When Kaiden Guhle scored his first goal of preseason camp on Sept. 29, the young defenseman winked as he skated toward the Winnipeg Jets bench.
Cocky and brimming with confidence, the Montreal Canadiens’ 2020 first-round pick was poking fun at one person in particular: Brad Lauer.
Hired by the Manitoba organization over the summer, the 55-year-old coached Guhle for 25 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL last season.
Lauer then led the burly 20-year-old fullback in his quest for the WHL championship, in which his protégé was crowned playoff MVP with eight goals and 16 points in 19 games.
“It was exciting to see him score. We wrote to each other after the game and I said “congratulations on your goal luckyRick Bowness’s assistant laughed sarcastically during a recent interview with TVASports.ca.
“I wished him good luck at camp. We will try to keep in touch. He is a very special boy.”
In addition to having a good first pass and likes to dish out calculated shots with his shoulder, the energetic rookie has a goal that the Jets’ hockey savant admires: “He wants to become a complete defender. He wants to be reliable defensively while he uses his creativity to support the attack.
Photo credit: AFP
Though he had to deal with an offseason injury, Guhle showed up to Habs camp in resplendent form. Not only did he want to make a good impression, he intended to impress under the watchful eye of the decision makers.
Now is the defining moment for Bleu-blanc-rouge and they did not disappoint with three goals and several memorable appearances. For a good number of applicants who want to make a career at a professional level, it is work and effort that prevail.
In this sense, Guhle knew how to turn a frustrating situation into a good example of perseverance a year ago, almost daily. On July 11, 2021, the CH made him the last skater removed from his camp before revealing his 23-member roster.
Photo credit: Joël Lemay / QMI Agency
Instead of showing up to the Prince Albert Raiders, his youth club at the time, in high spirits, the 6’2″, 205-pound defenseman was gearing up for a stellar season in the WHL. Acquired by the Oil Kings on December 1, accumulated a point per game (25 in as many outings).
“We had already been in talks for some time with Prince Albert to acquire him,” Oil Kings general manager Kirt Hill told TVASports.ca. Kaiden didn’t show disappointment (about being cut) because he was the best player of his and tried to do everything on the ice. He carried a weak team on his back. He was extremely competitive.
“I’m sure he was disappointed despite everything. When he was traded here, we were stocking up on ammo with the goal of winning the championship. He turned it on. So he felt very motivated. He wanted to give it his all to show that he was ready for a role in Montreal.
After lifting the Ed Chynoweth Cup in six games against the Seattle Thunderbirds and then a brief appearance in the Memorial Cup, Lauer and Hill individually met with their best players.
Photo Credit: John Morris / QMI Agency
“We talked to them about the next step. It is not easy, hence the importance of returning to training little by little, ”says Lauer.
Hill offered more details about these year-end meetings: “We told them to take a step back. It is not customary to play until the end of June and the boys were required to attend NHL development camps at short notice.
“I advised them to take at least a week off before going back to training.”
“He wants to be the best”
For Lauer, a former forward who played 323 NHL games, Guhle’s performance in the WHL playoffs left no doubt. The young man already had the potential to break the Habs formation and, in his words, he was going to do everything he could to hang on to this quest, because “if he wants something, he’ll go and take it.”
“He thinks like a professional player and he showed it in the way he behaved (in Edmonton), he says. His training in the gym, the fact that he took care of his body and all the little details. He was very mature in youth.
Photo Credit: John Morris / QMI Agency
“He is an outstanding skater who plays with his guts. In the final he identified the best players on the other side of the ice and knew what he had to do. With the robustness of him, he took them out of their game and challenged them, he was so competitive. He forced his opponents to fight to the end and it was impressive to see a guy like that.
To find out what the plan might be that awaits his former student, Lauer was cautiously optimistic about a few days of big decisions. Knowing the individual, he is convinced that he has taken full advantage of the fact that he “wants to be the best every day”.
“He has raw talent and has evolved physically. There are tough decisions in every organization and that’s what they want to see in camp … players forcing their hand. We have some here and it’s nice that Kaiden is doing it there.
“He is going to make very difficult decisions because he wants to carve out a position at all costs and it will be a great achievement if he succeeds.”
Listening to Lauer talk about Guhle, there is a certain pride. She gave him some advice over the summer and the towering number 21 seems to have applied it to the letter.
“I said don’t waste any opportunity, stay focused, keep your feet on the ground and be humble. Make sure you do whatever it takes to break through the formation. Nothing is ever given to you. Make a good impression on veterans and always be respectful.”
And for the fans who find him serious in interviews, think again. According to his former CEO, Kaiden Guhle is quite a character.
Photo credit: AFP
“He is quite a joker. He is having fun on the ice. He’s not afraid to make mistakes and he doesn’t hesitate to laugh at himself.”
The other facet of his locker room personality is that of a (future) captain.
“Kaiden had no trouble talking in the bedroom,” reports Lauer. Sometimes in junior it’s not easy. It takes a certain maturity to speak in the locker room and these are the qualities of a leader.
“He also wanted to jump on the ice at every bench change to grab the puck. This is something I had to discuss with him in order for him to understand power management.
Like on Long Island in… 1986
Brad Lauer has been in Kaiden Guhle’s boots before. Selected by the New York Islanders in the second round of the 1985 auction, he impressed the staff enough to earn a roster spot.
Ironically, 36 years later, he believes it was the wrong decision.
“I was very lucky to join an organization that had just won four Stanley Cups. They had older players and I had a really good camp. The islands gave me a place, but when I look back on my development, I don’t think I was mature enough to play in the NHL.
“He probably wasn’t, but that’s what he wanted. I made a good impression and it was a camp where everything seemed to go my way.
As is often the case in camp, Lauer’s happiness made another player unhappy. To make room for him, management had to get rid of a well-respected veteran in the locker room.
Decision time is fast approaching for Bleu-blanc-rouge and one thing is for sure, they did not fail in the task with three goals and several memorable ones. For any applicant who wants to make a career at a professional level, what matters most is work and perseverance.
“Some of the players from that era are in the Hall of Fame. When I won my spot, Clark Gillies was waived and reclaimed by the Buffalo Sabers (pictured below). The assistant assigned me to his old locker after practice.
Photo credit: JOHN TAYLOR / Le Journal de Montreal
“I was sitting next to Denis Potvin, who looked at me suspiciously. He said to me: ‘Excuse me, young man, I have seen the same face in this place for nine years, and this is a new face.’
Feeling very uncomfortable sitting in Gillies’ old box, Lauer asked his coach to find him another seat.
“I was finally offered a position next to the GM (Bill Torrey) office. I couldn’t find her 5
funny… I spent the year there and Mr. Torrey was a great cigar smoker. Smoke was constantly coming out. It wasn’t like today!”
Mike Bossy: “terrific”
Finally, Lauer recalls looking in awe at some of the islanders’ legends, including the late Mike Bossy.
“His presence… he was a confident individual. He is one of those you couldn’t stop looking at, he admits.
Photo credit: Photo Les Archives Journal de Montréal
“The way Mike did things and threw the puck from different angles was phenomenal. He didn’t have the strongest throw, but he was fast and accurate!
One of the last stops in Lauer’s NHL career was his stint with the Ottawa Senators in 1993-94. He then played with his current boss, Jets head coach Rick Bowness.
“I have a lot of respect for Rick. He brings energy and passion to the arena every day. I’m excited to work for him.”
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