Friday, September 15, 2017

Good Guy Gavin Bayreuther

(This interview is excerpted from NY Hockey Journal)
Four Year Skating Saint Gavin Bayreuther
Gavin Bayreuther was a dynamic force in North Country Hockey the last four years, helping return Saint Lawrence University into an ECAC Hockey contender during his tenure in Canton as an offensively gifted blueliner. In the spring of 2016 coach Greg Carvel bolted SLU for U.Mass, yet Bayreuth chose to postpone his pro career with the Dallas Stars in order to graduate with his class at Saint Lawrence. NYHJ’s Tim Rappleye caught up with Gavin at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan,  

NYHJ: Why did you stay at St. Lawrence for a fourth year? Was it because you wanted to play for new coach Mark Morris?
G.B. We didn’t know coach Morris would be the coach until really that last week or two at school, it was kind of a mystery. The older guys had to step up and be leaders that spring. It was a really good experience, a leadership opportunity, I learned a lot. The school gave me so much during those three years, why not stay, why not get that education? Education is so important, and my family, especially my parents who are teachers at Cardigan Mountain School, it’s always really important. When coach Morris came in, it worked out really well, and I was happy to stay.

NYHJ: Coach Morris has a huge pro hockey resume. Did he talk to you about the next level?
G.B. He immediately handled the program like a professional. He coached us like pro’s, he demanded a lot from us, little things like he expected every pass to be on the tape and all that stuff as he would in the NHL and the AHL, he really stepped my game up.

NYHJ: ECAC has a reputation as a tough checking league. How has the transition been to pro hockey?
G.B. Obviously, it’s a big step. College hockey is college hockey, it’s really good hockey but when you try to take that step up into the pro ranks, you got to learn a lot, you got to keep it simple at the start. At times in college I would do too much with the puck, it may have or not have worked in college, but at the next level it didn’t. Coach Morris was really good, he helped simplify my game, rounded out my game.

NYHJ: You’re wearing the “C” for the Stars. It’s a very cool look. How did that all come about?
G.B. It was a really good opportunity, and I’m very grateful for it.
NYHJ: When did they let you know?
G.B. Really when I walked in. I’m one of the older guys here, I played 15 games with Texas in the AHL at the end of the year, so I was able to put my foot in the door, and I learned a lot from the older guys. I kind of just came in here, came to the development camp early in the summer and just tried to be a good leader, and just led by example. I worked my tail off and I think it paid off, and I was fortunate to wear the “C.”

NYHJ: Are you shooting texts to Carvy, or Morris while you’re out here?
G.B. I don’t talk to Carvy any more, I talk to Mo once in a while. I talk to (Mike) Hurlbut, the assistant coach, a good amount, (Matt) Deschamps, the other assistant. They did so much for me. They gave me a gracious four years.
NYHJ: And you did the same…
G.B. …yes, so I’m very grateful for that.

NYHJ: I see another Skating Saint on the roster, Eric Sweetman, did you use your influence to bring him out?
G.B. I definitely put in a good word. He was my road roommate for four years, he’s one of my best buddies. He’s always one of those defensemen who doesn’t stick out a ton, but it’s because he’s always doing the right thing, always making the smart play. Now that he has his opportunity here, I think it’s going to work out for him.

NYHJ: How’s the comfort level here. Decision making has to be a lost faster, no?
G.B. Oh yeah. You definitely have less time with the puck, and you’re playing with other pros, so it’s definitely a step up. You might have been able to hold onto the puck a little longer in college, now you gotta really be careful and make the right play, every time. That’s something I’m still learning, and I’ll probably be learning forever.

Monday, March 20, 2017

So Long, ol Joe

Venerable Al Sabotka has thrown his last Octopus
Unless you’re mired in nostalgia, going to Joe Louis Arena these days is a rocky experience. Trying to watch hockey replays on the video board is an exercise in frustration, as three pairs of digital cubes have gone out on the south sideboard, creating three virtual pucks to confuse the viewers. It’s amusing, yet maddening.

