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Dubas visits Orlando, Leafs focused on developing defensemen

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Finding good D at all levels is focal point for the organization, Dubas says.

Last night's game was painful. The South Carolina Stingrays, perhaps feeling lingering frustration from last week's two close, low-scoring contests (both won in the shootout), took advantage of a tired young Solar Bears team and just...gave it to them. The final score was 6-3.

A Stingray named David Pacan appeared to score four goals on hung-out-to-dry Rob Madore, although two of those were later taken back. Two of the Stingrays goals were scored during Solar Bears bench penalties -- one for too many men (Anthony Noreen said, "That one is on me"), and the other one, a bench minor, was a mystery. "We're still trying to figure that one out," Noreen said. The bench language was clean, Noreen threw nothing on the ice. "Not sure what they saw or why they called it."

You can read Don Money's story of the game over here.

The result is that in two Solar Bears games that he's seen in person, Kyle Dubas has yet to see the team play good hockey. This did not change his attitude toward the trip, however. After the game, we were given ten precious minutes to talk to Boy Wonder. He answered questions about the Leafs system, his closeness to head coach Noreen, and how the Solar Bears' loss really, honestly wasn't his fault.

My takeaways:

  • Potential future drafting philosophy alert: "Our needs as an organization are pretty much the same all throughout. We’ve really got to focus on defense, and trying to identify D at all different levels that can come and help us, that’s a focus of ours."
  • Dubas is incredibly compassionate about the physical wear on the body of the ECHL as a league, especially given transportation issues.
  • Despite the Grabner trade, the Solar Bears remain important to the Leafs system. Noreen and Dubas talk "almost daily," and the development in this minor team might be extrapolated to the development of Noreen as a professional coach, too.
  • Dubas says that the Solar Bears have the same problems that the Marlies did early in the season, pointing out that the team is young, and often play teams with older, more physically developed, more experienced players. Interesting to see that this was one of his insights into the Marlies' struggles.
  • Dubas said that no matter how good a coach is, it's the job of the front office to find them excellent players to develop.
  • I got close to the "Why Zach Bell and not someone else?" question, and got a decent answer.

Dubas speaks to Orlando media

PPP: I don’t think you’re allowed to return to Orlando. Everyone gets too nervous.

Dubas: I was just saying to the coaches, in a year -- it’s been a year and a half now, I’ve never seen the team play well. Whenever I watch from Toronto, they seem to play to their capability, I don’t think it’s because of me, it’s just by chance that it works out that way.

I kind of expected it today. The team had a really successful road trip. They played a very very good team, the team that gave them trouble on the road as well. You get in late after a long trip back on Sunday, leaving at 4 in the afternoon, driving all through the night, you get home Monday, play here Tuesday. I’m not surprised that the team wasn’t sharp.

PPP: So I have a whole list of questions from [PPP] -- I’ll only ask a few.

Dubas: Sure.

PPP: First, people were concerned that the Grabner trade kind of got rid of some of the depth that was supposed to come down to Orlando. Did the perception of the use of Orlando change in this time you’ve been -- since the Grabner trade?

Dubas: I think it’s certainly -- we can’t fool people and say that it didn’t deplete some of the depth from the minor league system. The trade was done for one to bring Grabner to Toronto, and two, to increase our flexibility in our contract slots, and the cost of doing that was moving out some of the prospects that we did. I think that the players that are here in Orlando, there are really only two guys that it’s cost them, and we tried to make that up by sending players down right away.

PPP: One recent call-up was Zach Bell. What goes into the decision making process to bring players up to the Marlies, or not?

Dubas: What we usually do is confer with Anthony, and say, this is the type of team we’re playing against, here’s the duration of time we think we’ll need the recall for. In that case, we weren’t sure whether Andrew Campbell was going to be able to play in St. John’s, so Sheldon spoke with Anthony and I spoke with Anthony, and decided to call up Zach.

Don Money/Pro Hockey News: From the last time you were here, going by the in-person eye test, were there points that you see progression on, and points that you see regression on.

