Landmesser navigates holiday roster changes

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. - ‘Tis the season for roster moves.

The Mississippi RiverKings had been fortunate for most of the year to have one of the more consistent lineups in the Southern Professional Hockey League. But in the span of a week, the team lost goaltender Peter Di Salvo and defenseman Reid Campbell to call-ups. Then in an effort to add some physicality to the forward unit, Head Coach Derek Landmesser dealt forward Ben Rubin to Louisiana for forward Luke Kasteel and all of a sudden, the consistency was gone.

This time of year, the RiverKings are not the only team dealing with call-ups (only Fayetteville and Macon currently do not have anyone loaned to the ECHL). Take a look at the SPHL transaction board and you’ll notice call-ups pick up right around the middle of December. According to Coach Landmesser, there’s no coincidence.

“It starts at the top with the American League and ECHL teams loading up on players because of the roster freezes around the Christmas holidays,” Landmesser said. “The AHL teams are taking from their ECHL teams and the ECHL teams are looking at our league to fill those holes. It’s a trickier time of year, but all teams have to deal with the same situations.”

For the fifth-year head coach, scouting and recruiting new players doesn’t end just because the season has begun, even when things are going well for a first-place team.

“You have to be planning ahead for potential call-ups and injuries,” Landmesser said. “You can never be totally satisfied because things can change at the drop of a hat. I’m always keeping in contact with different coaches and different players. It’s a never-ending cycle that can be a bit tricky at times, but it’s part of the job.”

Part of that tricky in-season recruiting relies on players already on the roster. The addition of Dalton McGrath did not come without discussions between Landmesser and goaltender Peter Di Salvo who played with the current netminder in juniors.

“When you’re put in the tough situations and you need to get a player in here pretty quickly, I always ask our guys’ opinions if they have any kind of relationship with the player,” Landmesser said. “Our players know what my expectations are and they already know what the league is like and I value their opinions.”

Of those expectations, they have been the same since the opening of training camp.

“It’s paying the price and sacrificing to block shots,” he said. “And my expectations don’t change a whole lot depending on who’s in net. We’re a defense-first type of team, sometimes you have to tighten up a bit more.”

That desire for a defensive-minded mentality drove the first-place coach to make a move, acquiring Kasteel, a forward who had 19 points in 32 games a year ago, but just two points this season, in exchange for Ben Rubin, who had eight points in 16 games in 2015.

“I wanted to add a little more grit to our lineup, especially to our forwards,” Landmesser explained. “Ben’s a highly skilled player and losing him you give up a bit of skill. But having Kasteel here, he’s a gritty kid who hasn’t gotten off to the best offensive start. He’s got a lot of offensive upside and he’s great kid who works hard and just a matter of time before he breaks out and contributes to our success.”

After this weekend, the RiverKings sit at 13-4-2 and hold onto first place. But with every other SPHL team looking to adjust and better their roster for the 2016 playoff push, don’t expect Coach Landmesser to sit idly by and rest on first-half successes.

Mississippi RiverKings Head Coach Derek Landmesser has built a first-place roster through the first 19 games of 2015-16, but recent call-ups and injuries have presented challenges to the fifth-year head coach. © Mark Mathews

Posted by David Schmoll at 11:54 AM

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PEO y-Peoria 56 38 13 5 81
MAC x-Macon 56 33 16 7 73
PEN x-Pensacola 56 33 16 7 73
HUN x-Huntsville 56 30 16 10 70
KNX x-Knoxville 56 30 20 6 66
EVV x-Evansville 56 27 20 9 63
MRK x-RiverKings 56 29 25 2 60
RKE x-Roanoke 56 26 26 4 56
BIR Birmingham 56 22 28 6 50
FAY Fayetteville 56 12 38 6 30
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Updated: April 8, 2018

x-Clinched Playoff Berth
y-Clinched Regular Season Title