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января 2009 года.
Demotion hits home for Kulemin; Wilson hopes his point has been made, recalls forward after weekend stint in American loop // Toronto Star
On the surface, it was the type of minor transaction NHLteams make all the time, the kind that don't resonate much beyond the results pages at the back of the sports section.
However, the Maple Leafs are hoping its impact is felt for years to come.
Nikolai Kulemin, the hot shot from Magnitogorsk, was sent to the minors last Wednesday for a weekend bus tour of duty with the Marlies. He was recalled Sunday and will be in Toronto's lineup tonight at home against Nashville.
Kulemin, 22, is back because, with Jeremy Williams out for at least another week with a shoulder injury and Mikhail Grabovski suspended for shoving a linesman, coach Ron Wilson said the team needed "someone we think can score."
But there was a method to Wilson's malice. In fact, it wasn't malice at all. The yo-yo treatment of a promising rookie was meant as one of those motivational tweaks that transcend language barriers.
Moline, Ill., sure ain't Montreal and the runways never seem to end when you're flying in a Greyhound. So a hat trick of games at Milwaukee, Quad City (Moline) and Rockford, Ill., in three nights would certainly seem to guarantee an attitude adjustment.
"We can't have inconsistent play or, at times, indifferent play from young guys," Wilson said yesterday.
"When they don't get the job done, you take them out. Rather than watching from the press box, if you can put the guy in the minors for a few games to realize the blessings he does have by playing in the NHL, it usually changes their perspective in a hurry."
Teammate John Mitchell, who spent three full seasons with the Marlies before his break this season, was even more succinct, noting that time on the farm is "always an eye opener."
Wilson sat Kulemin down yesterday to explain he wasn't trying to punish him, rather just trying to make him a better player. Wilson noted the case of Devin Setoguchi, a player under his tutelage with San Jose last year, who seemingly dangled on a bungee cord between the Sharks and the club's farm team at Worcester, Mass.
"Last year we sent down Devin Setoguchi six times over the course of the season. Where's Devin Setoguchi now? Leading (his) team in goals, and that's what we need," said Wilson.
Setoguchi, picked eighth overall in 2005, is having a breakout season with the Sharks. His impressive 19 goals are second to team captain Patrick Marleau's 23, but Wilson's point is well taken. Setoguchi credits his dramatic improvement to the lack of kid-glove treatment under Wilson, even though he was, basically, a kid.
"When you're not playing well and you don't deserve to be up (in the NHL), you put a lot of pressure on yourself," Setoguchi recently told CBCSports.ca. "It's mentally and physically draining, but it also motivates you and forces you to prove you belong."
Whether the message hits home similarly with Kulemin may start to show itself tonight against the Predators. Kulemin, who will skate on a line with Mitchell and Niklas Hagman, said he did learn something during his lost NHL weekend.
"He said he has to be more physical and more active and go harder on the forecheck and stuff like that. That's what he has to do," relayed Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has become the dressing room's Russian translator.
Ponikarovsky listened to Kulemin, who then added "He's pretty happy that he got called up.
"The class of hockey is higher here. He wants to play at the higher level."
But Wilson, determined to remove the sense of entitlement that permeated the Leafs' dressing room in the past, said Kulemin and other players on his squad will have to earn the opportunity.
"When you're not playing well, you don't deserve to play," said the coach.