Dubas: Well, I think that when it comes to the eye test part of it, I’ve only seen the team play live now twice, so I don’t feel that’s a good enough sample size based on the number of games they’ve played. I’ve watched all but a few of the games online, and I’ve watched a lot of them live, so I’m happy with the way the team has progressed. Especially -- the team struggles with the same thing that we struggled with, with the Marlies earlier in the year. They’re a young team relative to the league, and when you’re younger, you’re smaller, and they struggle with teams like South Carolina tonight that are an older, bigger, more veteran team.

Watching the road trip especially I was happy in the second game at South Carolina how the team came out and played. I think it’s a testament to the coaching staff and the job that they have done so far, and a testament to the players. So when I watch, I can’t just base it on the two games I’m here, especially when there’s been so many other games played, over a dozen of them. So we try to watch them all, and talk to Anthony and get his pulse on the team, and talk to Joe [Haleski] and Jason [Seigel] when we’re here, and get a sense for how things are going. But we’re happy with the progress that’s made.

The team is 8 - 4 - 2 now, or 8 - 4 - 3, so that’s a pretty good start.

Don: One of the buzzwords down here is a 60 minute game, playing a full game. Is that something you guys in Toronto can help Anthony with, to get this game to a full 60 minutes.

Dubas: I think that it comes with time. We’re always here to help Anthony and the players with anything that they need. He’s been great working with Sheldon. He and I talk in some form or another nearly every day, and if not it doesn’t go more than two days without us speaking. So, you know, getting the team to play 60 minutes -- this league is much harder to do that in than any of the leagues that we play in. The mode of travel, the nights that you play, and the various different things that impact it. It’s a lot of wear and tear on the players.

Players here, they play Saturday night, travel all the way back. It’s tough to have an athlete come out here and try to play a perfect game tonight. So I’m proud of the guys who tried to grind through it, stay to the end, get it in two with an empty net goal. And I know they’ll be better on Friday night. Just, they looked tired today and the execution was off.

Shane Whitehead/WFTV Channel 9: How do you guys up there in the front office view winning vs. development? You hope it goes hand-in-hand…

Dubas: I think that in order for winning and development to go hand in hand, that’s on us in the front office, it’s not on the coaches and the players. If we do a good job finding good enough players, and coaches do their best developing them, then the team’s going to have success, but we have to start that off by finding talented players for the coaches to work with.

The coaches can develop players as much as possible, but if they aren’t really good, they aren’t going to be able to win games.

So it’s up to us to find quality talent for all of our clubs, the Leafs, Marlies, and Solar Bears, and to support the coaching staff throughout, and I think they’ve done a very good job here, and it’s shown up in the standings so far.

Shane: Would you like to find better players at a faster pace?

Dubas: Always, yeah. We’d always love to find as many good players as you can as quick as you can. That’s the goal, and there was one thing that we were obviously challenged with starting here, about a year and a half now, or a year and four months, it kind of goes by pretty quickly. But we’re trying to get there, we think we’re on the right track. I think that the seasons the Marlies and Solar Bears have started to have out of the gate lends some credence to that. The way the Maple Leafs are playing … we’ve got a long road ahead of us still, a long ways to go.

Shane: So how does this work, you come down here, you watch, you go up there, you report, and say hey, they could use this, this, or this, or …

Dubas: I’ll always confer with Anthony on where the team is at, and if they think there’s anything we can help with… Our needs as an organization are pretty much the same all throughout. We’ve really got to focus on defense, and trying to identify D at all different levels that can come and help us, that’s a focus of ours. But we just, we’re not good enough yet to be picky on positions, we’re trying to find as many good players as we can, and go from there.

When I’m down here, it’s more to get a grasp on what’s going on, on the ground, for myself, and evaluations of the players, that’s always happening, whether through Anthony’s reports or my own watchings of the games.

Shane: Not the weather?

Dubas: It’s cold here! I came here today, I was expecting it to be pretty warm, and I was disappointed, but what can you do.