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Next Era Provides Fresh Start

Change is brewing as the leaves begin to turn

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding /

CENTENNIAL, Colo.-Fans of the NHL get to experience five seasons throughout the year.

There's winter, spring, summer, fall and hockey.

Those attending Colorado Avalanche Training Camp on Friday got to experience the seeds of change in a variety of areas. The first full day of fall brought with it the beginning of the next era of Avs hockey.

Jared Bednar, the newly hired head coach, ran his first on-ice session of the new campaign with nearly every single player in the organization in attendance.

Things were visibly different when the drills began, and the word on everyone's mouth was the same: fast.

"It was awesome. We worked on a lot of systems, and we worked on playing with speed," forward Rocco Grimaldi said of his first practice with Bednar. "It's a huge thing for this team. There are a lot of guys who are extremely fast and really skilled. If we can get the puck moving north and play a speed game, [we're] going to be pretty dangerous.

"There's so many guys in this room that are the fastest players on their team, wherever they came from. It's going to be a fast team. Whenever the team is made, here and in San Antonio, both are going to play fast, up-tempo games, and I think that's going to translate good for us on the ice."

After all the talk of the 'up-tempo' style of play becoming the new mantra for the Avalanche, the words became embodied actions almost immediately.

"That's the way that our game is heading. Even if you watch the World Cup, that's what brings fans out of their seat-that excitement, that speed," defenseman Patrick Wiercioch said. "The systems that we're trying to put into play [are] to make us a faster, cleaner team out of our own zone. It's a lot of fun, just right from day one getting at it."

Video: Patrick Wiercioch talks about joining the Avs.

Exploding out of the gate, pushing hard to get the blood pumping and the heart pounding is exactly the way a veteran player like John Mitchell likes to kick off the new season. 

"You would rather do that than come out real slow and sluggish," he said. "This isn't the beginning of summer three-on-three skates anymore. This is camp. This is where you amp it up and you are getting game ready for Oct. 15."

Many players talk about the dog days of summer, the doldrums of training when they're physically ready to get going but still have to go through the minor-contact informal skates until camp arrives.

It's the calm before the storm, the Christmas-eve of hockey. It is the time when the excitement is bubbling up inside like a fire and there is only one outlet.

"You come here a week or two early and you have some good skates and you scrimmage, but nobody is wanting to hit anybody. Nobody wants to get hurt in little scrimmages like that," said Grimaldi. "So it's great to have an up-tempo practice like that. I'm one that kind of just goes hard all the time, so it's nice for me. I don't have to have a red light every time I'm out there. So it's fun."

"The last couple weeks and the first week of September, you feel like it has dragged on a little bit. So guys are finally excited to get going," added Blake Comeau. "You start skating early in the summer and eventually you are at a point where you just want to get started. So its nice to get going."

For some players at camp, the offseason months stretched on and on. Players like Wiercioch and Fedor Tyutin signed free-agent contracts in July, looking to prove their value to new clubs. Then they had to train and wait and wait and wait. Now, they get to showcase their abilities.

Video: Fedor Tyutin talks about joining the Avalanche

"After the long summer I had, you start missing hockey," Tyutin said. "[There's] lots of excitement to get back on the ice for the first time."

"It was a lot of fun to get back out there. I think for some of us, it's been a long summer, a long wait to hit the ice," Wiercioch added. "The testing is over with… the jitters are gone, so I'm just excited to kind of learn the system, see what the coaches have to say and get ready to play in games."

With three new coaches-Bednar, Avs assistant Nolan Pratt and San Antonio bench manager Eric Veilleux-and more than a handful of unfamiliar faces, Colorado's camp is essentially a clean slate for every single player in the organization.

Every person has the chance to make an impression, earn a spot, gain minutes and prove their worth. Top to bottom, the makeup of both the Avalanche and the Rampage will be constructed anew.

"I'm excited. [For] our whole staff really, and the players, it's been a long summer," Bednar said after the first day of skating. "There's a certain level of excitement that comes with every training camp because everyone is starting fresh, especially with a new coach. It's no different for me. It's exciting to get to know some new players. Now, I've met with all of them and talked with them, and I've been working on our game plan for the last few weeks. Now it's time to get on the ice, so this is the fun part."

"I think [I'm] coming in with a lot of confidence, knowing that you did the work in the summer to get here, and just be excited about the opportunity that's been presented here," Wiercioch said. "I think a lot of times, when you sign as a free agent… you're going into a room and locker room that's already pretty established. Everyone has got to reestablish themselves with a new coaching staff here. Anytime your team doesn't have success, there's going to be some changes. I think that's part of the business. Fortunately, [I] get to be one of those changes coming into the locker room and [can] hopefully help out."

Video: Cody McLeod talks first day of Avs training camp

Even a veteran Avalanche forward like Cody McLeod, who is entering his 10th year with the club, must showcase himself.

"It's a fresh start for everybody, and they're new to us," he said of the coaching staff. "So we've got to prove to them that we belong here, and I think it was a good first day.

"It's good to get that first day on the ice. Get the jitters out. It's good to see everybody back on the ice. It was a lot of fun [for the] first day."

Once the work is done, the effort has been put forth and impressions have been made, that's when the rosters will take shape. They'll transition from a hulking mass into a hockey machine.

"I want to watch these guys in training camp, and then my expectations will [come]. That goes for returning players, new, young guys, guys that were in San Antonio," Bednar said. "I'm not locking them into any sort of position or line or how much ice time they're going to get until we get a chance-as our staff, our new staff-to evaluate them and see what they deserve."

The players will continue to work through new systems, new evaluations and new expectations as training camp continues Saturday at 8:45 a.m. at Family Sports Center.

All on-ice sessions are free and available to the public, but seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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