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THE DESERT DOG BLOG: THESE GUYS ARE HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDERS

Friday, 09.18.2009 / 1:41 AM / The Desert Dog Blog - by Dave Vest
By Dave Vest
I recently had a chance to speak to General Manager Don Maloney about this team’s toughness and exactly who, if anyone, would be its enforcer this season. He told me it’s still up in the air and that he has been monitoring several players closely in camp to see who would best fill that role.

Maloney is watching Aaron Downey, Mitch Fritz and Francis Lessard. Ryan Hollweg is also a feisty player in camp, but Maloney said he considers Hollweg more of a middleweight than a heavyweight.

“It’s still too early to say,” Maloney said when I asked him if one or more or any of those three heavyweights would be on the roster on Opening Night. “In all candor I’ve been waiting to see how our coaching situation plays out because some coaches like the more aggressive players and give them more minutes, and some coaches don’t. It’s an ongoing evaluation. For me, it’s about chemistry as much as it is about dropping the gloves.”

Lessard impressed Maloney in Tuesday night’s victory over Los Angeles by holding his own in two fights and drawing multiple penalties.

Francis Lessard
“He can get in on a forecheck, he can bump people and he’s one of the most feared players in the American Hockey League,” Maloney said. “The trouble for him is just staying out of the penalty box. At the NHL level, you have got to be careful about running guys and elbows and flying checks and landing in the box all the time. That hurts the team. If he can control himself and yet keep that aggressiveness, certainly he’ll make a really strong bid to stick around here for a little while.”

Lessard said he wants to show that he’s more than just a scrapper.

“When it’s time to fight I’m going to be there all the time, but I want to prove I can play and give some big hits and give energy to the team,” Lessard said.

Downey brings experience to the Coyotes and a willingness to lead younger players.

“What I like about Aaron is that he’s played for a winner in Detroit and he’s very upbeat and very positive,” Maloney said. “He’s probably the best player of the three, so we’ll see what happens.”

Aaron Downey
I met Downey on Thursday and spoke to him about his NHL career, which began in 1999-2000. He believes playing for Detroit and winning the Stanley Cup there in 2007-08 has served him well.

“I think if I can get my game going the way I like it and where it left off last year and where it left off the year before, I definitely think I can help these guys out in more ways than just being a fighter on the ice,” Downey said. "...I don’t waiver. I come in every day and it’s the exact same thing for six straight months. I’m the same guy over and over. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve survived so long in pro hockey.”

FYI, Downey is really into philosophy. He told me reading the book The Power of Positive Thinking while bussing to games and practices in the mid-1990s changed his life.

Fritz stands 6-feet-8 and looks better suited for a basketball court than a hockey rink. The funny thing is he’s never been into hoops.

“I tried it when I was a kid and I just didn’t like it,” Fritz said Thursday. “Too much running.”

It’s all good. Fritz has played nine pro hockey seasons and has earned a good reputation.

Mitch Fritz
“Mitch Fritz can handle the biggest of the biggest in this league,” Maloney said, “and he has a good sense and feel for the game. He’s not a banger to get in on a forecheck. He’s a guy that when the baddest of the bad come out and do something, he’ll address it. And he’s good at that. I thought he beat Georges Laraque in a fight last year. He’s a huge, huge man and he’s not afraid of anybody. Plus, he’s a real good team guy.”

I asked Fritz, who first reached the NHL last season and played 20 games for the New York Islanders, if being so tall has been challenging to his career.

“Yeah, it has,” he said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s great being 6-8. I love it and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But it’s been harder skating and learning the game and keeping up with the smaller guys. They’re always quicker and faster, and they get to play a little more.”


Defenseman Jonas Ahnelov no longer is wearing a sling and likely will be skating again soon. Ahnelov suffered a shoulder injury last week during a fight in a rookie game against the Los Angeles Kings.


We are still working on a photo gallery for phoenixcoyotes.com and I would like to again invite all Coyotes fans to help us build it.
Alan Shivers

The premise of the photo gallery is to show pictures of Coyotes fans wearing Coyotes apparel while sitting or standing in front of a recognizable landmark. So, if you have a photo of yourself or a loved one wearing Coyotes apparel while standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or atop the Empire State Building or while kissing the Blarney Stone, please send it to me as a .jpg file. (Also, please make sure you identify whoever is in the photo.) Once we have gathered enough photos for a photo gallery, we will post it.

Thanks for reading.

Dave
thedesertdogblog@phoenixcoyotes.com
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