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November 29/08 - Surges, Slides and Surprises - the Midseason Report
With the Pontiac Firebirds in a fight to stay above .500 at the midway point of MLD Season 13, the remainder of this campaign appears totally unpredictable. And as we joined Coach damag in his office at La Centre Guy Lafleur, we received word of a late-breaking trade between the Firebirds and the Kingston Crooks. Former second-round draft choice Maxime Gagnon goes over to the Crooks in exchange for troubled winger Rob Nokimaki. Coach damag cracked open a bottle of Crown Royal last night to analyze the deal, and the season, with us.
firebirdshockey.ca: Tell us about Gagnon-for-Nokimaki.
damag: We've had some success in the draft picking up young centers the past few seasons. Howie (Hamayomama) and Randy (Ladd) have really stepped up for us. And we've got a few retirement issues coming up with our veteran wingers. So this was a depth chart move for next season, not this one.
firebirdshockey.ca: But Max has been a fan favourite here... and a former Firebirds top rookie.
damag: Yeah, without a doubt he's the best player I've traded away since I've been here. But with Max... we felt like we knew what he was going to give us. Honestly, for the way I want this team to play, he never felt like a great fit for our system. And with, frankly, his complete ineptitude in the faceoff circle, I had him on right wing most of the time anyway. Yes, Max has talent, but it's up to him to make the most of it with the Crooks.
firebirdshockey.ca: You know most people would say Nokimaki is an odd fit for the Firebirds. You've never had a player like him here.
damag: Robbie is... misunderstood. We had an eye on him way back when he came out, could have had him but he went a round earlier than we thought. He can skate, he's responsible in his own end...
firebirdshockey.ca: But most in MLD circles consider him a loose cannon, coach. Even the Crooks. There have been rumours you've been after Nokimaki for awhile. Is this personal? Does this have anything to do with your relationship with his family?
damag: (Silence) You guys know... I played with the late Jeff Nokimaki back in the Niagara league. Kelli Nokimaki has always been a great... friend of mine... since Jeff's chopper went down on that fishing trip. Robbie was never the same since. The night he was traded to the Crooks, Kelli called me on the phone, and she was crying. "Do you know what those bastards will do to him? Please, get him out of there." I tried, man. For three seasons, we kept it quiet, under the table. The kid's been through a lot, but there's still a hockey player in there.
firebirdshockey.ca: You said this is a trade for next season. Nokimaki hasn't played at all this season, and there are plenty of rumours why.
damag: I'll be straight with you. The Crooks "medical" staff have had this kid overprescribed on painkillers for the past few seasons. They drugged him up, messed with his head, tried to turn him into an animal. So we're going to clean him up. He goes straight into rehab tomorrow. My vets, Jimmy Rockford and Mel Smiley, are going to take him under their wings. Next time he hits the ice, the MLD will see a whole different Rob Nokimaki.
firebirdshockey.ca: Fair enough. So what can we expect to see that's different from the Firebirds in the second half of this season?
damag: Really not a whole lot. We had a great start. The team has really cooled off lately. With the exception of the Knights absolutely destroying everyone, and the Ogopogoes playing all their rookies, this is one of the most competitive MLD seasons I've seen yet. My rookies have been playing really well but they've been nicked up and are hitting the wall a little. And it sure would be nice to have one of our goalies take the ball and run with it. But I'm still optimistic that we might have a shot at picking things up over the second half.