Red Line Report 2014 flashback: Nick Ritchie

Six years after being a top-10 pick by the Anaheim Ducks, the Boston Bruins acquired Nick Ritchie at the trade deadline.

With hockey on hold, we thought it was a good time to go back and look at what independent scouting service Red Line Report had to say about Ritchie in his draft season (2013-14). Every month/issue of Red Line features an in-depth profile scouting report/hybrid background article, and this appeared in the Mar. 2014 issue. It includes grades on his hockey attributes and interviews with him and his Peterborough Petes head coach, Jody Hull.

Ritchie Profile RLR

Some highlights:

Big, bruising and intimidating winger…

The premier power forward in this draft and one of the toughest fighters in the OHL…

“I think he’s going to be a prototypical power forward along the lines of a Milan Lucic. Ritchie does a lot of things people may not know about. I don’t think it’s well known just how tough he is, and when you add his skill and offensive ability, he’s someone who can do it all.”- Hull

The profile also touches on Ritchie’s areas of improvement such as consistency and conditioning. These are the things that have dogged him in his pro career to date, and why the B’s were able to pry him out of Anaheim (albeit for a very good young player in Danton Heinen). Bottom line- if Ritchie was a Lucic (the Bruins version), there’s no way the Ducks would’ve traded him.

For more on the Red Line Report, the website is www.redlinereport.com and the service will publish its annual NHL Draft Guide in June, even with the postponement of the draft and uncertainty surrounding it.

As an interesting aside, the Ducks drafted Ritchie 10th overall in 2014, the B’s got Heinen 116th, so that’s an interesting spread between two completely different players and pedigrees.

It’s tough to see a versatile, consistent Swiss Army Knife-type player like Heinen go, but Ritchie fits the Bruins mold and he was showing off some of the better parts of his game/package when everything came to a screeching halt.

We’ll see what the future holds for Ritchie, but he makes sense as a reclamation project-type who is signed beyond this season, is young enough to get his NHL career going into a higher gear and represents the kind of physical attributes the Bruins organization places a premium on. He’ll need to prove that he can put in the work and avoid the conditioning pitfalls that this extended work stoppage poses for him.

But overall- again- if Ritchie had been exactly the player envisioned to be worth a top pick, he would’ve been untouchable in Anaheim. That was not the case, so the Bruins now get a chance to see if they can make him into a more impactful NHLer than he’s shown thus far.

And of course, he can do this:

 

Ask the Amigos: Quarantine Podcast 2020

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dom, Reed and Kirk got together for a 3 Amigos reunion, making sure to practice social distancing in the process.

We’ve got more than 2 hours of (mostly) hockey talk, breaking down questions that readers submitted. A lot of it centers around uncertainty around David Krejci and Torey Krug going forward, Jack Studnicka’s promising early returns, and a look at how expansion might impact the NHL and Boston Bruins in 2021.

We recorded the audio before news of the Jack Ahcan signing broke, so we don’t have anything on the newest free agent signing for the B’s, but you can check out the quick-hitter we posted on him here yesterday on the blog.

So, let’s go- here’s the audio file. We’ve also posted it over at SoundCloud so that you can listen on the go…

SoundCloud download:

Report: St. Cloud D Jack Ahcan signs with B’s

Per award-winning NCAA beat writer Brad Schlossman/Grand Forks Herald (and retweeted by Elliotte Friedman), St. Cloud State Huskies senior defenseman Jack Ahcan is signing with the Boston Bruins after a superb college career. The signing is for a reportedly two years.

Although small in stature, Ahcan (uh-SHAWN) plays a big game: he’s explosive and dynamic on his skates- able to play with a lot of pace and has real skill from the back end to move pucks, along with some jam for one who is around 5’8″. He’s highly capable on special teams and has a little bit of both Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk to his game. His style also reminds of Los Angeles Kings rookie Mikey Anderson. If you’re going to be an undersized D in pro hockey, then you need the kind of attributes he possesses.

Don Sweeney and company are doing this less than a week after signing fellow undrafted NCHC standout  6-5 hard-nosed D Nick Wolff– some thunder to Ahcan’s lightning. Oh yeah- and like Wolff- he wore the ‘C’

Scott Fitzgerald, who handles a lot of the NCAA work for the B’s, and amateur scout Doug Leaverton, who was Ahcan’s assistant coach with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Rough Riders in 2015-16, are likely key behind the scenes players to getting this done. He previously attended Columbus, L.A. Kings and Colorado development camps, so there was undoubtedly some interest around the NHL for him. (Edit- Big assist to Charlie McAvoy as well, per Mick Hatten in TheRinkLive.com. McAvoy and Ahcan were teammates/roommates on the USA WJC gold medal-winning squad in 2017- McAvoy apparently was key in selling the St. Cloud d-man on choosing Boston over Denver.)

