He felt a change of scenery would help his overall progression as a player. “The decision was difficult, but it was the right move for my hockey career,” said Green.

Georgie still remembers the phone call he made to the talented defenceman, informing him of the trade. “I like Luke a lot, obviously he has some incredible gifts. He was calm, polite, thankful for the opportunity, and optimistic about what was next,” remembered Georgie.

“He was looking forward to a fresh start with Sherbrooke,” said Georgie. “I am disappointed for him, and disappointed for Jocelyn [Thibault] that he was injured at [the] Winnipeg [Jets’] camp this year. I look forward to him being back in action soon.”

The Phoenix missed the playoffs a season ago and for the first time in Green’s QMJHL career, he wasn’t playing in the post-season. Instead, he ended up watching his former club win it all.

“I was excited for them to win the President Cup, the players earned it,” Green said.

Despite not having won a league championship, the blueliner’s strong play over his first two seasons in Saint John didn’t go unnoticed. As a matter of fact, the Winnipeg Jets selected Green in the 3rd round, 79th overall, of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

“Getting drafted was very exciting,” said Green. “I knew I just became a part of one of the best organizations and fan bases in hockey.”

Green was signed to an amateur tryout agreement with Winnipeg’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose last March. And with the Phoenix held out of the playoffs, Green got to enjoy his first taste of professional hockey.

“It was an amazing experience, it was so much fun,” said Green. “It helped my game tremendously to see what it’s like at the pro level.”

Green entered the off-season with a new outlook on his career and was looking forward to having a massive impact with the Phoenix. “This was the best summer I had ever had in terms of training. I was in the best shape of my life before getting injured.”

The nineteen-year-old dislocated his shoulder while attending the Jets’ training camp in September.  The injury required surgery, and nearly 20 weeks of recovery.

“I think the training that I did put in this summer has enhanced the quality of my recovery and expected timeline,” explained Green. “My rehab is going very smoothly so far, I don’t want to put dates out there for my return, but I can say that I’m on the [right] track.”

“Luke has worked tremendously hard to get back as soon as possible,” added Phoenix GM, Jocelyn Thibault. “If everything keeps going the way it has been, Luke should be back playing sooner than expected.”

At the time, the idea of missing half of the 2017-2018 QMJHL season was obviously extremely disappointing for Green.  But his smile quickly came back when, a few days after his injury, the Jets officially signed him to a three-year entry-level contract.

For now though, Green is anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get back on the ice. But he understands and accepts the rehabilitation process.

“I’m going to begin skating in two weeks, but I have been in the gym almost every day, building and maintaining my strength and conditioning,” explained the Jets prospect. “This is a big year for myself and the Phoenix [and] I want to help the team make a long run.”

Green isn’t shy when sharing his future plans and is trying to move forward from the injury that has kept him away from the game he loves.

“My goal is to play pro next year,” he admits. “Sure, the injury was frustrating. But it is part of the game and I’m focused on coming back even better.”

“Luke is a big part of our team and defensive core,” said Thibault.  “His loss has been important for us, to say the least. He can log a lot of playing time because of his skating ability, stamina and overall talent and we sure look forward to having him back.”

Sherbrooke currently sits 9th overall in the QMJHL standings with 31 pts through 28 games.  Green’s return would definitely bolster the team’s overall performance, and could propel the Phoenix into the upper echelon of the league.



At Home Behind the Bench

by Craig Eagles – November 16, 2017

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Darren Rumble is at home behind the bench. Most would say he’s a natural.

The charismatic bench boss from Barrie, Ontario is entering his fifth season at the helm of the Moncton Wildcats and has become one of the most respected coaches across the QMJHL.

In many ways, Rumble was a “marked man” upon his arrival to the Hub City five years ago. He would ultimately encounter the ever-present pressure to win, coupled with the normal high expectations of being the new coach in town.

With arguably the most passionate owner and fan base in the league, the pressure to produce a winner upon his arrival had to be daunting for the former Stanley Cup Champion.

“Any coach will always tell you there’s pressure, it’s a volatile way to make a living. But at the end of the day, we do it because we love it,” he explained.

Rumble’s enthusiastic style and passion for the game is infectious and it is clear that the former NHLer and American Hockey League Head Coach has brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the QMJHL.

“Darren is a technical expert when it comes to the game,” said Wildcats Director of Hockey Operations, Roger Shannon.

Rumble led the Wildcats to back-to-back QMJHL semi final appearances in 2015 and 2016, only to endure junior hockey’s dreaded cycle a season later when the Wildcats decided to rebuild.

Rumble has since picked up the pieces of the rebuilding Wildcats and now has his squad playing inspired hockey; it currently sits 3rd overall in QMJHL standings with 28 points through 22 games.

When he faced the adversity of a season ago, Rumble continued to teach, reinforce and develop the Wildcats youthful core.

