As 64 players spent the last two days running through drills, scenarios, mini-games and even a scrimmage, their remarks have been about the beginning of hockey season, how summer training was fashioned toward fall success and the pace of the on-ice activities.
While all of the learning and coaching and skating has been going on, the underlying story has been competition at camp.
Every single player is competing for a spot. For some, it is a job with the San Antonio Rampage. For a few, it’s positioning on the depth chart within the Avalanche’s system. Yet for most, it is all about a rostered role with the Avs.
Virtually nobody can be complacent at training camp, as there is always someone looking to move into a new place.
Not only are the young guys looking for a lasting job in the top tier of the sport, but some weathered veterans have been invited to show the Avalanche staff whether or not they deserve a contract.
Players like Andrej Meszaros and Jack Skille, both of whom have signed professional tryout offers to prove their value to the club, provide a change of pace from a typical training camp. Neither have a contract to play, so they are both grateful for the opportunity to showcase their talents and hungry to prove that they deserve a spot in the lineup over anyone else.
“You really don’t want to be in a situation where you are a PTO, but I am grateful that this organization gave me a chance to prove I can play in the NHL,” Meszaros said after on-ice activities on Saturday. “I’m really happy and when I contacted my agent I was really happy. The summer was too long and didn’t go my way like I wanted. I think this is a great opportunity.”
Selected in the first round (23rd overall) in the 2004 draft by the Ottawa Senators, Meszaros found himself without a job offer after playing 60 games as a defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres last year.
Not ready to give up, Meszaros decided to go the PTO route.
It’s the same story for Skille, who was picked seventh overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2005 draft. Having played in 61 contests with the Columbus Blue Jackets over the previous two seasons, Skille entered the summer with no other options.
“It’s new. Looking back on my career I think I’ve gone through every single process there is on the business side of hockey, and I think this was the last step to complete the whole circle here,” he said on Saturday. “It’s tough mentally to come into a camp without a contract. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to earn a contract that I actually want. I don’t feel like I am forced into anything I don’t want. It’s a chance for me to earn what I actually want so it’s a good situation. It’s tough and can ride on you mentally, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far just going out there and playing hockey.
“This is my ninth camp, and it’s nothing new to me besides the contract status. But at the same time, I’ve never been in a situation, with a contract or without, where I haven’t had to earn my spot to stay here and earn my keep. I’m used to earning a role and working on my consistency and those are parts of my game that—the consistency and playing North-South, using my speed, shot, size and grittiness—I think those are things I’m going to need to focus on during the games. If I do those things, I think I’ll prove myself.”
Both players have had strong showings in the two days that they’ve been on the ice, skating hard, competing well and ultimately making an impression that could lead them to a more permanent role with Colorado.
One person that has taken notice is head coach Patrick Roy.
“Skille, I thought, had a good practice with us,” Roy said after Day 2 of camp. “I liked his intensity, and he works hard. It’s clear, he’s here on a mission to make the team, and that’s what we like. We have a lot of depth this year in every position at this training camp. I mean, goaltending, defensemen, forwards—it will be a good challenge to us as coaches to make the final cuts.”
Next up for both, and everyone in the organization, is the annual Burgundy/White intra-squad scrimmage at the University of Denver. And after that, there is a slate of six preseason games for everyone to show what they can do. For guys like Meszaros and Skille, there will be no letting up until a decision is made, whatever that may be.
“I think it’s a good start,” said Skille. “There’s still a lot of games left to be played and, with any player in this league, to make it through a full 82-game season you’ve got to be consistent. I think they are going to have to look over the course of camp at how consistent I am and that’s something I need to focus on.”
“I feel pretty good,” added Meszaros. “It was a good couple of practices and good skates in the end. Tomorrow is the game, so we will see how that works out.”
Newly acquired rear guard Brandon Gormley, who enters camp as a fresh face in the system, relishes the chance to compete against his fellow Avalanche colleagues.
“Competition is good,” he said after participating in the camp’s only scrimmage on Saturday. “That’s what you want as a player and as a team too. You don’t want anything given to you. You’ve got to earn whatever you’re going to get in this league.
“There is a lot of competition and that’s good as an organization, as a team and as a player,” he added. “There’s a lot of guys here, but you’ve each got to do what you can do out there and play your game. At the end of the day, hopefully it gets you a roster spot.”