“We don’t want the video wall going out,” said Detroit’s rink maintenance icon Al Sobotka, the man best know for collecting thrown octopi from zealous Red Wing fans. “Those are in cubes, sometimes a cube breaks, side’s going bad. We just changed a few a couple weeks ago.”

$164 seats in decay
The seats wobble, and the upholstery is ripped, even in the most expensive seats. “Why spend a lot of money?” asked Sobatka, who will keep his job with Olympia Entertainment next year at the Little Caesars Arena. “We knew years ago that we’re was going to be moving, so why? We don’t own the building. It’s like if you’re renting a house, why would you want to put a lot of money into it?”

So The Joe is in a state of rapid decay: rust on bolts, shredded seats, ancient slices of pepperoni in the pot-holed pedestrian ramps to the tram stop. Two women from Traverse City who attended the Big 10 semifinals opted for dinner out in Detroit rather than see the Championship game due to the toxic fumes coming from the ice after each resurfacing. Joe Louis Arena is hockey’s answer to a dive bar: a tough sell unless you have learned to drink there.

The 2017 Big 10 Championship games are a far cry from the glory days of college hockey at The Joe. With both Michigan and Michigan State eliminated in Thursday’s quarterfinals, the alleged attendance for Friday’s semifinal doubleheader was 2,791. Realistic estimates for Friday’s opener was closer to 500 fans. And that included the team bands. 

Tony Granato, who spent two years behind the Joe Louis bench with the Wings as an assistant coach, referred to attendance when asked to wax poetic about the romantic rust bucket.

“I’d like to have seen a few more people in the seats,” said Granato. 

It’s a far cry from the glory days of the CCHA championships, when some of the best teams in the country would meet for a meaningful championship from 1982 to 2013. Michigan’s Red Berenson led his Wolverines to nine CCHA tourney titles at The Joe. He said his squads were all happy to perform in the home of the Red Wings.

“It was a thrill to get here,” said Berenson. “The slogan was, ‘The Road to the Joe.’ Don’t think all those players who played in Joe Louis Arena weren’t thrilled to play here. Maybe now the new Little Cesars Arena is maybe badly needed."

With the failing infrastructure of The Joe, the city of Detroit probably should have brought in the wrecking ball after the last CCHA tourney in 2013. The unique venue hard by the Detroit River has had plenty of college hockey history in addition to the CCHA playoffs, including 38 Great Lakes Invitational Tournaments and several NCAA games.

The 1990 NCAA Frozen Four was played at The Joe in 1990, where the Wisocnisn Badgers won their 5th NCAA title. Sabotka remembers it well, but preferred an earlier Badgers championship, at another hockey venue in Detroit.

“I remember when we had the NCAA at the Olympia in 1977,” said Sabotka. Wisconsin made that Frozen Four, and stormed the Big D. "That was just above everything that you’ve seen, with all the fans that came in from Wisconsin. They took the neighborhood over. I just spoke to Jack Berry (current Badgers goalie) about it from Wisconsin, he’s a local Caesar’s kid. 1990 we had NCAA here, it was nowhere near the one at the Olympia.”

Back in 19778, 6000 Badger fans travelled from Madison to see Mark Johnson and Mike Eaves capture Badger Bob’s second NCAA title back in 1977. With Michigan the other finalist, those finals at the Olympia remain the gold standard for NCAA championship games in terms of drama (overtime), dueling bands, and the respective fans' decibel level.

Sobotka, however, remains loyal to The Joe.

“I don’t care what people call it; saying it’s a dump, that’s a bunch of B.S.” said Sabotka. “We have a lot of pride in our jobs; we’re doing the best we can with what we have. It’s not easy. It’s still a great building as far as I’m concerned.”

After the Big 10 Championship, seven more Red Wings games are scheduled to conclude a dismal season of hockey in downstate Michigan, as the Wings, Michigan and Michigan State all suffered through losing seasons. 

Once hockey is over, a slew of concerts will keep the revenue flowing into summer. The last scheduled event at Joe Louis Arena before the wrecking ball arrives is a WWE event on July 29. Hockey fans should feel right at home walking the concourse srrounded the smells of stale beer and popcorn, black and white nostalgia of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. The ever loyal Sabotka will be down in the Zamboni pit until the very end.