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Avs Conditioned To Be Better

There is plenty of motivation for the Colorado players as the team opened its 2017 training camp

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--The 2016-17 season was anything put memorable for the Colorado Avalanche. It was a campaign the players and coaches would like to move on from as they set out to begin a new year, but not quite yet.

Colorado's 48-point performance was the basis of the club's motivation over the summer to be better and surprise the hockey world beginning this fall.

"Everybody did a little bit of soul searching this summer," said Avalanche forward Blake Comeau. "Everyone is excited to have a little bit of a redemption season. I think it's important that everyone is ready to go right from the start. Part of that is having that kind of atmosphere in training camp, a lot of skating, a lot of conditioning. It's going pay off for us once we get going."

It was a challenge that came from the top of the organization: to be faster, work harder, compete.

Following the Avs' last game on April 9 in St. Louis, the players went back to their respective hometowns to reflect and begin their training for a new year. Their motivation came from a season that was still fresh in their minds.

"You can't flush last season down the drain, because there is lots to learn from it," said head coach Jared Bednar. "There is a lot to learn from it for me, my staff and our players. We took a lot of things out that we've talked to our returning players about. Being stronger, physically, mentally, having a little bit more resolve to push through tough times because there is going to be some of that this year again."

Video: Coach Jared Bednar on the first day of training camp

Being the best conditioned team was an emphasis that was placed on the Avs, and the players seemed to take it to heart. While they enjoyed their time off back home, many of them returned to Denver throughout the summer to train with one another and push each other to be better.

So far, the early results from those offseason workouts have been positive as the team opened its 2017 training camp on Friday with plenty of hustle.

"Our testing has been intense, guys have come in in great condition," Bednar revealed. "Most of our results, we're tallying them to see how our guys fare, but you could see guys came back faster, stronger. They have to. Everyone in the league is doing that, and we're excited about that."

The Avs' first practice of the new season was split into two groups to accommodate the 59-man training camp. Practices got underway just before 9 a.m. at Family Sports Center, with the first group taking the ice for drills for about an hour. After that, they switched ice sheets and did the dreaded skating test to showcase their endurance and summer training.

Colorado's skaters and goalies went up and down the ice to beat a time, pushing each other and starting the new season off the right way.

"I think everyone puts in a lot of time and effort into their summer training, especially this year," Comeau said. "There was a lot of emphasis that everyone comes in in top condition. They made sure that everyone knew it was going to be a tough training camp. A lot of compete and hard work, and when you look around the room it looks like everyone took that serious this summer."

Video: Blake Comeau discusses the first day of camp

The foundation the Avs laid in the summer and now during training camp will pay dividends in third periods and during the dog days of the season, according to Bednar.

"I won't say that they weren't in great condition last year, because I think we were. But if you want to play fast and you want to play a 200-foot competitive game, and that's what we want to be, you have to play with pace, we have to have a relentless sort of attitude persona," Bednar said. "If you're going to skate like that and check like that on a daily basis, we asked a lot of our players to go back and be in top condition so we can sustain the level of play for the course of the game, weeks and season."

Having a good training camp and entering the campaign with that persistent competitiveness will be key for a team that hasn't liked the way it's started the regular season the past few years.

"It's important. It's only two or three days, but I think everybody's working hard. It starts with us," said forward Nathan MacKinnon of the early days of camp. "We have to be the best players in shape, and we have to be the guys driving the bus and that's huge for us. It's our team now. Our oldest guy is Carl [Soderberg], and he is only 32. So it's a young group, and it's exciting."

MacKinnon was part of the day's first group, and he centered a line during 5-on-5 drills with Mikko Rantanen and Sven Andrighetto, his linemates at the end of last year. It appeared as if they hadn't lost any chemistry.

"We played the last 20 games of the season together last year, and we had a good finish," MacKinnon said. "Especially Andrighetto, who had 16 points in the last 18 games or something like that after being traded from Montreal. That was really good for the team, especially since we didn't score any goals. He played really well, and me and Mikko are really comfortable with each other so we're feeling good."

Video: Nathan MacKinnon previews the new season

The Avalanche's top line in the second group impressed Bednar as newcomers Alexander Kerfoot and Nail Yakupov joined Matt Duchene to form an extremely talented trio.

"That whole line, Kerfoot, Yakupov and [Duchene], they scored some nice goals," Bednar said. "They had some chemistry. It was good watching. Obviously, three talented, offensive guys. I thought that was a real good line in the second group, so it was good to see."

Not everyone skated on the first day as several players were held out from the sessions due to some minor ailments. Among those that missed practice was Mark Barberio, Joe Colbrone and Colin Wilson.

"We have a handful of guys that are going through little tweaks," Bednar said. "Like Wilson, he skated today on his own and it looks like he is getting close. It sounds like that went good. I just caught him in passing from one ice session to the other. Barberio tweaked something a little bit yesterday during some of the testing. Some of those guys are more day-to-day than anything long term or serious."

The Avs might have added another member to its injury list as rookie Tyson Jost pulled up and wasn't able to finish the skating test. He was checked by the team's medical staff, but Bednar didn't have any update after practice.

"I haven't talked to the trainers. I know he tweaked something there. I couldn't tell you if it's minor or major or day-to-day," the Colorado coach noted.

One Avalanche player that also wasn't on the ice was defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who was still unsigned until 12:45 p.m., about half an hour after on-ice activities had concluded.

A restricted free agent, Zadorov agreed to a two-year contract with Colorado and will look to build on what was becoming a strong campaign last season for the then 21-year-old. The young Russian had recorded 10 assists and was leading the Avs in penalty minutes (73) and hits (153) before injuring his ankle in a freak accident during practice on Feb. 20 and missing the rest of the season.

"I think it's important for our team to get [the contract] done. Big Z played an important role on our team last year," said Bednar, minutes before the announcement of a new deal. "I think it was a growth season for him. You look at our backend and where he has potential to go. We're excited to get it done and get him here as soon as possible."

It isn't known yet when Zadorov will be able to skate with his teammates, but it will be in the very near future. Since Zadorov wasn't signed at the time, he couldn't participate in medical and physical testing on Thursday and will need to be cleared by the club's medical staff before suiting up.

The second day of Avs training camp will be in a similar format as the first, with practices on Saturday scheduled from 8:45 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. The players will then take part in the annual Burgundy/White intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday at the University of Denver's Magness Arena and begin preparing for Tuesday's home preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

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