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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Storm covets Genoa native

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Bryan Smolinski Bryan Smolinski
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Bryan Smolinski is watching with great interest for any fallout that may come from yesterday's meeting between representatives of the National Hockey League and its players association.

So too are Storm officials, who would like nothing more than to add Smolinski - a longshot at this point - and any other locked-out NHL players to Toledo's ECHL roster should the labor stalemate continue.

Smolinski, a Genoa native and 13-year pro under contract to the Ottawa Senators, is one of several hundred players who have been locked out by owners seeking "cost certainty" in a new collective bargaining agreement.

Yesterday's labor negotiation was the first since Sept. 9.

"Worst-case scenario, we're back to square one," said Smolinski from his home in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham. "Best-case scenario, we're playing hockey again.

"I'm not expecting a deal to be done. That being said, I don't know what I'm going to do."

What Storm general manager Mike Miller would like is for Smolinski to play in his hometown. Smolinski, scheduled to make $2.7 million this season, said he has had several converations with Miller, but that nothing is in the works.

"My responsibilities up here have taken precedence," said Smolinski, 32, who has a family and is serving as assistant coach for Cranbrook High School's hockey team in neighboring Bloomfield Hills. "I haven't thought about playing for anybody but Ottawa, to be honest.

"If I decided to play, I would speak to Mr. Miller. If there was a place that I would play - not overseas - Toledo would be the place I would do it."

There are now six locked-out NHL players skating in the ECHL: New Jersey's Scott Gomez is in Alaska, New York Ranger Dale Purinton joined Victoria, Buffalo Sabres winger Eric Boulton is in Columbia, Chicago Blackhawks forward Curtis Brown is now with San Diego, Nashville Predators tough guy Jeremy Stevenson has signed with South Carolina, and Nashville's Shane Hnidy, who was Smolinski's teammate in Ottawa for most of last season, was just added by Florida.

"I'm surprised that it's not more, to be honest with you," Smolinski said. "[Hnidy is] a very good veteran. Guys are sick and tired of being home. They just want to play."

Fans and teams expecting NHLers to come in and dominate play considered to be two steps below the big leagues have found that not to be the case.

Last season Gomez led the NHL in assists with 56 and had 70 points in 80 games. With the Aces he has three goals and 13 assists in 17 appearances.

Boulton and Brown each have one assist in five starts, Stevenson has no points in four games, Purinton has four assists in three outings, and Hnidy has one helper in one game.

"Just because we go down there, doesn't mean we're going to light it up," Smolinski said. "They're the best in their (Double-A caliber) league. It doesn't matter where they come from; for some of those guys it's as high as they're going to get, but for another 20 percent, they're going to play at a higher level.

"That's one of my worries. I might not be able to keep up with them."

The veteran of 829 NHL games who has totaled 534 points chuckled at his last comment.

"I've told people I think there will be 15 NHLers in the league by Christmas, but I don't expect anything to happen here until they're told that there's not going to be a season," Miller said. "The guys that have signed so far have signed because of personal ties and geographic location. For example, Scott Gomez is from Alaska. I don't think that's going to be the case if these guys realize there's not going to be a season."

Last month Miller went to a Detroit-area rink where Smolinski and other sidelined players, including Sergei Samsonov, Jason Woolley and Chris Chelios, were skating. Miller said he left programs, media notes and schedules in every stall.

"Of the 20 players I talked to, I'm not sure any of them knew who the Toledo Storm was," Miller said. "Bryan certainly did. I just wanted to show them that the ECHL is a league that has sent 200-plus players to the NHL and that it's not a Saturday beer league."

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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