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Avs Finish Tests, Ready For Just Hockey

Day 2 of Avalanche training camp was equally as tough as the first

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--The testing is over. Now it's time for just hockey, a welcomed change for many members of the Colorado Avalanche.

After a grueling medical and physical testing day on Thursday, the players opened training camp on Friday with battle drills and tough skating. It didn't get easier for them on Saturday as the practices at Family Sports Center were more of the same before the day ended with one final skate test: six sets of three around two nets that were separated by 150 feet.

"It was definitely a leg burner," said Rocco Grimaldi. "You definitely had to pace yourself at the beginning or your legs would be fried for the last five [sets]. It was tough, but it is good to be done with it now."

After completing the laps, the players slowly made their way across the ice to the Avalanche's dressing room, the relief on their faces noticeable after completing two strenuous days of camp.

"It was a really tough two days for us," said Nail Yakupov, a newcomer to the club after signing as a free agent over the summer. "We're battling. We did so much conditioning and it wasn't easy, but I think we made it. [It was the] final day today with all the skates, and I think now we're going to focus on hockey."

Video: Nail Yakupov on joining the Avalanche

Yakupov said the last three days had been one of the hardest stretches that he had been a part of since he was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft, and several of his Avalanche teammates agreed with that assessment.

"It's definitely been tough the first couple of days," said Matt Nieto, who joined Colorado midseason last year after being picked up on waivers from San Jose. "Definitely the hardest camp I've been a part of, but it's a good thing. For us, it's about finding our work ethic going into the season. We have to be a team that is hard to play against from the start."

The skating tests and other physical exams didn't take any of the Avs by surprise. Head coach Jared Bednar told his players exactly what to expect entering this season so they could plan their summer training accordingly and be ready to compete with one another.

The drills were all designed to make the squad better come crunch time, whenever that may be.

"It's just to make sure that they put the time and work into the gym, and it should be a fun, competitive thing," Bednar said. "From talking with some of our veterans, yes, they're hard, they're hard tests, but they're competitive guys and to get them working against each other and trying to finish ahead of each other I think is a positive thing. Especially when it works, it's going to help over the course of the season."

While the testing may be over, the focus on skating is not. It will be an emphasis put on the squad throughout the season, hammering home the point of competing--a word that has been stressed to the players by team management and coaches alike.

Having that strong work ethic is something Yakupov is looking to show. The forward had several tough seasons in Edmonton followed by a year in St. Louis, where he wasn't given much of an opportunity.

"No matter where you are, you have to play hard, work hard and work every day," Yakupov said. "Earn your spot every practice and game as well."

Yakupov's fellow countryman, Russian defenseman Nikita Zadorov, hasn't arrived in Denver yet after signing a two-year contract with the Avalanche on Friday, but he'll join his teammates once his immigration paperwork gets approved.

"I don't want to guess and say one day or two days," said Bednar, who didn't want to fuel any speculation. "Whenever it gets done, he'll be on the next plane getting into town."

Video: Jared Bednar on the first two days of training camp 

Colorado continues to have a couple banged up players, but nothing appears to be serious at this point, according to Bednar. Expected NHLers Mark Barberio, Joe Colborne, Tyson Jost and Colin Wilson were part of the group that didn't take part in drills on Saturday, but both Barberio and Wilson skated on their own on another rink at the team's practice facility.

Bednar doesn't want to bring anyone hurt back too quickly, but he still wants to keep injured players involved so they're not too far behind in the learning process.

"We have a lot of time here," Bednar said. "There are a lot of games. We don't want to rush any guys injured back, but we do want them to fight through and make sure they're part of the teaching. So some guys will sit in video and not come on the ice, just to remain part of it and they can still get their conditioning. We don't want to push guys back [in] at this point of the year. This is a long preseason. We play six games and then we still have another [six] days to get ready for the first game of the season."

The amount of injuries the Avs have accrued early on is enough where the lineup for Sunday's Burgundy/White Game was still in flux at the time of Bednar's post-practice media availability. The Colorado coach noted that a handful of veterans will play in the intrasquad scrimmage, including goaltender Semyon Varlamov, but that most of the roster will be made up of young players that the club wants to get a better look at in a game format.

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