By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
It’s opening night in the WHL so there were a lot of smiles around the Kamloops Blazers on Thursday.
However, one smile was bigger than all the rest.
Defenceman Josh Caron, 19, arrived back from the camp of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild yesterday and he brought back a three-year contract.
Not bad for someone who missed his 16-year-old season because he twice broke an ankle, has been through two NHL drafts without being selected, and was in the Wild camp on a free-agent tryout deal.
“It was pretty exciting,” Caron said upon arriving at Interior Savings Centre on Thursday afternoon.
Caron, who will be in the lineup tonight when the Blazers open the WHL’s regular season against the visiting Prince George Cougars, joined the Wild’s prospects team for a tournament in Traverse City, Mich., which is where he first started leaving his mark.
“I think I did well in the Traverse City tournament . . . had a few tilts,” he said, adding that his third scrap was against WHL veteran Randy McNaught, now of the Saskatoon Blades. “I fought him in the third scrap. That was good; he’s a tough kid.”
Bob McKenzie of TSN was keeping an eye on proceedings in Traverse City and, at one point, tweeted: “Kamloops D Josh Caron is heavyweight, trying out for MIN. Curious to see if Wild sign. Toughness is duly noted. Takes punches, throws bombs.”
That was pretty much the game plan going into the tournament. Caron said he “wanted to show them I can do it.”
So, he added, “I made some big hits. I played tough. I tried to play on the edge a bit. Obviously, I got in some fights.”
The Wild liked what it saw and invited Caron to main camp.
“That was a great feeling,” Caron said. “I think I did pretty well. I skated well with everyone. Obviously, it’s a lot faster and there’s a lot more skill. But I felt really good. I felt confident with the puck, I felt good with my foot speed.”
Caron, who is from Campbell River, missed all of the 2007-08 season because of the ankle injuries. He began the 2008-09 season with the junior B Storm and joined the Blazers in midseason, finishing with one assist and 50 penalty minutes in 21 games.
Last season, Caron had a goal and four assists, along with 190 penalty minutes, in 60 games. His penalty totals included 20 fighting majors. However, by season’s end, he had become a valuable defender and, because of that, the coaching staff asked him to start picking his spots a little better.
Contract details weren’t released but it’s a safe bet that the deal negotiated by agent Mark MacKay was worth more than Guy Charron’s first contract.
Charron, the Blazers’ head coach, signed with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens during training camp in the fall of 1969.
“I played all 15 exhibition games,” Charron recalled. “The very last day they called me into the office and said I was going to be assigned to the American Hockey Legaue. I was tickled with joy because I thought I was going to be assigned to the East Coast league. I’m not sure I would have had a successful career (in the ECHL) because I wasn’t much of a scrapper.”
At the time, Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Voyageurs, was stationed in Montreal, so Charron was quite pleased.
“There was no signing bonus or anything,” Charron said, adding that he was told to “be happy with your salary, because we’re giving you more than (Yvan) Cournoyer.”
Charron signed a two-year contract that called for salaries of $6,000 and $7,500 in the AHL and $10,000 and $12,000 in the NHL.
“I asked if I could have a $250 bonus for the last year of junior hockey,” he continued. “If you played for the Jr. Canadiens that was your bonus. I think they must have had a giggle on me for asking for $250.”
But, Charron said, he had an NHL contract and was “tickled to death.”
Just like Caron who, you know, slept with a smile on his face last night.
Going into tonight’s home-opener, Charron reiterated that he feels “we are headed in the right direction.”
And that, more than anything else, has him excited for this season.
“The biggest thing for me is the excitement about the team,” he said. “My enjoyment is practices. When games come, I get more nervous than anything else about how will the team play or what will the outcome be.
“In practice, it’s total control. I’m in charge. I am on the bench, too, but there’s emotions for the players, there’s the referees, the opposing team. I like the challenge of coaching against good coaches and having a good game plan and being well prepared. I’m excited about that.
“With time and age I’ve learned not to be as nervous as I was in the past.”
JUST NOTES: After Thursday’s practice, Charron said that, barring a change of mind, two players will make their WHL debuts tonight with the Blazers — D Brady Gaudet and F Logan McVeigh, both 16. . . . That means that F Rhyse Dieno, who played 16 games here last season, F Lyndon Martell, who had seven points in the preseason, and F Chase Souto, the ball of energy from Yorba Linda, Calif., will be healthy scratches. . . . D Brandon Underwood (concussion) also will be scratched. . . . D Austin Madaisky was due to arrive back in Kamloops from the camp of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets last night and he will play tonight. . . . Kevin Muench, the WHL’s director of officiating, met with the Kamloops coaches and players after practice yesterday. There was a video presentation on officiating and the rules, with a question-and-answer session. . . . Veteran WHL referee Chris Savage has retired. Savage, who is from Medicine Hat, wants to spend more time with his family. . . . The Wild also signed D Colton Jobke, 18, an undrafted free agent who plays for the Kelowna Rockets. . . . Rockets president/GM Bruce Hamilton, who is the chairman of hte WHL’s board of governors, has been named Kelowna’s 2010 Business Leader of the Year.
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