Coach of Sharks’ AHL team said player who claimed he felt pressured to fight never raised the issue

Coach of Sharks’ AHL team said player who claimed he felt pressured to fight never raised the issue

SAN JOSE – The head coach of the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate said an exit meeting with forward Martin Kaut, who said he felt pressured to fight by one of the minor league teams’ coaches, actually ended on a positive note with no indication that the 2018 first-round draft pick was unhappy.

John McCarthy, a former Sharks forward who is entering his second season as the San Jose Barracuda’s coach, said Kaut didn’t raise any issues with him during his brief time with the team or after the season ended in April.

“That’s the strange part is the end of the year meeting was very positive,” McCarthy said Wednesday, “and there was zero contention or complaints on anything along those lines. So, it’s unfortunate.”

Kaut, 23, told the Czech website iDNES.cz in a story published in July that an unnamed Barracuda coach would choose an opponent, usually a fellow Czech-born player, before each game for him to fight. When Kaut refused, he said the coach responded by saying that his refusal was a reason why he wasn’t in the NHL.

“They also chose Czechs for me. Why? It was one of the reasons why I didn’t want to continue in San Jose,” Kaut said, per the website, in comments translated to English.

Kaut, a first-round pick by the Colorado Avalanche five years ago, told the publication he has had three concussions and two shoulder injuries and that if he had fought the players the coach wanted him to fight, “I would have been injured.”

“He forced me into fights anyway,” Kaut said of the coach. “It really bothered me. I’d fight for a good reason, not that.”

After the article was published, the Sharks put out a statement strongly denying Kaut’s allegations, saying in part “that no such direction was ever given or insinuated by the members of the Sharks or Barracuda coaching or hockey staffs.”

Regarding Kaut’s allegations, McCarthy said, “I’d stand by that statement. It’s just not true. That’s kind of how we felt about it.”

Kaut played 19 games with the Barracuda and nine with the Sharks after he and Jacob MacDonald were acquired from the Avalanche in exchange for forward Matt Nieto and defenseman Ryan Merkley.

Kaut may have also had an exit interview with the Sharks, but McCarthy said, “I can only speak to the ones I was in and there was no mention of anything along the lines of” what the article indicated.

McCarthy was also asked about Kaut’s comments that the Barracuda players acted in their own self-interest as the team missed the AHL playoffs with a 31-34-2-5 record.

McCarthy said he was surprised by that comment, but also added that the Barracuda, with several new players projected to be on the team this season, will spend some more time “on the team building aspect.”

“Last year … maybe we didn’t dedicate enough time to coming together as a group,” McCarthy said, “and I think we’re going to dedicate a little bit more time to that. There’s obviously a lot of turnover, and we put a premium on bringing people here with high character and high work ethic. Those are the types of players that we want our young guys around.”

Kaut was given a qualifying offer by the Sharks but chose to sign a two-year contract in July with HC Dynamo Pardubice, his former club in the Czech league. Kaut said this summer that he was disheartened when the Sharks offered him a two-way contract worth approximately $100,000 at the AHL level to remain in San Jose.

“He’s decided to stay in the Czech Republic and that’s his right as a player,” McCarthy said. “But I’m more concerned with the guys that we have here. That’s my job, to develop them into NHL players. Like I said, that’s (Kaut’s) call. If he wants to do that, if he feels like that’s his best plan, that’s his right. But I need to spend my time focusing on the players we have here.”

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Among the young players expected to start the season with the Barracuda are forwards Danil Gushchin, Tristen Robins,  Brandon Coe and Ozzy Wiesblatt, and defensemen Valtteri Pulli, and Artem Guryev. All of those players will take part in the six-team Rookie Faceoff event that begins Friday in Las Vegas.

The Sharks are taking 16 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies to Las Vegas. They open the event on Friday at 1 p.m. against the Los Angeles Kings, followed by games on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Monday at 10 a.m. against the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes, respectively. All games can be heard on the Sharks Audio Network.