Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said this year's training camp was going to be different, and he was true to his word.
Intensity seemed to be the term of the day, and the tired look on the players' faces was the norm in the locker room after the first day of team's main NHL camp at Family Sports Center on Friday.
"It’s a new format that we are trying this year," Roy said. "Last year, we thought we didn’t practice enough before our first game."
Roy and his coaching staff appear to be wasting no time in getting the Avs ready for the season opener on Oct. 8, as 64 players sliced up and down the ice during one of the three sessions, running just under an hour and a half each.
There was little down time as the players ran transition and attacking drills and went through a 3-on-3 mini-game in one zone, where their skills in tight quarters would be exposed.
"A lot of up and down, 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s, battles, 3-on-3 at the end was good—that was fun. Really high intensity," Nathan MacKinnon said. "I think the first day is always the toughest. Tomorrow, we'll see what happens. Today I thought was a good day."
The slowest part of the practice might have been the very end when they took part in the "Mountain" conditioning drill—usually the thorn in a hockey player's side.
"I think the mountains were the easiest part of the practice," said Mikhail Grigorenko. "I was really excited for the season and am really happy that we started. I thought it was a real good practice. Guys worked hard, and I think the coaches were really happy with us too."
The players didn't seem to mind the fast-pace start to the new season. Maybe that's because they know it will pay dividends down the line.
Colorado didn't have the best start last year, and the players and coach Roy put the blame on themselves for not being ready to go when the puck dropped for real in October. So far, a repeat of that doesn't seem to be the case.
"Preseason is no joke, and obviously the season is another level," MacKinnon said. "It's good. We need to get in that mindset right away."
There won't be any slowing down in the three weeks before opening night either, as evidenced by Roy's comments after the day's on-ice activities.
"We feel that we are going to have about nine practices before starting the season," Roy said. "Today was a good day. We want to work on our offense. We want to work on our entries and make sure we are driving at the net and stopping at the net. I loved the intensity. I thought we were quick on the puck. I thought it was a very good first day.”
The second day of training camp on Saturday morning will have a bit of a different feel to it. The veteran players will take part in a standard practice—expect lots more skating—before the younger players and prospects participate in a scrimmage. On-ice activities begin at 8 a.m. and will go until roughly 12:30 p.m. at Family Sports Center. Practices are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis.
After missing the entire 2014-15 campaign with post-concussion symptoms, Jesse Winchester appears to be on the verge of returning to game action.
Winchester was a full participant in practice with the first group on the ice and said he is ready to put last season behind him and focus on a new year.
"You live to be out there, battling with the guys and pushing yourself, measuring up against the best," Winchester said. "What we do is special, and I'm thankful for sure."
Winchester practiced late last season with the team but had trouble when skating in larger arenas where the view lines are different than smaller practice rinks. He said he didn't have a chance to skate in a larger building over the summer, so Sunday's Burgundy/White Game at the University of Denver's 7,000-plus seat Magness Arena might be his first real test if he suits up.
Roy is taking a precautionary approach, saying it's a "day-to-day situation" and they'll see how he does during and after the training camp scrimmage on Saturday.
"He is a great team guy, and I am sure he is pretty excited to be here right now and feeling better. But we will see," Roy said.
It was only the first day, but MacKinnon said there seems to be some chemistry between him and fellow forwards Grigorenko and Alex Tanguay.
The trio was paired together throughout the day's practice.
"Tango and Grigorenko, I thought we had really good chemistry right off the bat," MacKinnon said. "I'm not just saying that. I feel we all read really well off each other. I hope we stick together. Hopefully it works, and we stick together all season and we have a good year together for the team."
MacKinnon had been pegged to be on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and newcomer Carl Soderberg. If that falls through though, Roy might have a quick back-up plan up his sleeve.
Grigorenko is also a new face to the team after being acquired from Buffalo in a draft day trade this summer.