Every other Monday, Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas will give you a peek behind the curtain and share stories about what he sees and hears in his job as a rink side reporter.
Based in Ottawa, Kyle’s notes will sometimes be about the Senators, but he’ll also include content from wherever Hockey Night in Canada takes him.
Here’s this week’s collection:
1. What a month that was for Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Eleven goals in November for a guy who has never reached the 20-goal plateau in his career.
Pageau returned from a torn Achilles tendon injury back in January, but still had limited mobility then. When last season ended, he took just one week off before he got back in the gym.
“I wasn’t even allowed to jump until midway through the summer,” Pageau said.
He believes having that entire off-season to properly strengthen his Achilles resulted in more explosiveness in his skating. Here’s an example from a game in Detroit last month of some separation he was able to get while in a foot race with the Red Wings’ Dennis Cholowski:
Pageau is well on his way to shattering his career high in goals and points. And, if you haven’t heard…he’s a UFA next summer.
2. When Kyle Dubas, then the GM of the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, made an in-season coaching change during the 2012-13 season and hired Sheldon Keefe for the first time, Colin Miller was the Greyhounds captain.
Keefe was making the jump from Jr. A in Pembroke to the OHL.
“He made his presence felt right away,” Miller recalled. “He was dealing with a lot of different egos at that time.”
Miller said back then Keefe made a point of establishing a relationship with him, the captain, right away. Listening to Leafs captain John Tavares after the game Saturday, you get the sense that philosophy hasn’t changed.
“He really cares about having some really good relationships with the group and the players. It’s been great just trying to get to know him and talking hockey,” Tavares said.
3. Several times this season, Brady Tkachuk has been on the ice early before practice working with Shelley Kettles. She’s a professional figure skating coach and a skating development consultant with the Senators.
Tkachuk began working with Dawn Braid in the off-season, but with Kettles the focus is on edgework. Tkachuk wants better balance, a stronger core and more agility on the ice.
His overtime goal in Montreal a few weeks ago was the fastest DJ Smith has seen him skate.
“I’m going to ask him where that speed is on the back-check,” Smith joked.
4. Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka and his older brother Sam were born and raised in Windsor, ON. They knew the Rychel family (Warren and sons Kerby and Maddux) and DJ Smith among other hockey people in the area.
Smith used to run little workouts in the summer time for the older kids that Sam would attend, but young Jack insisted he tag along.
“The kid’s always been a worker,” Smith said. He joked that even at six or seven years old, Jack was able to knock off 100 push-ups.
The one they used to call “Little Studs” got his first taste of the NHL last week. The Bruins view him as a crucial part of their future at the centre-ice position. However, it is nearly impossible to picture a Bruins roster that one day no longer features the likes of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
5. You often hear the term “hockey brain” associated with the Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki.
When Suzuki was playing with Guelph against the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL Final last spring, there were a number of Montreal reporters that made their way down to Ottawa to cover the Habs prospect. When Storm head coach, George Burnett, saw the press gathering he turned to Suzuki and said, “You better get ready for this. This is what’s coming.”
He has looked ready ever since.
Burnett coached Suzuki for just half a season but described him as “cerebral” in the way he processes the game. He’s not one to waste energy, doesn’t extend his shifts and elevates his play at key times.
His most recent example of all of that came Saturday against the Flyers when he found Tomas Tatar cross-ice for what was then the tying goal in the 3rd period.
6. Jack Hughes says nothing has surprised him yet during his rookie season.
“This is what I’ve always dreamed of and what I’ve always wanted,” he said.
Hughes also signed an endorsement deal with Gatorade earlier this month.
He has leaned on a number of people as he adjusts to life in the NHL. His brother Quinn would be one, of course. Jack also has plenty of admiration for Cory Schneider, who he was living with until Schneider got sent down to Binghamton.
Schneider would talk with him on the drive home after games about how to approach each day, when to get to the rink, good habits and all the little details that come with being a pro athlete.
7. My conversation with Hughes came just as PK Subban was finishing up holding court with the Montreal media. Subban mentioned the young guys on the team give him some weird looks these days when he picks the music in the Devils dressing room.
“Some of the songs he plays came out before we were born!” Hughes said.
Subban is never short of youthful exuberance, but his taste in music is perhaps starting to show his age.