We’ll break some film down on him and give a more detailed analysis in a bit, but for now, this is one more sign that the B’s aren’t resting on their laurels and with NHL expansion looming/another draft a year-plus from now, it makes sense to hedge the bets and infuse the organization with some flexibility to offset what is sure to be a good player heading to Seattle. (We talk about that on the upcoming 3 Amigos podcast)

 

Ask the Amigos: Quarantine Blues version

We’re ba-aaaaaack!

With everything that is going on with the Coronavirus and its impacts around the globe, we thought we’d get the band back together for a reunion to take advantage of the extra time many of us now find we have.

Here’s the chance to ask Dom, Reed & myself questions about hockey- the paused 2019-20 NHL season, B’s, prospects (lots to talk about here with recent signings), pretty much anything what you want covered, we’ll try to blow into. We want to do what we can to provide some content and help maybe take the minds off of the larger issues going on. Our minds…and yours.

Just post a comment to this post with your comment and first name/location where you are, and we’ll try to address it in a future audio file. We will also take questions via DM on Twitter if you’d rather go that route by sending your question to the amigo of your choice.

We will close questions at 9 a.m. (Central) time on Thursday, March 26, and the podcast will drop on Friday.

Analysis: Nick Wolff Then & Now

The Boston Bruins got their guy, it appears.

University of Minnesota-Duluth senior captain and left-shot defenseman Nick Wolff signed a 1-year entry-level contract with the B’s this week after four seasons with the Bulldogs. The former Eagan High School standout who spent a couple of seasons in the USHL playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers before heading to the NCAA attended the previous two Bruins development camps and had turned down other opportunities a year ago to return to Brighton. Given his close friendship with college teammate Karson Kuhlman, it seemed fait accompli that Wolff would sign with Boston if they wanted him, and so this was expected.

Here’s the breakdown on what Wolff brings to the table and what fans might expect from him going forward.

Nick Wolff then:

July 2019 (TSP Development camp recap)- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

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Analysis: Jeremy Swayman Then & Now

The Boston Bruins announced a couple of NCAA/college player signings this week, coming to terms with 2017 fourth-round selection and University of Maine/Hockey East Player of the Year Jeremy Swayman along with undrafted free agent University of Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman Nick Wolff on three-year  and one-year entry-level contracts.

Going to break the analysis into a then and now, as both players have been talked about on TSP, so we can see what was said before and where we are in the near year since they were both last mentioned in a writeup of Bruins development camp in July.

So here’s the skinny on what we think about Swayman and Wolff, starting with the 111th selection three years ago in Chicago. We’ll follow up with a separate blog post breaking down the Wolff signing and what B’s fans can expect from him going forward.

Jeremy Swayman then:

July 2019- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.

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Happy Birthday to the Greatest One

Today is Bobby Orr’s 72nd birthday- born March 20, 1948 in Parry Sound, Ontario.

My friend from New Brunswick, Ian Wilson, celebrates Robert Gordon Orr’s birthday every year and has been doing so ever since I got to know him online 22 years ago. I have no doubt Ian’s been toasting Bobby Orr Day long before I knew him, and as long as he draws breath in this world, every March 20 will be the same.

I never saw Orr play live…at least not that I remember. I wasn’t yet 4 when he left Boston and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1976, but by being a student of the game and watching endless clips of Orr’s glory years with the Bruins, I’m comfortable with calling him the greatest hockey player of all in my own opinion. After all, there are a lot of smart hockey people out there who played with him, played against him, saw him…and if they say he’s the greatest hockey player who ever lived, then who am I to disagree?

Wayne Gretzky revolutionized scoring and there will never be another one like him- there was so much that came together at the right time for the Great One to score the zillions of points he did with the Edmonton Oilers in the early 1980’s- that firewagon hockey that he exemplified will not be seen again. The goalies are much better today than ever, and that isn’t going to change. Different era, different game.

But Orr was in a class of his own in terms of how he redefined the way the defense position was played- he didn’t just perform- Orr revolutionized the entire concept of how defenders could join the rush and be as dangerous on offense as they could shut down scoring chances in their own end. Those words to describe what Orr did for the game seem so paltry and inadequate to capture the kind of effect No. 4 had on hockey. In the end, Orr changed the game. Scorers will come and go, and I’ll not take anything away from that- Gretzky owns the all-time record for career goals and Alexander Ovechkin may or may not ever break that one…but for me, Mike Bossy was the best pure goal scorer I ever saw. And that includes Mssrs. Gretzky, Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull. No one can ever “win” the debate- there are those who will effectively argue for their respective player. As for me, I’ll take Orr…please and thank you.

