CENTENNIAL, Colo. – For the first time in nearly nine months and for the first time in his captaincy, Gabriel Landeskog left the Avalanche locker room and headed to the team’s practice ice for the first official practice of the season.
As soon as he stepped into the ice arena, he was greeted with cheers. And the cheers didn’t stop as each of Landeskog’s teammates came to the ice behind him.
“It warms our hearts and I know all of us are excited to see them out there,” Landeskog said of the fans that filled the South Suburban Family Ice Center to its capacity. “We are going to do our best to make them smile and have fun out there and win games.”
Sunday was the first day of training camps for teams across the NHL as the league prepares to open its 48-game regular season next weekend.
Landeskog and his teammates had participated in player-ran practices over the last week, but Sunday was the first time that the Avalanche coaches had interaction with their players on the ice.
Landeskog admitted that some of the passes early on in the practice “were all over the place” but he and his teammates quickly got in the swing of things.
“I think everybody has done a great job of staying in shape and everybody looks hungry out there and everybody looks like they are having fun,” Landeskog said.
The players may have had fun out on the ice, but there was also a business-like attitude out on the sheet as well with the players pushing a little harder through each drill.
“I was talking with the other coaches and we were talking about the pace, the intensity [in the practice],” said head coach Joe Sacco afterwards. “Those are things that we were looking for. Overall, I thought we saw a lot of it. It looked like we had guys that were excited to be back on the ice and you could see that passion out there in practice.”
Sacco said the fans, who packed the second floor bleachers and lined the glass at ice level, probably had something to do with the extra jump to his players’ step during the session.
“Even though it is practice, it certainly motivates the players to some degree, for them to see people out there,” said the Colorado coach. “It livens things up a little bit.”
Paul Stastny agreed with his coach when it came to the intensity of the first day of training camp and said that it is a good thing with the team opening the season in less than a week in Minnesota.
“Any practice is tough like that. Whether you haven’t played in nine months or have stayed in shape, it is something different,” Stastny said. “It’s a quicker pace, but to be back on the ice and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – the season starts Saturday – I think everybody knows you have to gear down and get in shape and be ready mentally as well as physically.”
The practice itself was fairly typical. After a warm up and some shooting drills, the team did some situational work and worked on their transition game from defense-to-offense. The day concluded with a couple laps around the ice and some individual position work.
At least for the first day, Sacco kept his offensive lines pretty much the same from start to finish, but he did experiment a little bit on the defensive side.
Sacco’s primary forward lines were Stastny centering a line with Jamie McGinn and David Jones, Matt Duchene centering a line with P.A. Parenteau and Landeskog, John Mitchell centering a line with Milan Hejduk and Steve Downie, and Mark Olver centering a line with Cody McLeod and Patrick Bordeleau. David Van Der Gulik and Michael Sgarbossa – both sporting red jerseys – were “alternates” who were inserted into different lines in different situations. Chuck Kobasew missed the practice because he was sick.
Training camp will continue on Monday at the Family Sports Center at around 10 a.m. with intrasquad scrimmages expected to be one of the activities that will be featured.
With a good first day over, Landeskog said the team now needs to continue its improvement over the next five days.
“Today was a good start,” he said. “We just have to build off that and get better.”