New Jersey Feels Trenton Will Be Competitive

By Adam Kimelman
Staff Writer
The Times Of Trenton

TRENTON, N.J. – As the mid-point of August comes, hockey’s version of musical chairs is nearing its end. And every day, fewer and fewer chairs become available at the National Hockey League, American Hockey League and ECHL levels.

Many players have picked their seats. Only one — 6-foot-1, 180-pound defenseman Matt Cohen, who was scoreless in a nine-game late-season cameo with the Titans last season after finishing his four-year career at Yale — have found their way into the Trenton Devils’ seat.

Not yet, at least.

“I think right now what we’ve done is, we’ve signed a number of players we’ve drafted (and) some free agents, with respect to New Jersey, to Lowell, and some of those player are going to be eligible to play in Trenton,” said T-Devils general manager Chris Lamoriello. “These three teams are linked pretty closely. There’s going to be some contracted players, and some ECHL players that are contracted. We’re going to let the players dictate where they are in training camp. We feel we have the makings of three very competitive teams in this big organization.”

The traditional ECHL roster is stocked with a handful of prospects who could move up to the AHL, but the majority are players who likely have risen as high up the professional hockey ladder as they’ll get.

The 2007-08 T-Devils will be working under a different model.

“The team we’re going to have in Trenton is a team that is going to be very competitive at the ECHL level, but also have developmental potential,” Lamoriello said. “These players are playing for positions within the organization, to grow within the organization. What we’re trying to do is put together a team that is competitive today but also has the potential to grow tomorrow.”

The best comparison could be right in the T-Devils’ backyard. Where the Trenton Thunder and Waterfront Park are a step on the path to Yankee Stadium, the hope is the Sovereign Bank Arena could be a similar step on the way to the Prudential Center in Newark.

“Every player (in training camp) … is going to be there as a result of some interest by Lowell (AHL) and New Jersey,” said coach Rick Kowalsky. “Every player that’s going to be on our team this year, they’re there for a reason. They’re not there to make Trenton a competitive team, but they’re there be cause there’s a possibility they could develop into something that helps the organization. They’re going to see something in every kid this year. The kids that put on the Trenton Devils uniform, in my mind, already have a leg up on the rest of the league. If they’re in that room at training camp, someone above me has shown some interest in them.

“Our team in the past, you recruit guys who are probably never going to play in the American League. This is a unique situation. They (the Devils) have come in and created a situation where it’s similar to baseball. All these kids know that and they’re excited about it and they’re looking forward to it, not only playing well in Trenton but advancing in the organization.”

So where does that leave veteran Trenton staples like Scott Bertoli, Jim Henkel and Les Haggett?

Kowalsky wouldn’t comment on individual cases, but did say in Bertoli’s situation, the door remains open for the organization’s all-time player.

“He’s waiting to make a decision,” Kowalsky said. “It’s still up in the air. He’s still an elite player at this level. Part of this process of having a young team is having some leadership, some older guys. I need my leaders in the room. The younger guys need someone to look up to and learn about the pro game. Is Scott Bertoli going to play in Lowell? No. But there are a few cases that involve players like that.”

And for other veterans, Kowalsky still is beating the bushes like he has in years past, but that search has been made easier, though, thanks to the Devils’ vast scouting resources.

“I get a call about a kid. I have to call the coach and a scout or two, or some former players that might have played against him or some coaches that I know that coached against him. Now, I make one phone call. There’s more discussion about one player now, but it’s all in once place. I’m not chasing down information like I was in the past, which is very convenient.”