The world-renowned Spittin’ Chiclets podcast recently had Orr’s close friend and teammate Derek Sanderson on their show and the ever-colorful Turk had some terrific recollections of Orr. One of the best was when he said that he never saw anyone get the puck away from Orr when he had it…ever. And Sanderson is not exaggerating in the slightest. If you haven’t heard that episode, get going already…

As great as Orr’s eight consecutive Norris Trophies, 2 Stanley Cup championships, 2 Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP and Hall of Fame resume is, the sad thing is that we never really saw what he was capable of. Years of playing through serious knee injuries and deteriorating joints took an immeasurable toll on what might have been if Orr had the durability and staying power of someone like Ray Bourque.

What’s amazing about Orr’s accomplishments as a Bruin is that he did it from age 18-28. He left the city and team in his prime, though was fated to play only 26 more career games in the Windy City before his ravaged knees forced him to walk away from the game as a player forever.  There would be no miracle comebacks for Orr, though had he played several decades later, he might’ve had a 15-20 year career…we’ll never know.

Orr is firmly cemented on Boston’s Mount Rushmore of sports icons and no one will ever take his place.

But don’t take my word for it- just watch him for yourselves. I’ve chosen these videos because they will give you a close look at the man…in his own words, as well as those of others who knew him best, competed against him and knew better than anyone what he was accomplishing for the sport.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Orr- may you enjoy many more!

NHL 100-year Tribute video

Peter Mansbridge’s interview on CBC from Bobby Orr’s autobiography launch in 2013

COVID-19: Life on pause…so, what now?

It’s surreal to be writing this post at home on a Monday morning when I should be at the Omaha Lancers’ offices in Ralston Arena, starting a new week after a 2-game home series against the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad. I should be preparing to fly on Wednesday to the NTDP’s home base in Plymouth, Michigan for their annual “40-man” national selection camp, where the best 2004-born players in the USA were set to arrive this week for several days of competition, 23 of whom would be chosen at the end to wear the red, white and blue for the next two years of the national team.

Instead, I’m nowhere near the rink. The games didn’t happen, though the NTDP 18s arrived in Omaha Thursday morning (to channel Cyndi Lauper- they drove all night)- we saw them all briefly at a local restaurant before Team USA was told to get back on the bus and make the 11-hour drive back to Michigan. Shortly afterwards, we all got word that the USHL, like all major professional sports leagues in North America currently in season, was suspending operations. As such, the NTDP camp was cancelled and the 2020-21 Under-17 team will be selected by the USA Hockey/NTDP operations staff based on their midget AAA/prep/high school performances without the benefit of bringing them in to compete with and against one another.

We are in uncharted territory to be sure, and there is no way of knowing what the next step will be. But, there will be a next step. I don’t know what that will look like, and therefore, like so many others around the world, I can only wait.

Unless you are a direct descendent of Rip Van Winkle, you know what’s going on- our lives, our normalcy has all come to a grinding halt, as COVID-19/Coronavirus has forced a sea change in our routine. Familiar terms like quarantine- once usually reserved for the big screen and rare cases- have become routine. New terms like social distancing has become the norm, as the virus’s impact around the world, especially in countries like Italy, is now keenly being felt in North America. The socio-economic impact of the pandemic cannot be understated, and so we find ourselves now going without things we have long taken for granted.

I’m no doctor, so I’m not about to use this platform to dispense medical advice. However, we are at a point in time in our modern history where normal behaviors must be modified and we need to take extra steps to make ourselves aware of what is going on and act accordingly. We’re seeing it not only with the suspensions of sports leagues and cancellations of major competitions, but also in the closing of restaurants, bars, theaters, beaches…even Disney World and certain retailers, with more sure to follow suit.

With so many around the word directly and indirectly impacted by the virus and its rapid spread, we need to use the time we have to come together, be responsible and ultimately, respect that it is not about us as individuals- our own wants and desires need to be secondary to making an effort to limit the impact of COVID-19 and containing it as much as we can so that we don’t overwhelm our hospitals and medical systems with people who require treatment on top of everyone else who requires medical care.

