Cuma 'rooting' for Quinn

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Word is the sun wasn't even up yet when Tyler Cuma hopped out of bed and headed to the Bell Sensplex for an hour skate with fellow 67's Adam Courchaine and Thomas Nesbitt yesterday morning.

Now, rising for 6:30 a.m. rink availability is easier on Aug. 25 than Feb. 25, but this still doesn't seem like normal behaviour for an 18-year-old, does it? Aren't they just turning off the PlayStations or returning home from a party around that time?

But Cuma, for one, is not your typical teenager. Since the snow melted, he's worn his skates more than his flip flops. He's pulled on a helmet more often than a ballcap.

He's seen more ice than a thirsty tourist at an all-inclusive resort.

Following the 67's elimination from the playoffs last spring, Cuma joined Canada's under-18 team for a run that ended in a world championship gold medal. He stayed off the blades in May, and a little bit of June, then started skating again as NHL draft day approached. Shortly after the Wild selected him in the first round, 23rd overall, he went to Minnesota's development camp. Not long after returning from that, he was practising with the national junior team hopefuls at University of Ottawa.

Now, he's "fooling around" with sticks and pucks and his buddies on an otherwise barren sheet waiting for 67's camp to open. It won't be long, either -- players check in at the Civic Centre for physicals tomorrow, then begin two-a-days Thursday (9 a.m.-11 a.m., 2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.) under the direction of coach Brian Kilrea and assistants, Bert O'Brien and Chris Byrne.

For Cuma, the schedule will only be starting to get busy.

He leaves for a prospects tournament and Wild training camp Sept. 11, then returns to nation's capital Sept. 25, one day before the 67's play their home opener against the Belleville Bulls.

KEY PERFORMER

Cuma will probably see about 30 minutes of ice time in that one, as he will in most games he suits up in as a key player for Kilrea this season.

"(The Wild) have already told me they'll be watching me in Ottawa this year," he said, at grips with the fact he won't be cracking the NHL before getting his age of majority card. "That's fine with me. It's best that I get at least another year to develop in junior hockey."

Cuma has definite goals for the season. Along with helping the 67's to a longer playoff run, he hopes to be named one of Kilrea's three captains, improve on the four-goal, 28-assist output he had in 2007-08, stay on the positive side of the plus-minus ledger and, of course, make the national junior team.

The odds of him being successful in the latter improve if he gets off to a good start with the 67's, which is one of the reasons he has trained as hard as he has this summer.

"I know they'll be watching each and every guy a lot the first couple of months," said Cuma, one of 10 defencemen who was invited to the summer program at Ottawa U. "Hopefully, I'll get an invite to the next camp. I've got to do what I've got to do ... but I can't think too much about it. I've just got to keep my game simple and not thing about the world junior team when I'm playing for the 67's."

Cuma admits he was "quite surprised" when Benoit Groulx stepped away from his position as national junior team (and Gatineau Olympiques) coach to take a job in the pros as the Rochester Americans bench boss. Team Canada assistants Willie Desjardins and Dave Cameron will continue moving forward with the philosophies and systems already in place, so the transition to a new bench boss should be minimal. Deciding on Groulx's replacement will be Hockey Canada and the CHL, through the Program of Excellence Policy Committee, and while it would make too much sense to ask the winningest coach in junior hockey history if he was interested in taking the job -- a fitting and just reward, with the tournament in his hometown -- Kilrea will probably be overlooked.

Instead, the speculation is the brain trust will either promote Desjardins or bring in Pat Quinn, both familiar to Cuma. At the summer development camp, Desjardins was mostly working with the defenceman, and Quinn coached him at the under-18 world championship.

Asked about the former Maples Leafs boss, Cuma had nothing but good to report.

"I thought he was great," said Cuma. "Getting a chance overseas to play for him was unbelievable. He's a great guy ... everyone looks at him as a hard and strict coach, but he was laid-back and always talked to us. I'm kind of rooting for him. It'd be a great opportunity to play for him again."

Cuma says that whoever winds up with the job will expect hard work from the players. And that, he can bring to the table.

"It doesn't matter who the coach is," said Cuma. "I just want to make the team."

He's working toward that goal every day. Bright and early.


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