“Darren handled the rebuilding process well,” said Shannon. “It was obviously difficult to win games, but I think his positive attitude and ability to keep the spirits up was probably more important than any piece of the start of the rebuild.”

“Rums handled last season very professionally,” said Wildcats sniper Jeremy McKenna.  “He always brought a positive attitude to the rink, and really focused on helping each guy get a little better every day.”

“Darren focuses on playing the game the right way, [by] making smart plays in both ends of the ice, and I think that’s how he helped me grow as a player,” added McKenna.

A fierce competitor in his playing days, Rumble brings the same passion, character and honesty to the role of head coach. “I think the rebuild has increased my inner drive and compete level,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m just so motivated to do well this year.”

“We saw some good development in young players that we’ve moved forward with, they have all taken a huge step,” he explained. “And we have brought in some new young guys that are really high-end, and mixed in some good free agents.”

“The entire group is trending up and should be even stronger next year, which is quite exciting with the prospects of moving into a new building,” Rumble said.

On most nights, Rumble can be seen travelling up and down the bench intensely watching over and motivating his team. Very few coaches in the QMJHL are as engaged emotionally and fully invested as Darren Rumble.

Rumble’s attention to detail, intensity and trust in his players has built a team-first mentality in Moncton. His hands-on approach and defence-first system hold players accountable in all three zones.

His transparent coaching style and “in-game” teaching set him apart from other coaches across the league, and would translate well to a possible return to the professional coaching ranks.

Rumble’s talents behind the bench haven’t gone unnoticed either. Hockey Canada named named him as Head Coach of Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team for the 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship.

He was also an assistant coach for Team Canada’s Under-18 representatives at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, where he won a gold medal in 2015 and renewed his spot behind the bench for the 2016 tournament.

And Rumble’s international coaching experience doesn’t end there. He won a bronze medal at the 2013 IIHF World Championship Division II as an assistant coach with none other than Team Iceland.

With the past and current success of the Wildcats organization, it’s only a matter of time before Rumble finds himself a new home behind an NHL bench.  Nevertheless, his focus remains fixed on his current home.

“I’m focused on the Moncton Wildcats short term and long term. I’m extremely motivated this year [with] what we decided to do last year with the rebuild,” he said.  “That furthermore enhanced my compete and inner drive. I’m just so motivated to do well this year.”

Rumble returns to familiar surroundings tonight. He is an assistant coach with Team QMJHL as it takes on Team Russia in Game 6 of the CIBC Canada Russia Series in Moncton.



A Different Kind of Pressure

by Craig Eagles – November 2, 2017

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Joe Veleno has dealt with pressure and high expectations his entire life. Some would say he’s exceptional at handling it.

However, he has never felt the pressure and expectations that surround the NHL Entry Draft.

“I think the pressure is always going to be there, from now on in,” said Veleno.

A lot can happen in Joe Veleno’s world between now and June’s NHL Entry Draft.

The Saint John Sea Dogs Captain is trying to down play the increased attention and hype surrounding him this season.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much and worry about what you have to do, and focus on my own objectives and goals and try to help the team,” he said. “I think I’m doing a pretty good job at that, and trying to help the team win every night.”

Sea Dogs Head Coach Josh Dixon believes Veleno is handling the added pressure very well, but stresses the importance of not getting caught up in the hype.

“I think Joe’s maturity has really shown through. He’s our captain for a number of reasons; his leadership and his ability to demand excellence of himself each and every day raises the bar for our group,” said Dixon.

“Joe’s an individual in the moment. We’ve talked a lot this season about being where his feet are, about focusing on coming to the rink each and every day and enjoying the process of making himself a better hockey player in a number of different areas,” Dixon explained.

“June will take care of itself, the focus right now is being where his feet are and living in the moment,” he stressed.

Veleno is currently ranked in the first round of the 2017-2018 NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Players to Watch List.  Most pundits are projecting Veleno to be a Top 5 selection come June.

Sea Dogs President and General Manager Trevor Georgie believes his young star isn’t phased by the current draft rankings.

“I don’t believe it is something that he follows or gives much attention to. Joe is confident, but very humble”, Georgie said. “He is focused on being our Captain here in Saint John and wants to get better and make his teammates better every single day.”

The Saint John Sea Dogs are struggling to score goals this season and Veleno admits he does feel a little added pressure to contribute offensively.

“I think our team is still coming along. We aren’t quite there yet, we still haven’t figured out some chemistry either, so that doesn’t really help,” explained Veleno. “But the guys are coming along well off the ice and we just have to put in the work on the ice, and I think everything will fall into place.”

Veleno credits the Sea Dogs organization for providing valuable advice and some time away given the potential distractions that come with NHL scouting meetings and interviews.

“The organization is helping me with that and making time for those meetings. Obviously they are trying to give me some breathing room and don’t want me going crazy with interviews and meetings with scouts, so they are doing a really good job with that,” said Veleno.

