While on-ice activities are a welcomed departure from previous years, the idea is to have the players learning and growing, whether at the rink or away from it.
“To be honest with you, I’m not into scrimmaging in the beginning of July. I’m sure everybody standing up in the crowd would like to see them scrimmage,” said David Oliver, director of player development for the Avalanche. “I’m all about the process of player development. That’s my job. I take a lot of pride in it, and I don’t want our guys ready to play hockey in July. I want them to play hockey in September and be at the top of their game.
“The emphasis on skating and training and your physical abilities that will carry over into your play in September and give you the best opportunity to be a good pro, that’s our job as a development team.”
Instead of games, those in attendance have been treated to power skating sessions courtesy of Tracy Tutton, a technical skating instructor brought in to help maximize each athlete’s ability.
Much like on the first day of camp, footwork was the focus of the on-ice sessions at Family Sports Center on Wednesday. This time, the participants worked on puck protection drills, streamlining the use of edges to create productive shielding techniques, tight turns and overall agility.
“Yesterday we focused on speed and explosive power. Just accelerating and learning how to line your bodies up over the feet, what part of the blade to be pushing with, how deep you want the knee bend,” said Tutton. “We did a lot of video. We break down their forward and backward stride, and then go through things like knee bend, extension, stride angle, recovery phase. There’s certain components of their stride that we want to focus on as far as developing speed, and everybody’s got a different style.
“Today it was on puck protection skating skills. So a lot of edges, tight turns, in and out of stops and starts, and learning how to protect the puck using their skating skills.”
“It’s things that aren’t really taught anymore,” said Oliver. “We get pro guys that come into the game, and just the tiny little details of the game that they can get better at, that can make them a better NHL player, those are the things we’re focused on with her.”
With each player excelling in different areas, Tutton has gotten a chance to work on a diverse number of adjustments with the prospects.
“There’s so much potential here. This is a really good bunch of boys. I thoroughly enjoyed working with every one of them, and everyone has strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “Some of them are great at straight ahead speed [and] they need to work at tight turns and agility moves. Then there’s others that are great down low at the tight turns and agility and need to work on speed. So there’s a good variety of boys, and they’re all working their tails off. It’s a really good bunch here.”
“Every single one of them has become a better skater in the last two days,” added Oliver.
The hard work put in has certainly been noticeable to the players. Whether it has been power skating at the rink, running drills at the Denver Broncos’ new indoor practice facility at Dove Valley, or jogging the steps at Pepsi Center, this week has been grueling.
“I must say, my butt is very sore, and everybody is like that. Our hips are tight,” said goaltender Roman Will. “It’s a very hard camp, but we still have a lot of fun. I really enjoy [it].”
“There’s some good stuff for goalies, you know: bend your knees properly and have a good push. There is some good stuff for goalies, and I think also it’s great for players.”
“This stuff is kind of new to me, working on our edges and a lot with our hips today,” said 6-foot-5 defenseman Kyle Wood. “You’re kind of sore after it, but it’s useful and you kind of have to work on it and improve your skating.”
The focus for the players has been to soak up as much knowledge as possible before the end of the week, that way everything can be applied in offseason work before returning for training camp in September.
“There’s a couple aspects of my game I have to change, and I’m learning here this week to try and change them this summer to be at camp [this fall] and be ready to go,” said 19-year-old forward Alexis Pepin. “I learned a lot, and hopefully I’ll be improving my skating.”
“It’s been tremendous. I think the work that Tracy’s done with us has definitely been beneficial to me,” said Conner Bleackley, Colorado’s first-round selection (23rd overall) in the 2014 draft. “It’s a little bit outside my comfort zone, some of the edge work she does, but continuing to work on skating every day is huge as far as becoming a pro.”
Taking these players beyond what they’re used to, teaching them things that could alter their career trajectories for the better is exactly the point of the camp, according to Oliver.
“[It’s] 100 percent preparation. Everything we do with this group, whether the guy is a free agent or if he’s a first-round pick, is all about trying to get him the quickest route to the National Hockey League. It’s preparing the way they eat, the way they train, the way they skate. It’s an all encompassing week on how to become a good pro. These guys are eating it up. They’re loving it.”
Oliver’s camp concept is already leaving an impression with those in attendance.
“You can always be better on the ice and off the ice,” said newly-drafted forward JC Beaudin.
“There are a lot of things I’ve learned,” Slovakian netminder Maximilian Pajpach added. “It’s been only [two] days, but I’ve learned a lot of things.