Development camp began on Monday morning at Toyota Sports Center to little fanfare. The team approaches these instructional weeks looking to avoid the gaze of a spotlight while relying more on the instruction applied by a renowned development team. In lieu of more formal scrimmages in which a score is kept, camp is devoted to teaching core, fundamental aspects of the way the team plays structurally to the off-ice practices of becoming a successful professional. It’s not unusual for a drill to be interrupted by several minutes of explanation and instruction in which the development staff offers further explanation of how and why they’re approaching each drill the way they are.
“It’s slow right now,” said Mike Stothers, the head coach of Ontario and an on-ice instructor at development camp. “Part of the teaching and the absorbing and the understanding of it is to go through things very slow and methodical. You’ve got to learn to crawl before you learn to walk, and we want these guys to be able to grasp what the organization is all about without rushing them. Like, if you watch our team practice towards the latter half of the year, you can pretty much blow the whistle and shout out a name and they know what practice drill we’re doing and they go to it, but you have to get to that point, you have to build up to it. That’s part of it, and it’s trying to make them comfortable, too. I mean these kids come out here and they’re nervous and they want to make a good impression. Some of the terms they’re hearing for the first time ever. Some of the things that they’re being asked to do, they’ve never had to apply in the game of hockey up until this point. Again, it’s part of the process, and that’s the beauty of it. You have the ability slow things down for them. It’s not a rush. We’re not trying to rush the process.”
Stothers touched on several topics related to development camp and the evolution of Ontario’s roster after Tuesday’s afternoon session and shared a strong and endearing tribute to Jeff Schultz, who earlier in the day signed with Anaheim (and could very well play against Ontario as a member of the San Diego Gulls.
Mike Stothers, on how much he coaches, and how much he observes on the ice:
This is the development crew. This is their time with the guys. Chris and I are here to help and support and again, just to kind of be on the ice to help the development crew do what they do best. And again, as we’re standing on the ice, we’re participating, and just getting to know some of the kids and talk to them a little bit. It’s a little bit more casual of a setting. You can have lunch together with the guys. They do their dry land, they’re on the ice. It’s a busy time, but again, because of the environment and the relaxed atmosphere and the fact that it’s not the wins and losses that are counting right now, it’s all about their growth.
Stothers, on whether he gets a sense from camp of who could play in Ontario next season:
It’s just exposure. It’s exposure for them here with the organization and for the coaching staff, we don’t get to see these guys play, we don’t get to see them play college, so it just kind of gives us a chance to get familiar with them, and they get familiar with us. They’re slowly indoctrinated into the fundamentals that are needed to be a pro hockey player, and it gives them of an idea of what it is like to be a King and play in the Kings organization. You go out and you encourage and you watch and as the week goes on, you kind of become a little bit more familiar with the strengths and maybe the weaknesses that some of these individuals have to work on. The evaluation part, again, to me it’s not so much ‘are they going to be playing for Ontario next year’ or ‘are they going to be playing for the Kings next year.’ It’s like, OK, we started on Sunday night and we got together and where are we at the end of the week? Let’s see some improvement in the things we want to get through. And it’s a short week, it really is. They’re cramming a lot into these guys. Our development crew does a great job, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I think it’s just an indoctrination for these guys, and again, it’s exposure. You get to know them, recognize the face and the name, and hopefully they get to know us a little bit in a little bit more casual of a setting. I mean, during the season, there are times when I’m not really all that approachable.
Stothers, on L.A. looking to spark innovation and whether the approach changes in Ontario:
Well, you always try to evolve. You never stop learning and you never stop trying things, and we will try to do so. I mean, if you look at this year, Lake Erie wins the American League. There was a lot of speed on that team. There were four lines, there was a lot of skill. You look at Pittsburgh, they win the Stanley Cup. It’s maybe not the biggest team, but they had speed throughout all their lines. They had speed and mobility on their back end. You can’t really teach speed. I mean, you can help them with that. But the mindset is that there’s been a lot of success with this organization both with the Kings and the Reign and prior to that the Monarchs, and playing a team concept, I don’t think we’ll ever lose that identity. But there are always things you want to tweak, there are always things you want to do better, and you know what? When you watch other teams and see what they’re doing, it’s like stealing a drill in practice. That’s what we do. We just steal drills, we steal ideas, we talk, we go to coaching clinics and symposiums, and you break off into groups of 10 and you talk about power plays, penalty kills. You share ideas, you bounce things off, and that’s the beauty of it here for us, too. We’ve got a development crew here, we’ve got the full Kings coaching staff, as well as everybody else. There’s just a lot of running ideas. You try ‘em. Now’s the perfect time to try something. If it doesn’t work, you alter it, you tinker with it, or if it works, you think, ‘hey, how do we build on it? How do we make it even better?’ And that’s what we want to do, we want to be better each and every year, and that’s what we talk about every day. We want to get better every day.
