Throughout the month of August, BismarckBobcats.com will be taking a one-by-one look at the players on the Bobcats’ Training Camp Roster. Today’s installment covers Bobcats second-year veteran defenseman Rory Vesel.
Name: Rory Vesel
Hometown: Rochester, MN
2011-12 Team: Bismarck Bobcats
2011-12 Stats: 28 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 PTS, 22 PIM
Favorite Pro Sports Team: Minnesota Twins
Favorite Food: Chicken Alfredo
Highlight of 2011-12: “Beating Aberdeen 4-2 on the last night of the season in front of our fans and all their fans that made the trip; that game gave us a big boost heading into the playoffs”
When Rory Vesel took the ice for the Bismarck Bobcats in 2011-12, there was never a question what his defensive hallmark was: blocking shots.
“To me, playing defense is just as important as playing offense and scoring goals,” explained Vesel, an alumnus of Lourdes High School in Rochester. “So it’s important to get down and block shots and do whatever you can to help your team.”
Though blocked shots are not an official stat in the NAHL, Vesel had more than one weekend in which unofficial totals credited him with more than 10 blocks, including 11 in a pivotal three-game sweep of Austin and Alexandria in late January that saw the Bobcats seize control of the Central Division.
“If you want to win at the junior level, you’ve got to be ready to pay the price,” stressed Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie. “Rory understands that and is willing to sacrifice his body to get in front of shots by anyone.”
Despite the fact that shot-blocking isn’t exactly a glamour profession in the world of hockey, it suits the soft-spoken blueliner just fine. In fact, when asked if he’d rather block a good scoring chance or lay a big hit, Vesel still picked the block.
“Well, yeah, making a big hit will fire up the crowd and fire up the team,” he admitted, “but you could be taking a goal off the board for the other team if you get that block. And what if the goalie wasn’t going to get it? Or if we go right back down the ice and score?”
Just as Vesel was beginning to come into his own on the blue line for the Bobcats early in 2011-12, his season was interrupted by a broken jaw during a particularly heated game at Minot two days after Thanksgiving—and exactly a week after his first goal at the junior level.
Sidelined for two months while his jaw healed at his family’s home in Rochester, Vesel did what he could to stay in shape and follow the team. In the team’s last weekend before Christmas, he made the short trip from Rochester to Austin to lend emotional support to his teammates as the Cats split a two-game series with the Bruins at Riverside Arena.
Though he wouldn’t play until late in the month, Vesel returned to Bismarck to train and practice with the Bobcats in January. During his on-ice rehab, he had concerns that the time off had affected him.
“Guys were telling me I looked as skinny as a scarecrow when I got back,” he recalled, “so I had to work hard off the ice at Healthways to make sure I got back in shape.”
Vesel got the green light to return for the January 27 contest at Austin and wasted no time in announcing his return: blocking four shots—including a memorable block on hard-shooting Bruins defenseman Christian Folin—and posting a +2 rating in a decisive 6-1 road win.
“I knew that when I got back in, I had to play my best game ever to show the coaches I was ready to go for the rest of the season.”
One of the most surprising aspects of Vesel’s defense-first style during the 2011-12 campaign is that in high school he was more offensively oriented, averaging nearly a point per game in 2010-11 for Lourdes.
“My senior year I guess you could say I had a pretty high number of points for a defenseman,” submitted Vesel, who had 10 goals and 13 assists for the Eagles, “but that was in high school. When you play juniors, you need to play the best style that fits the team.
“When you have defensemen on your team like we did last year in Donald Olivieri and Danny Ray and Bryce Anderson who like to jump into the rush and create chances, it makes you want stay at home a bit more to make sure we’re still covered defensively.”
That said, Vesel hasn’t completely closed off the possibility of providing an offensive spark in 2012-13.
“I’ve been on the ice at least three times a week during the offseason, and one thing I’ve been working on is mental awareness and seeing opportunities,” said Vesel, “because if what I saw at Main Camp plays out, we’ll be a more defensive team this year than last year. If we are more defensively sound, that will give me more confidence to jump up into the play without worrying about hanging our goalies out to dry.”
His offensive refinements were evident during the Bobcats’ late-July Main Camp, in which he registered four assists in four games—matching his assist total in 28 regular season games last season.
“Whatever helps the team is what I want to do. I’m still all about defense but if the team needs points, I want to be able to contribute there, too.”
Stay tuned to BismarckBobcats.com over the next month as we take you in-depth with every player on the Training Camp Roster in preparation for the 2012-13 season. Later this week we will feature Ryan Callahan, Terry Hennen and Kevin Becker.