Sports, even though it is my livelihood, have to take a necessary backseat while we figure out how to best deal with this crisis. We’ll figure out how to adapt and adjust our duties and responsibilities while on this hiatus, but in the meantime, just wanted to let everyone know that were in this together and with more time on my hands, might be figuring out how to make this blog a little more active and relevant again…at least in the short term. If there is anything I can do on here to help pass the time, let me know. If nothing else, chances are, we might be able to get the 3 Amigos back together…I can’t speak for Dom or Reed, but I’m pretty sure that we all have more time on our hands now than any of us wanted.

In closing, be safe- I firmly believe that this too, shall pass. What we do in the interim will have a profound impact on how much we are affected and how quickly we can recover. I know that in my experiences with the hockey community, we’re famous for coming together and taking care of one another- this should be no different.

Best regards,

Kirk

 

 

Farewell to Colonel (retired) Samuel W. Floca

“Anyone who says they aren’t afraid in combat is either a liar or a fool; it’s like the line in Moby Dick, when the boat captain (Starbuck) says ‘I will have no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale.’ What he’s saying is that if you don’t have enough sense to fear real danger, then you’re the actual danger– not only to yourself– but more critically, the others with you.”– Col. Sam W. Floca Jr., U.S. Army (retired)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the blog, and this one is non-hockey related, but a tribute to a real hero who left this mortal life this week, but whose light will shine on long after his passing.

On Tuesday,  we learned that Samuel W. Floca, Jr. lost his battle with cancer and other conditions he picked up in a life of service in the U.S. Army where as a young officer, he fought in the Vietnam War and was wounded a staggering five different times. Uncle Sammy, as he liked to be known to his close friends, was a native of Temple, Texas and served in the Army from 1963-92, rising from the rank of private to full colonel before retiring as a member of the Army’s War College faculty after three decades of distinguished service.

In retirement, he returned to his native Central Texas where he continued to serve our military- as a mentor and friend to countless Soldiers assigned to Fort Hood, touching several generations of officers, noncommissioned officers and leaders he came in contact with.

I got to know him late in my own career- 20 years in- as a lieutenant colonel and primary staff officer in the 1st Cavalry Division. He was attending the change of command ceremony of the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, when one of my peers and a close friend was turning over command of the storied 1st of the 7th- Garryowen! Col. Floca was wearing a U.S. Cavalry Stetson with 4th Cavalry Regimental crossed sabers, so I struck up a conversation with the obvious Vietnam-era veteran and found out that we had a lot in common, and that looking up the division’s public affairs officer (yours truly) was on his “to do” list.

From that chance encounter, he welcomed me into his Soldier family, and I learned a great deal about the man who had enlisted as a rifleman in the Army just prior to the major troop buildup in Vietnam and went on to attend Officer Candidate School, getting his commission in the Field Artillery branch. He was soon after sent to Vietnam for the first of two combat tours with the 1st Infantry Division or “Big Red One” in early 1966- when the U.S. military was realizing that they had learned few of the lessons that the French had learned a decade-plus earlier against the Vietminh during the French-Indochina War.

Sam Floca often talked about the Army’s unpreparedness for the threat they faced in the jungles of Vietnam. Organized and trained to face off against the Soviet military machine in Central Europe, our forces were ill-equipped to face the Viet Cong insurgents and North Vietnamese Army regulars who knew the terrain and were wholly committed to their cause. The American military tried to win a war of attrition, and paid dearly for it. Floca’s first experience in Southeast Asia reflected that lack of preparation, but as he began to learn and adapt, passing those lessons on to the men he led as a young lieutenant, he was wounded seriously enough to force his medical evacuation to Japan.

After recovering from his wounds, Floca went back to Vietnam as a captain in 1968, and in a bid to get reassigned to his beloved 1st Infantry Division, agreed to take a billet on the public affairs (or public information as it was called back then) staff. He had taken a journalism course in college, and because of that, he essentially was able to talk his way into the open assignment with the 1ID PIO, avoiding the mass cattle assignment reception station process in Vietnam, by which he could have ended up in any of the combat units.

Once back in the Big Red One, Floca had a plan to get back out in the bush- he had a friend in the Division’s G1 or personnel section who had told him that if he could secure assignment to 1ID, he could get him into a line unit. And thus, Captain Floca was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment- “Hamilton’s Own”- the oldest Regular Army unit on active duty, tracing its lineage back to January, 1776 and commanded by founding father Alexander Hamilton. He would then receive assignment to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (“Ramrods”) as the battalion Fire Support Officer.

