Blue Jackets: Calvert gaining confidence in minors
Matt Calvert had 11 goals in 42 games with the Blue Jackets in 2010-2011, but didn’t score for Columbus last season.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — When the Blue Jackets’ 2010-11 season became a lost cause, left winger Matt Calvert was called up from Springfield and provided a ray of hope in the second half of the season.
When the 2011-12 season became a lost cause — right around Thanksgiving — Calvert became part of a question. A parade of players was recalled from Springfield, but denizens of Nationwide Arena were left to wonder: Where is Calvert?
“You see other guys packing their bags to go up, and you’re happy for them,” Calvert said. “But there’s a part of you that’s wondering … why isn’t that me?One of the biggest parts of playing hockey is confidence. If you don’t have it, you don’t have very much. And I admit: I was losing confidence last season.”
There were several contributing factors. Calvert suffered a groin injury early in training camp, sapping him of the quick-burst speed that is his calling card. But even after the groin healed, the Blue Jackets didn’t believe he was playing that well in Springfield. Nor did he play well in two early season call-ups to Columbus.
So he stayed in Springfield, watching Ryan Russell, Alexandre Giroux, Dane Byers, Darryl Boyce and others pack their bags. Calvert played in only 13 games with the Blue Jackets, none after Nov. 19.
“I expected to be an 80-game player after the way (2010-11) ended,” Calvert said. “I got hurt in training camp, maybe lost a step, and it took me a while to get it back. And when I did get it back, the opportunity wasn’t there for me like it was a year earlier.“It was a learning experience. I learned a lot about being a pro, what it takes to stay at the next level. For the whole organization, it was a tough year.”
Springfield coach Brad Larsen was an assistant with the Falcons last season. That, as well as his own career that bounced between the minors and the NHL, gave him a sense of what Calvert was experiencing.
“Matty Calvert’s speed and pursuit and tenacity on the puck is what is going to separate him from other guys,” Larsen said. “He creates scoring chances out of that, but if he loses that edge even a little bit, he’s not the same player.”
Larsen believes some of that “speed and pursuit and tenacity” was lost after his 2010-11 call-up to Columbus. Calvert had 11 goals and nine assists in 42 games, including a hat trick against Phoenix on Feb. 25, one of the few nights all season where Nationwide Arena was electric.
Calvert’s nine goals after the All-Star Game tied Rick Nash for most on the team.
“He set the bar way up here,” Larsen said, reaching high above his head. “He started to define his play by how many goals he was scoring. He was starting to play to score goals. And when he went 30-some games (between Columbus and Springfield last season) without scoring a goal, it messed with him. He totally got away from his game.”
The Blue Jackets stressed to Calvert that he stick to the basics, that he grow his game within his skill set. That means using his speed, being defensively sound and being one of the best forecheckers in the league. As winter turned to spring, the Blue Jackets told Calvert they would not be recalling him to the NHL, that they wanted him to finish strong in Springfield and get ready for 2012-13.
“The last 30 games (of last season) I just stopped worrying about getting called up,” Calvert said. “I stopped being frustrated because I wasn’t up there, and I started playing better.”
There has been no threat of a call-up this season because the NHL is 31/2 months deep into a lockout. But Calvert is one of many players excelling for Springfield. He has eight goals, eight assists and a plus-12 rating in 27 games.
“Everybody has expectations for you, and I have some for myself,” Calvert said. “They were not met last season. When you come out of junior (hockey), you expect everything to be easy. You don’t realize how much you still have to learn. That’s what last season was for me. I think I’m a much better player for it.”