Bruins keeping a close watch
Goalie prospect impresses at BC
Unless and until the National Hockey League gets back in business, hockey fans are going to have to get their fix watching other levels of the sport. Fortunately for those in New England, there is a minor league club in Providence and many strong college teams.
One Bruins prospect the team has been closely monitoring for nearly four years is Boston College goaltender Matti Kaltiainen. Last season as a junior, he played 38 games. This season, he's platooning with freshman Cory Schneider, who was Vancouver's first-round pick (No. 26 overall) in June's NHL draft.
Kaltiainen is 3-3-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average after Friday night's 3-2 loss to Boston University. He said he isn't bothered by alternating games with Schneider.
"It's going very well," said Kaltiainen, whose Eagles went into the weekend ranked No. 2 in the nation. "He's a great guy so it didn't make my job harder. He's a great goalie and a great person, so we can work together. It's not just on the ice but off the ice. I think it's a good thing. It pushes us to work harder. Probably at the end of the season, one of us goalies will play more than the other one, and it's whoever plays better. I think it's a good thing for both of us."
Kaltiainen, a native of Finland, said it's not harder playing in the same city as the club that drafted him (No. 111 overall in 2001).
"I would say it's a good thing," he said. "They can see all the games I play, all the progress I make, and things like that. It doesn't really give me any pressure. I want to go as far as I can, and hopefully next year, I'll play in the Bruins organization, Providence or somewhere else. That's my goal right now."
Bruins assistant general manager Jeff Gorton said Kaltiainen has been making steady progress throughout his college career.
"He's been very successful," said Gorton. "Obviously it's been a successful program the entire time he's been there. He's won some big games, he's played on the big stage.
"We're going to have to make a decision on him. Sometimes it's a tough evaluation because they're such an offensive team. Often, he's in a situation where he doesn't see the puck. The puck is not in his end for two, three, or four minutes. Then all of a sudden, he has to come up with a big save. At times, they outshoot the opponent, 45-15, and it looks bad because he won maybe 5-2. I think he's been a little bit of a victim with that.
"Overall, he's athletic, he's got real good size, he has played good in big games for them. So we'll continue to watch him. There are a number of our guys [in the organization] who do like him."
Gorton said the fact that Kaltiainen is platooning with Schneider isn't an impediment to the evaluation process.
"Obviously the more games we see him, the better evaluation we get," he said. "They're in a tough situation now. They've got two real good goalies and they've got a guy who's been successful for them for three years who's a senior and they also have a first-round pick. We understand the situation they're in."
If there is a negative, Gorton said it's the lack of action in Kaltiainen's own end.
"It's been a difficult adjustment as far as playing and not getting all the action," he said. "Prior to BC, I think he was accustomed to getting a lot of shots. I think the biggest adjustment or biggest weakness has been keeping the focus sharp and ready to go even when your team is dominating. These guys are better when they're seeing more pucks. You're fresher, you're more into it, and you feel more confident when you're feeling the puck."
Off the ice, Kaltiainen had to get comfortable with English and outgrow his shyness. No matter what direction his hockey career takes, he has a plan for life after sports. He's studying human development and wants to be a teacher someday.
For now, though, he's content to play tutor to Schneider.
Hoping against hope
Count Anaheim captain and player representative Steve Rucchin among those who aren't very hopeful that the new Players' Association proposal to be unveiled this week in Toronto will lead to an agreement between players and owners. "I still don't feel too optimistic," said Rucchin. "I'd like to think that it's something positive. I haven't seen the actual proposal but I don't think the offer is going to be what the league wants. I'm glad to see the PA is once again trying to get something going but it's hard when the NHL won't move from its stance. I hope the league will at least look at the work the NHLPA is doing. This new offer might be tweaked a bit but I don't think it will be much more than the last time." In other words, there won't be a salary cap included. Following a dinner meeting between general managers and commissioner Gary Bettman in New York, Islanders GM Mike Milbury was his usual blunt self when assessing his optimism level regarding this week's negotiating session. "That's the only question you have to ask yourself," said Milbury. " `Does it include a salary cap?' If it doesn't, they might as well save the airfare." . . . If there is no season, look for Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, who turns 40 in May, to hang up his skates. "I can just sit back and wait, but I'd say, in all probability, that I don't know if I'm looking to play beyond this year," said Yzerman . . . Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich said he enjoyed his time playing for the Fort Worth Brahmas of the Central Hockey League but opted not to continue for family reasons. "It was a blast, really," said Lukowich. "The guys were great, the games were fun. I really, really loved it." However, his insurance was about twice what he was scheduled to make for playing and he had an hour commute to and from practices. "It just wasn't working out well for me and my family," he said. "I have an 18-month-old daughter and I really felt this was a good opportunity for me to spend time with her and my wife." Lukowich's departure leaves Dallas Stars forward Brendan Morrow as the only NHLer playing in the Central League. He's suiting up for the Oklahoma City Blazers.
Colorado Avalanche star Peter Forsberg, who is playing for his hometown club Modo in Sweden, has a side gig as well -- as a male model. Forsberg is in a Christmas ad campaign for clothing retailer MQ, wearing everything from black suits to jeans and a leather jacket. "Being a model was a completely new experience for me," said Forsberg. "Usually, people see me when I'm sweaty and wearing a helmet in the rink." Forsberg said he plans to donate his fee to the NHL charity fund Icebreakers and the Modo hockey club . . . Forward Shjon Podein, 36, who played for four NHL teams over 11 seasons and is now skating in Sweden, has expressed interest in buying the Nikko Ice Bucks in Japan. The Ice Bucks currently play in the eight-team Asia League . . . It appeared for a while that Atlanta forward Dany Heatley would be able to work out a plea bargain in his vehicular homicide case stemming from the Sept. 29, 2003, accident that killed teammate Dan Snyder. Late last week, however, it seemed more likely that the case would go to trial, perhaps in February. Heatley appeared in Fulton County Superior Court last Monday for a hearing. "I believe this case, at this point, appears to be heading to a trial," said attorney Ed Garland, a member of Heatley's legal team . . . The Providence Bruins will hold a "Tip-A-Bruin" night at Dave & Buster's in the Providence Place Mall Dec. 20 from 6-8 p.m. The program, now in its ninth year, features members of the team working as wait staff. There will be a raffle, and all proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. For more information, log on to ProvidenceBruins.com . . . Those of you who purchased Bruins license plates have helped generate $128,536 for the coffers of Massachusetts Youth Hockey. For information on the plates, log on to BostonBruins.com . . . Bruins great Eddie Shore will be honored Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Springfield at the Eastern States Exposition for the work he did with disadvantaged children in the area . . . The Bruins Foundation is selling holiday ornaments exclusively through BostonBruins.com. For $20, you'll receive a Bruins ornament and a commemorative holiday card. The price includes shipping and handling charges, and a donation to the foundation. Net proceeds will benefit organizations that demonstrate a strong commitment to enhancing the quality of life for children in the community . . . Four days until we'll likely know the fate of the 2004-05 season. Don't get your hopes up.
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.