The Central Hockey League's Arizona Sundogs are reaping the benefit of the National Hockey League's lockout.
Some players at the highest level just want ice time without resorting to playing for European teams. Such is the case for Phoenix Coyote David Schlemko. The former Sundog and his wife, Kristin, returned to Phoenix seven weeks ago to await the birth of their first child, Ava, now four weeks old. Friday, the Sundogs conducted a press conference to announce Schlemko's return to the team - at least until the lockout ends - the first CHL team to sign an NHL player.
An Edmonton, Alberta, native, Schlemko was a 19-year-old rookie when he joined the CHL's Sundogs in October 2007 on a free agent contract with parent club Phoenix Coyotes. The following March the AHL's San Antonio Rampage called him up, just as the Sundogs were heating up to qualify for playoffs.
He didn't see much playing time in San Antonio, and was happy to return to the Sundogs for their 2008 playoff run. It ended well, as the Sundogs won the Ray Miron President's Cup championship.
Now he returns as a seasoned 25-year-old with hopes of helping the minor league team after three years in the majors.
When his agent asked Sundogs General Manager Chris Presson if he'd be interested in Schlemko, he didn't hesitate.
"It took me about three seconds to say yes," Presson said.
"I'm just excited to be skating," Schlemko said. "It's monotonous to do drills on your own."
Schlemko said not knowing his fellow Sundogs isn't so different than five years ago. "I didn't know anybody then," he said.
He expects to take more of a leadership role than he did as a 20-year-old, just as he expects opponents to be gunning for him as an NHL'er.
"The best way to develop their game is in practice. I'll try to lead by example," he said.
"And the guys (opponents) won't be afraid to finish their checks on me."
His skill set has changed.
"I've matured - I'm stronger, bigger and maybe smarter," he said with a grin. "I see the ice better."
He said the most noticeable difference between the NHL and minor leagues is player attitude.
"Not that the guys here don't have a good attitude, it's just that NHL guys are more committed in the gym - it's a lifestyle. Once you make it, you're trying to stay there."
Even though the Sundogs know Schlemko will return to the Coyotes as soon as possible, they're excited to have him now.
Training camp began this week. (see schedule @ sidebar)