On whether Mike Amadio illustrates a growing command of what the team emphasizes:
I was pretty impressed with the way he came in and played for us, and now we have an idea of what to expect from Mads when he comes back. You know what, we’re going to challenge him to be even better. Again, there are going to be some growing pains for him. You look at it, he played I think 11 playoff games with us and he had one goal. I mean, that’s not bad, but that’s not enough. So we’re not naïve enough to think that this kid, just because he scored 50 in his last year in junior he’s going to walk into his first year in the American Hockey League and score 30 goals. He didn’t do that in his first year of junior. It’s going to take some time. But what you see is a pretty good hockey player – great hockey sense, great awareness on the ice, makes plays and can make some things happen. That’s something that we need in the organization, somebody that can create some situations where we can score. That’s a premium here in all of hockey. Everybody’s teaching the defensive side. You still need some guys that are creative, so we’re hoping that Mads can provide that for us. We want the continuation of Auger, a 19-goal guy. Maybe he’s a 25-goal guy. Brodz had a slow start, but I’m going to keep saying it, and I’m going to keep saying it. I think he’s a pure sniper, and I think he’s just going to break out. And even Kempe – there are a lot of guys that we’re really excited about, and we’re hopping that they’re going to have terrific years for us and just build off of that. Lowry’s another one. It’s endless. These guys, they’re all going to be asked to raise their level of play. They’re going to be challenged every day to be bigger, better, stronger, smarter, and that’s part of the process, too.
On Ontario’s turnover on the blue line:
Every year you look at it and you go, ‘what’s our identity? What are we going to be?’ And as we stand here today on July 5, it looks like we’re going to be pretty young on the back end, pretty green. But that’s through hopefully the graduation process of Gravs and Forby staying with the Kings. Dermy played every game last year except for the 12 games that he got suspended for. He’s a veteran player. We’re excited about it. We’re excited to see what Linty can do, we’re excited to see what LaDue can do, and Les, he had a tough year being in and out of the lineup, but he’s a veteran now. So it’s their time to shine. It’s their time to step up, and you know what? We hope that with the way that we play, the team concept, it’s an area that’s not exposed, spending too much time in your own end. You spend time in your own end, you know we’re in trouble. We’re not happy if we’re spending time in our own end, are we? No, we’re not. So let’s get that puck and get out of there. Again, it’s excitement for these guys, these young guys, to step up.
On several veterans returning to Ontario:
I think part of the process is to surround these guys with some good veteran guys, and we always have had a good veteran group, a good core group. I think that will be the same. It’s great to have Biss back, it’s great to have Backs back. Brett Sutter is going to be back. Guys that are familiar with our team, how things work, how to get along with the head coach. It’s good to have those guys around, and we’ve got a great captain in LoVerde. He’s top shelf. I don’t know if we have Buds or not, but there’s another veteran guy that you’d be surprised at how influential he was to our guys, our group in the room as a professional guy. We’ve got some other guys – Crescenzi I think is coming back, and guys like that. You know what? It’s great, it’s awesome. So I’m excited. I’m always happy to see our guys come back. Really. I’ve been very fortunate. There’s not too many players I’ve coached that I’ve disliked, but that’s for another story I could tell you. [Reporter: Schultzy, though. Schultzy signed today.] Gonna miss Schultzy. Where did he sign? [Reporter: Anaheim, so he could go to San Diego this coming year, theoretically.] Are you kidding me? I’m going to have Biss run him right out of the rink. Right into Schultzy’s kitchen. Are you kidding me? Oh, man. Well, good for him. I love Schultzy. Great guy, great guy. Hey, you know what? It’ll be nice to see him that many times, in all honesty. He’s a true professional. He does everything the right way, he’s a good man. Actually, you made me pretty happy. I’m going to be happy to see him that many times.