Similar to other exceptional status players, Veleno has grown accustom to the spotlight, which has followed him throughout his life and career. He hasn’t forgotten the importance of family and the sacrifices they made along the way to get him to this point.

“They have come up huge, they have made a lot of sacrifices from day one since I started playing hockey, and ever since I was born. A lot credit goes to them, not just me,” said Veleno. “They have put in a lot of work, they taught me a lot of good morals and values which really helped along the way.”

“My family has always been really big on leadership, and have always wanted me to be a leader in whatever situation I’m in. I really can’t thank them enough,” he explained.

“Joe is a very mature and focused young man. He is a tremendous hockey player and even a better person,” added Georgie.

Entering his third season in the QMJHL, Veleno admits that having been part of a veteran laden Sea Dogs President Cup Championship team has really helped his development.

“I learned a lot last year. It felt great winning the President Cup, it was a big honour and obviously I got to learn a lot from the older guys,” said the Montreal product. “I gained a lot of experience as a young player, I’m really grateful for that.”

“I learned a lot of different aspects of the game, like how to take care of yourself on and off ice, how to protect leads, different plays and different systems,” Veleno explained.

Every NHL team and scouting staff is unique, they evaluate and project differently.  Veleno understands that process, but is confident that last season’s experience helped him become a more complete player.

“I think I’m a better 200-foot player this year than last. Obviously with those types of players and as a team we had tremendous success,” said Veleno. “I think it helped me tremendously, learning where to be on the ice.”

“He’s focusing on making himself a full 200-foot player, working on face-offs and focusing both on his ability to score and his ability to make plays, and to keep that as his focus,” added Dixon.

Georgie believes Veleno has handled the increased responsibility very well. “It is his first season as our number one center and he is playing in all situations; power play, penalty kill, and is almost at a point-per-game,” he claims.

After captaining Team Canada to Ivan Hlinka Gold, Veleno could be a consideration for the Canada’s upcoming World Juniors squad.

“It would be a nice opportunity for me to play for Team Canada, there’s no better feeling and no better way to represent your country,” Veleno said. “It would be a huge honour!”



Making Noise

by Craig Eagles – October 19, 2017

Sun Shade

Jeremy McKenna goes about his business quietly.

But the soft-spoken 18-year-old from Summerside, PEI, is making some noise for the Moncton Wildcats this season.

McKenna is coming off a solid rookie campaign where he scored 16 goals and added 10 assists in 66 games for the offensively-starved Wildcats.

The quiet and confident Islander is now lighting up the QMJHL with seven goals and ten assists in twelve games and sits third in league scoring. McKenna is quick to deflect the attention away from personal accolades and credits his linemates, rookie Jakob Pelletier and current top-scorer Mika Cyr, for his stellar start.

“Playing with Mika and Jakob is helping me grow as a player and I feel we have great chemistry together. We are always on the same page out there and encourage each other and I think that’s why we have been having success this season,” McKenna said.

“Mika is a great player and is an elite skater.  Jakob has great hockey sense and he’s a fun player to play with because he makes plays.”

McKenna is focused on team success in his sophomore season with the Cats, and has taken on a leadership role with the young upstart club.

“Jeremy is simply one of those leaders who exemplifies leadership by example,” said Wildcats Director of Hockey Operations Roger Shannon.

McKenna’s intense workout regime caused a social media stir this summer. He attributes his great start to his commitment to his conditioning.

“I worked hard this off-season and it’s good to see it paying off,” McKenna said.   “I was in the gym at least six days a week. I’m really motivated to win with this team and that’s what motivated me every day.”

“The team has come together quick and we are doing a good job night in night out and I’m happy that I can contribute to the team and keep winning”, he added.

McKenna is a bona fide sniper who possesses a pro release. He is a natural goal scorer who excels in high traffic areas and has great edge control. But his rededication to fitness in the off-season has added another dimension to his game, which makes him elusive and harder to contain below the hash marks in the offensive zone.

“Nobody worked harder in the off-season than Jeremy,” mentioned Roger Shannon. “He is proof of what a person can do when they truly are all in. When you have the skill and shot that he has, you evolve into an elite scorer when you put the work in. His release is in the Top 5 of the league.”

McKenna’s ability to spin off checks and battle for loose pucks creates time and space, and it also enables him to gain offensive position and access to seams that he couldn’t a season ago.  His ability to read the play and his awareness to find the quiet zones of the ice make him a constant threat to score off the rush.

With his phenomenal start to the season, McKenna’s play may have him popping up on the radar of NHL scouts.

“Definitely getting drafted is in the back of my mind, it’s been a dream of mine my whole life,” said the young star who’s already making noise around the QMJHL. “I want to take this year day by day and game by game, and try to get better every chance I get.”