Three local hockey players have taken on some dramatically different roles with the Thunder Bay Kings so far this season.
Defenceman Jon Carlson and forwards Donovan Cousineau and Bryce Knapp all are part of the Kings’ Major Midget ‘AAA’ roster, but each one brings something different to the table.
Carlson, one of the final cuts from the Ottawa 67’s training camp earlier this fall, already has chipped in a goal and two assists in six games.
The 16-year-old had four goals and 31 helpers all last season.
Knapp, meanwhile, also has a goal and two assists after posting 32 goals and 35 assists in 68 games in 2009-10.
The two were teammates with the Kings last season while Cousineau is a newcomer.
Coming off a season in which he recorded 10 goals and 10 assists in 12 NorWOSSA games with the Muskies, Cousineau has goal and an assist with the Lakehead squad.
The 5’8” Cousineau said he’s had an easy time fitting into the dressing room as he got to know everyone during tryouts.
Those ice times helped lead to some chemistry with another player on the smaller end of the spectrum, as well as some muscle to help them get some space.
“I knew them all before I came down, so it wasn’t hard,” Cousineau remarked.
“I got put on a line with a guy my size and then a guy who was really tall,” he noted. “We’ve been playing really well together.
“It helps a lot.”
Cousineau originally wasn’t planning to join the team, but just wanted to stay in shape over the summer. But a golden opportunity came knocking—and Cousineau couldn’t refuse.
“I wasn’t going to play [with the] Kings,” he recalled. “I was just going to come out for ice time, and during the tryouts it looked like we had a good team.
“They asked me to sign, so I did.
“The kids on the team, they had a lot of influence,” he added.
In his first game action, Cousineau immediately recognized the jump from NorWOSSA play. Scoring may not come quite as fluidly for Cousineau at the ‘AAA’ level early on, but stressed he’s up for the challenge.
“I still feel like that [scoring] is a role. I’m definitely not a grinder,” he admitted.
“It’s still early, but I’ll just have to see what that plays out into.
“It’s so much faster,” he noted. “Everyone’s so much more intense.
“Our team last year [the Muskies], we were good but we weren’t that intense.”
Much of that intensity has been derived from Kings’ coach Steve Bailot, who works as a personal trainer and places a high emphasis on fitness.
“This year, we’re in unbelievable shape having a personal trainer as a coach,” Cousineau enthused.
“We are so fast, and it’s awesome.”
Cousineau already has noted the trickle-down effect of the fitness into such skills as his speed and his shot, but also feels the better conditioning will prepare him for a much busier schedule than the Muskies faced last season.
“I’ll definitely be tired but it’s worth it, and hopefully we get better and better,” he remarked.
Knapp, 16, can understand what Cousineau is feeling. He was a rookie in ‘AAA’ once, but now is in his third season at the Lakehead.
Still, he said this year has been a little more difficult to get accustomed to as players are both 16 and 17 while Minor Midget is for 15-year-olds only.
“This year it’s difficult because we’re younger,” he noted. “It’s just that you’ve got to get used to the level of play.”
Knapp’s goals for the season are to earn himself a spot on special teams—the power play and penalty kill.
Bailot, meanwhile, lauded the efforts of the Borderland trio, stressing the three not only have accepted the extra workouts, but are enthusiastic about them, as well.
“It’s not just something they have to do,” Bailot explained. “These three guys, you can tell that they’re into it.
“They’re always asking me questions about fitness and nutrition.”
“They’re all fitting in pretty well,” he lauded.
Bailot felt Cousineau has had a very small learning curve, taking only the first game to acclimatize himself to the speed and skill of the Kings’ competition.
“That just shows you how skilled of an athlete he is,” Bailot said. “All of a sudden, he was back up to speed with everyone.”
Meanwhile, Bailot credited Knapp with bringing intangibles to the Kings’ bench.
He also noted Knapp plays an important role in Thunder Bay’s offence, efficiently breaking the play out of the defensive zone to the attacking zone.
However, by the time the team scores, three other players have touched the puck, negating an assist.
“He’s one of those players that coaches love to coach,” lauded Bailot.
“He does all those little things that don’t always show up on the scoresheet, but they’re the types of things that coaches and scouts notice.”
One thrill for the Kings early in the season was when Bailot brought in Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Patrick Sharp to a practice.
Bailot thinks bringing in the star may have been a bit of a distraction for the team early in the season (he recalled players paying more attention to Sharp than the plays Bailot was drawing up on the board).
But both Knapp and Cousineau said they learned something from the reigning Stanley Cup champ.
“I learned that you don’t always have to skate fast,” said Knapp.
“He didn’t skate hard all the time. He planned his skates,” agreed Cousineau.
“His shot was just amazing,” he added. “He’d snipe our goalies from anywhere on the ice, no problem.
“He was putting snapshots in, bar down, from the blueline.”