'Confident' Kaberle joins Canes

Oft-criticized All-Star defenseman seeking fresh start in Raleigh

Staff WriterSeptember 9, 2011 

— Tomas Kaberle slipped into a Carolina Hurricanes sweater for the first time Thursday and skated with some of his new teammates at Raleigh Center Ice.

In his many years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the defenseman wore No. 15. Tuomo Ruutu has that uniform number with the Canes, but Kaberle said he doesn't mind simply reversing the numbers and wearing No. 51.

"Something new," Kaberle said, smiling. "It's a new team, a new number and a fresh start for me."

Kaberle signed a free-agent contract July 5 with the Hurricanes, a three-year deal that will pay him $12.75 million. The Leafs traded the Czech Republic native to the Boston Bruins in February, and Kaberle was a part of the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup, his first NHL championship.

But he seemingly had many detractors in Boston. There were those who said the four-time NHL All-Star was ineffective on the power play, reluctant to take his shots, wasn't tough enough in the one-on-one battles and generally not in good shape physically.

Kaberle said Thursday he was aware of the criticism that came his way. He realizes there are skeptics who say at 33, his best hockey years may be behind him and question the Canes' decision to sign him.

"It was an adjustment (in Boston)," Kaberle conceded. "I played different minutes than I had played in Toronto. I said I don't care, I'll do my best and see what happens.

"I will prepare for this season like always. I'm not at the end of my career. I just want to play my hockey. I just want to play my hockey style and that's why they signed me here."

Canes forward Jiri Tlusty once played with Kaberle in Toronto and trained with him in the offseason in the Czech Republic each of the past five years. Tlusty said he sensed Kaberle was excited about the opportunity with Carolina.

"He had a great summer," Tlusty said. "He was working hard right after he got back home from the playoffs. I think he's in good shape and I think he wants to show that he's still one of the best out there.

"I think the big thing with him right now is his confidence. He won the Cup."

Kaberle's older brother, Frantisek, was a defenseman on the Canes' 2006 Cup championship team, scoring the winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Edmonton Oilers. This year, it was Tomas' turn to take the Cup back home to Kladno.

"It was one good day to share with my closest friends and the people I grew up around, and in the town I grew up playing," he said. "And it's nice to share the same name as my brother on the Cup."

But Kaberle is anxious to get started again. The Canes, who have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, will hold their first preseason practice Sept. 17.

"I always put a lot of pressure on myself," Kaberle said. "It's a business and if you don't make the playoffs, that's not a good year.

"You have to take it that way and we'll see what happens. Everyone seems ready to go."

Briefly: The Canes have hired former forward Shane Willis as their youth and amateur hockey coordinator. Willis, who succeeds Paul Strand, will head the Hurricanes' initiatives through Carolina Youth & Amateur Hockey, including the team's summer camps and the Junior Hurricanes' annual trip to the Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament.

Willis, 34, played parts of six seasons with the Canes and Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 31 goals and earning 43 assists in 174 career regular-season games. The Edmonton, Alb., native had his best season in 2000-01, when he scored 20 goals and earned 24 assists with Carolina.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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