Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

No one is accusing the Portland Winterhawks of anything underhanded. But the clamour over a phantom player wearing No. 23 who lit it up during Portland's training camp scrimmages falls under the heading of entertainment.

Take it from the top.

Monday:
Winterhawks play-by-play man Andy Kemper, asked by a blog commenter, "Who was #23 red?", cryptically replied, "Only the shadow knows."

Tuesday: The Winterhawks denied Rocco Grimaldi, a smallish, skilled centre who is committed to North Dakota in the WCHA, had attended their camp. Grimaldi's rights were acquired from the Vancouver Giants in a conditional trade, hence the interest from Van City.

By the way, if the player came and went within 48 hours, he would have protected his NCAA eligibility.  

"A quick phone call to the Winterhawks Tuesday night put a kibosh on it all, though. The Portland version of proceedings has the Winterhawks leaving a player off the training roster sheet they gave out to the fans who came to watch. The player put on a good show early, somebody suggested it was Grimaldi, and, in the time you can say ain't the web great?!?,' a sighting was posted in several chat rooms.

"The Winterhawks maintain it's not Grimaldi and he's still slated to start at the University of North Dakota in 2011-12." (The Dub Hub, Aug. 31)

Gregg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News says he's been e-mailed "fuzzy" and "grainy" photos purportedly of the phantom player. The young man in them is a left-handed shot. Grimaldi is a righty.

Wednesday: Dylan Bumbarger of OregonLive.com related message-board scuttlebutt from fans who noted the mystery man's name wasn't announced for goals.

"Somebody was here that they wanted to keep secret, possibly someone they've followed closely (even in the middle of the season) and have put a lot of work into wooing. Yee-haw!" (OregonLive.com, Sept. 1)

Thursday: Drinnan tried to unravel the mystery:

"Here's what Graham Kendrick, the Winterhawks’ director of media and public relations, told me [Thursday], via email: 'We had a number of players fill out rosters for the scrimmage and players were switching jerseys to complete teams so I don’t have a record of who he was.' "

"And here’s what general manager/head coach Mike Johnston told me: “I understand some people have been speculating that Rocco was in camp but I am sure you know that is not true. Also Graham informed me that certain local bloggers were also speculating that we were hiding players in camp. Under no circumstances did we have a player here who might be considering College and agreed to keep his name out of the team lists.

" 'We held a tournament with four teams over the four days and on Sunday I heard people wondering who scored particular goals. There were 60-plus goals scored in the eight games and, to be honest, I didn't keep track of who was scoring. The announcer did his best but there were situations where he didn't know who the player was because we switched jerseys and added local kids in for injuries.' " (Taking Note, Sept. 2)

Johnston's explanation, "I didn't keep track of who was scoring," might fail some sniff tests. However, it is possible a coach would not tabulate every scoring play, instead training on his eyes on the subtler nuances of each hopeful's game.

Later Thursday, Bumbarger had some trouble buying the Winterhawks' explanation.

"Again, I wasn't there. But every account I've read says this guy stood out. He was one of the better players on the ice, and he was one of the shorter players on the ice. He scored at least two goals, maybe three.

"Soooo ... a large number of fans recognize a player, one of the game's leading scorers, not one of last year's regulars but playing with and against almost all of last year's regulars, as one of the best players on the ice, and the coaches and staff don't recognize whom the fans are talking about?

"If true, shouldn't that really scare us? I have a lot of respect for the Winterhawks' coaches, but this doesn't say a lot for their ability to recognize talent.

"... I've gone from being obsessively curious to now being quite relieved that in all the confusion of numbers the Winterhawks didn't cut [Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick] Ryan Johansen by mistake." (OregonLive.com, Sept. 2)

Not to go Sam "Small Print" Lyman on readers, but there is a difference between being secretive during training camp and playing someone under an assumed name in a preseason game. Providing a training camp roster could ultimately be considered a courtesy to diehard fans who show up to watch scrimmages. And coaches and GMs, as we all know, can run a disinformation campaign that would put a White House press secretary to shame.

The latter has been known to happen. The statute of limitations for bringing up the time several seasons ago when Portland listed goalie Lanny Ramage as "Bob Bell" in exhibition games has probably expired. It was a different time, with different management. Amazingly, in an age when everyone has cell-phone camera, no one got a pic of Red 23.

It might be one of those mysteries that is unsolvable, like why Kristin Bell doesn't own Hollywood. The only way it could have been better is if the Winterhawks had listed the player as Guy Incognito.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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