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Rob Ramage is itching to get on the road to watch hockey games.
It’s a sentiment shared by his wife Dawn.
“My wife is looking at me and saying: ‘I need to miss you,’ ” Ramage said Thursday during a video conference call from his home in St. Louis.
Ramage is the Canadiens’ director of player development and he and Francis Bouillon oversee the team’s prospects, from recent draft choices to minor-leaguers. It’s a task that has been more difficult this year because there are a lot of players to look after and COVID-19 restrictions have limited their ability to play games.
“I remember when Ron Caron came to St. Louis as the general manager and he said the cupboard was bare (but) our cupboard in Montreal is full,” said Ramage.
The Canadiens have drafted 29 players during the past three years and Ramage keeps tabs on about 50 players. He said he checks in with the players and their coaches on a regular basis and there is also communication between the players and the team’s strength coaches, medical staff and team psychologist David Scott.
Many of the prospects haven’t played in games since the sport shut down in March and most of them have had limited opportunities to skate. This situation is not limited to prospects — there was a report this week that Canadiens wingers Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin are among the NHL players unable to find ice because the Quebec government has shut rinks.
Ramage said he’s cautiously optimistic that players will be able to catch up quickly.
“If you look at the summer, in the playoffs, the level of play (was high),” said Ramage. “Obviously those guys are all professionals, but these young guys train like pros.”
Ramage noted that things are starting to open up in North America and he hopes to see some college and USHL games next month. Cole Caufield, the Canadiens’ first-round choice (No. 15 overall) in 2019, will make his season debut on Nov. 13 when the University of Wisconsin is slated to open a home-and-away series against Minnesota.
On Dec. 1, he hopes to be in Omaha, Neb., where National Collegiate Hockey Conference teams will gather in a bubble. It’s a chance to see Denver forward Brett Stapley, a player who has been progressing under the radar. Stapley was the Canadiens’ 2018 seventh-round pick, No. 190 overall, and Stapley noted that Montreal has had good luck with seventh-round picks Jake Evans and Cayden Primeau.
“I hope I get in to see some of these games; I may have to sneak in as the Zamboni driver,” said Ramage.
He said the Canadiens were fortunate to be able to place several players, including Jesperi Kotkaniemi, with their former teams in Europe.
“It’s important (for Kotkaniemi) to keep the momentum he had this summer,” said Ramage. “Those guys that are over there are fortunate because they’re with good programs … and they’re doing something they love and not stuck in gyms.”
Ramage noted that the prospects have their own coaches and he said the one thing he and Bouillon try to impress upon the players is the need to compete.
“They all play golf in the summer and I always say to them, ‘Do you play for anything?’ I’m not talking big dollars but when you play with your buddies, play for something. I don’t care if it’s a milkshake, put some pressure on yourself when you try to make a putt or you have to hit the fairway. Turn that into all the things you’re doing. Try to ingrain that (competition).”
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