Monday, August 11, 2014

Goalies Should Also Be Afraid of This 'Big Bad' Wolf

Right now, in one of the northern most hockey rinks in Germany, training camp is already well underway for one of the newest members of the Calgary Flames.

With its first game in the newly formed Champions Hockey League quickly approaching -- an Aug. 22 tussle with Swedish club LuleƄ, the Hamburg Freezers are hard at it in preparation. With two on-ice practices every day as well as one off-ice workout, there's undoubtedly plenty of sweat as players get back into it after several months off the skates, a lengthy layoff not uncommon for European players.

Panning the roster of those running through drills at the O2 World arena in Hamburg, ardent hockey fans may recognize some of the names from NHL past -- Matt Pettinger, Duvie Westcott, Christoph Schubert, Phil Dupuis and Sebastien Caron. However, it's an intriguing 24-year-old left winger, who has yet to play an NHL game, that is of most interest to Flames fans. His name is David Wolf and after signing a one-year, two-way contract on May 12, he is about to take his game to North America for the first time.

But first, the veteran of five seasons in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) will spend August training with his old team, whom he played with for the past three years.

"For one month and the whole preseason, I go with my old team," said Wolf last month, when he was in Calgary for the Flames development camp. "Then in early September, I'll come here, skate 10-15 days with the guys in Calgary and then I hope I'm prepared for main camp."

The Prototypical Burke Player

The two attributes that immediately leap off the page when it comes to the native of Duesseldorf, Germany, are his size -- 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds, and his time spent in the sin bin. He amassed more penalty minutes (415 PIMs in 143 games) than anyone else in the German league over the past three years including being the league-leader two of those years. One would assume that is evidence of a surly character packing the pugnacity and belligerence that Flames management covets.

However, while being afraid of the 'Big Bad' Wolf is an irresistible story line thanks to famous Grimm fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Wolf insists one shouldn't be too quick to judge this book by its cover.

"Guys over here, when I signed, they watch the penalty minutes and they see that I'm a tough guy and I would say I'm pretty tough: I stand up for my teammates when I have to, I fight when I have to, but I'm not out there looking for it," said Wolf.

Overlooked is the fact Wolf was also second on his team in points each of the last three years. He showed a glimpse of his diverse skill set during one of the development camp shootouts when he raised eyebrows by being the only player to attempt a spin-a-rama. He didn't score although came darn close, just failing to jam the puck past the outstretched pad of Mason McDonald, as he completed his 360.

Hard Knuckles but Soft Hands

"I do have some finesse too, although I've got 'summer hands'," laughed Wolf, who at the time hadn't skated in nearly three months.

On the ice, Wolf looks like a cross between Milan Lucic and a football linebacker. A hunch in the back, broad across the shoulders, if he can finish around the net as he has proven he can do in Germany, he could be a good fit to eventually play on a line with some of Calgary's undersized skilled guys. Mason Raymond, Jiri Hudler, Sven Baertschi and Johnny Gaudreau are a few names that immediately spring to mind.

That type of role would be a familiar one for Wolf, who was 14-26-40 in 48 games last year skating on a line with ex-WHLer Garrett Festerling -- a former linemate of Jordan Eberle in Regina, and 2008 Maple Leafs fifth round draft pick Jerome Flaake -- Hamburg's top marksman with 25 goals.

"That was my part back home. I had a really good sniper on my line and I had a little playmaker on my line. I was getting the puck to them and going to the net. I would get a lot of goals in front of the net, rebounds and stuff," said Wolf. "Of course, when you play with two skilled guys, you learn something too and you get more confidence in your game and your skill level gets better."

Keeping it Simple

First impression of Wolf at development camp is he's a guy, who is deceptively quick, is filled with energy, and who is not afraid to get in aggressively on the forecheck, which can be an intimidating package for a defenceman to ward off.

"David's an interesting guy. He's like a walking fridge," described Flames GM Brad Treliving after seeing him live for the first time in July. "He's got a straight-ahead approach and he's a big body, who does everything well. He'll be an interesting guy to see, come training camp."

After a month of working out intensely with Hamburg, Wolf is hoping he'll be in a good position to compete for one of the one or two open spots Calgary currently has at forward. He admitted his conditioning in July was "pretty bad", which is natural when it's your first time on skates in over three months.

"You can run as long as you want in the woods, but when you hit the ice, it's just different," said Wolf, who said nearly all the rinks in Germany take out their ice during the summer. "These kids over here, they can run, they can skate, they skate all summer long. But with the European guys, who are not on the ice that much in the summer, they need to get their conditioning back."

Fan Favourite in the Making

Engaging and personable off the ice and possessing a German accent that sounds remarkably like Arnold Schwarzenegger, you get the sense Wolf will quickly establish himself as one of the more popular players with fans, wherever he plays.

What's left to determine this September is whether that will be in Adirondack or in Calgary. Or, as he adjusts to the smaller North American rink that he has had little experience on, perhaps he starts off in Glens Falls, New York, and then joins Calgary.

Either way, this September, the Wolf will be back... and he'll be hungry.


Recent Flames Reading

  • Sven Degrees of Separation: The Trials and Tribulations of Sven Baertschi - He came out of junior hockey with such acclaim. Yet after so much promise, what has happened to Baertschi. I look back at seven things that have gone wrong for Sven over the past couple years. 
  • Debut of the Stick TAP - A Q&A Mailbag - You guys submitted some great questions: How many NHL games this season will Sam Bennett play? Will the Flames be in the running for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel? In this new content feature, I responded to these and other reader-submitted questions by providing my own Thoughts, Analysis and Predictions.
  • What Could (and Will Not) Happen with Kevin Hayes - If you believe what you read, the ex-linemate at Boston College of Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold and the former first round pick is about to become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16. I broke down the different scenarios of what could unfold.
  • The Polarizing Selection of Goaltender Mason McDonald - Selecting a goaltender with pick No. 34 infuriated a lot of Flames fans. Why take a goalie so early? Well, I've done the homework and I will explain to you why it was the smart choice for Calgary at that point in the draft. 

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