Wednesday, 05 February 2014 06:34

‘Johann Sebastian’ Black hitting all the right notes

Written by  Brad Brown, A Bard’s Eye View
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If Graham Black really wants to make a career in hockey, he shouldn’t have any trouble finding work.


The only question is in what role he’ll be performing.
As a fifth-round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2012, the over-age Swift Current Broncos centre is having a career year as he chases his first NHL contract.
As a classically trained pianist, Black could also one day be pounding out tunes on the organ at your favourite team’s home arena, or writing the next big stadium anthem himself.
“I would love to play music for the rest of my life, and I will no matter what happens,” he said. “But the reason I love it so much is because it’s a release from everyday life and is something I can do so passionately.
“If I were in a situation where I was forced to write songs and make a living at it, I do hope I wouldn’t lose the desire that I have to play.”
So far that hasn’t been a problem, on the ice or off.
Black recently re-learned Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and his quest to write the kind of music the next Graham Black might want to one day play has taken him to to the pianos of a number of local churches as well as at the homes of his teammates’ billets over the past three years.
“I’ll dabble with Elton John and some of those types of musicians, but I prefer writing my own music,” he said. “It’s the only time I can really express myself creatively, except for once in awhile when I’m playing hockey. When I’m away from the rink it’s a release from day-to-day life.”
And, as the Broncos have lost their composure over the last two months, one constant has been the reliability of their composer.
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Swift Current’s season to date peaked on Dec. 4 with a win over Lethbridge that put the Broncos atop the Eastern Conference.
Since then, they’ve won just eight of 22 games and dropped to fifth. Counting all losses equally, in baseball terminology they’d be two full games behind both second-place Brandon and eighth-place Red Deer.
Lost in the talk around the slump is Black who has scored 10 goals and assisted on 17 more in that time, including his first WHL hat trick Friday as the Broncos beat Medicine Hat.
“I’ve always expected big things from myself but I was really disappointed with the season I had last year and I couldn’t have expected having a season like this coming into this year,” said Black, who also holds the unofficial title of the fastest player in the league.
For the season he has 68 points in 51 games, good for eighth in the Western Hockey League.
If the 2013-14 season ended today Black would be the first Bronco to finish in the top 10 in scoring since Cody Eakin in 2009-10, and the highest-ranking Bronco on the scoring charts in 10 years.
The cost to the Broncos? A fourth-round draft pick.
The cost to the Edmonton Oil Kings? It’s tough to say, though it’s worth mentioning the player they selected with that Bantam Draft pick has yet to step foot in the WHL and worth considering the benefits Black’s speed and work ethic may have provided them in last year’s championship series loss against Portland.
“When we got him he was leading the (Saskatchewan midget) AAA league in scoring so the capabilities were there,” said Broncos associate coach Darren Evjen. “Every time you make a jump in hockey you have to adjust your game, but he had the capabilities, and then it’s up to the player to improve and to work hard, and do the little extras to get better.”
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Like any typical hockey player, Black is quick to credit his teammates for his newfound success.
(He posted 50 points in back-to-back seasons as a rookie and a sophomore after earning a full-time roster spot in 2011-12.)
What’s different about Black is his teammates also include a bevy of doctors who finally helped him overcome a battle with Graves’ Disease that left him sleepless in Seattle, Swift Current and almost every stop along the way, as well as battling wild weight fluctuations for the first two years of his WHL career.
He had his thyroid removed last February and came to training camp last fall in the best shape of his junior career.
“He feels better, he can push himself in the gym better, he can practice harder and it just improves your game all the way around,” said Evjen. “He’s become more of a complete player and that’s just little things all over – defending, on the penalty kill, on the power play, 5-on-5, and when you’re good in all those little areas it makes a big difference.”
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The Broncos begin a stretch of three games in three nights tonight when they travel to Brandon to face the conference-leading Wheat Kings. They're in Moose Jaw on Saturday and return home to host Brandon on Sunday.
It's just a matter of consistency and being able to play down the stretch here the right way, and Graham can lead us that way," said Evjen. "He’s a 20 year old that has some experience and he can help us and push in all those areas to make everybody follow him. And if he does that then we’ll start seeing some success."


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