On September 23, 1968, near Loc Ninh, an infantry unit from 2-2 came under enemy indirect and direct fire. Floca ran forward to position himself with the company in contact, then immediately began adjusting friendly mortar and artillery indirect fires on the enemy positions, preventing the American unit from being overrun. In his citation for the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross, Floca was praised for placing himself repeatedly in positions forward where he was taken under direct fire by the enemy, calling in accurate indirect fire as close as 25 meters (!) to his own position, placing himself in tremendous danger. Wounded by shrapnel, he continued to call for fire and engaged the enemy in direct fire until the attack was defeated.

That, my friends, is the definition of a hero.

And like the first tour in Vietnam, Floca would not leave his second under his own power. He was wounded more severely after that action, and Captain Floca’s War came to an end once more. He would later go in and out of line unit artillery assignments and public affairs positions, because you see- that old journalism class did come back to haunt him. Even though he never typed a single release in country, that assignment to the 1ID public affairs office was on his personnel file, and there was no escaping the dreaded “needs of the Army” requirements when the time came.

He ended his career at the War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA, where he became the subject matter expert for the Battle of Gettysburg and conducted comprehensive staff rides at the battlefield to analyze the strategic implications and capture lessons learned. He retired from the Army in 1992, but it was in that capacity that he ended up becoming one of the key technical advisers on the set of the film Gettysburg produced in 1993. 

The Sam Floca I knew enjoyed passing on his experiences as an Old Soldier to those who were a part of his own legacy of service. He no doubt left some stories and experiences buried in the deepest recesses of his wartime memories, but he loved being around the troops. As the Honorary Regimental Commander of the 82nd Field Artillery Regiment (Ancient Dragon 6 was his callsign), he was always there for the troops of the 1st Cavalry Division. I had him spend nearly an entire day sharing his experiences as a public affairs officer with my division PAO team, and as much time we allocated to him, he barely scratched the surface of his knowledge and insights.  As he was fond of saying, “The bond among Soldiers is never broken: race, creed, color…they’re your brothers, they’re your brothers for life.” You couldn’t drag Sam Floca away from his brothers in arms- no matter how much of a gap between the generations.

That’s why in retirement, he returned home to the Lone Star State, a proud a sixth generation Texan who had two relatives who had fought in the Battle of San Jacinto under General Sam Houston in 1836.  Floca’s east Texan drawl belied the fierceness of his warrior stock and loyalty to his roots. He used to say (and always with his million dollar smile), “I’ll never ask a man where he’s from- If he’s from Texas, he’ll tell you. And if he’s not, you don’t want to embarrass him.”

Floca’s house was like a museum- it contained an amazing collection of military art, toy soldiers, miniatures and dioramas of major historical battlefields. You could spend hours in Uncle Sammy’s pad, and not come close to digesting everything he had on display and each and every story that came with it. He lived alone in that house in Temple right on a golf course. He lived alone because like the rest of us, he was not a perfect man. His devotion to military service and some of the personal demons he picked up along the way cost him his marriage and family. He took ownership of that, and often spoke proudly of his daughter, Amy, whom he made clear was his greatest accomplishment.

One of my favorite items he had in that house was a photo of Amy with iconic actor Sam Elliott, taken when the veteran actor portrayed Brigadier General John Buford, commander of the Union Army’s 1st Cavalry Division for the Gettysburg film. I had grown up watching Elliott, and his portrayal of Buford was one of the things that inspired me to choose the armored cavalry as my branch when I commissioned in 1994. Knowing that Floca had advised and helped Elliott with his role made the memorable scenes he was in all the more special and impactful for me.

As I prepared to leave Fort Hood in late 2016, Colonel Floca gave me a couple of precious gifts from his personal art and book collection. In the book How Can Man Die Better, a detailed accounting of the British disaster at Isandlwana in 1879, he inscribed to me inside the book’s cover- “Kirk- Even as combat cavalrymen and PAOs, we would’ve had a hell of a time putting ‘spin’ on this one for the British press.”

He was a national treasure and while his battle against the ravages of disease on his body are finally over, all who knew and loved him already miss him terribly. Soldier. Leader. Mentor. Friend.

Farewell, Sir- Godspeed. I will see you again one day…at Fiddler’s Green.

If you are able,
save them a place
inside of you
and save one backward glance
when you are leaving
for the places they can
no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say
you loved them,
though you may
or may not have always.
Take what they have left
and what they have taught you
with their dying
and keep it with your own.
And in that time
when men decide and feel safe
to call the war insane,
take one moment to embrace
those gentle heroes
you left behind.

Major Michael Davis O’Donnell
1 January 1970
Dak To, Vietnam

 

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