Training camp is about evaluation, learning and growing. Players come in and show how they’ve developed and where they’re at in their careers, and then they learn the Colorado Avalanche systems and begin to grow in the direction the organization desires.
When the preseason rolls around, it’s time to stop growing and start showing. The results-free atmosphere of the previous week has been replaced with competition against other NHL teams. Avalanche coaches and staff are now looking to see how the remaining players on the roster handle their business against skaters from another squad.
Can they execute what needs to be done, and at what level?
|Conner Bleackley |
For hopefuls like Conner Bleackley, that means keeping attention on what matters.
“I think we’ve got to worry about ourselves,” he said after Tuesday’s morning skate at Pepsi Center. “It’s obviously the first preseason game for everybody and every game matters. I think if we go out there and worry about ourselves—I think they’re going to be a bigger, physical team like they normally are but—if we get pucks in deep and get lots of shots on net, I think we’ll be alright.”
That doesn’t mean that Bleackley and others skating in the first exhibition match of the campaign—against the Anaheim Ducks—aren’t eager to get out on the ice and show what they can do.
“I’m excited. I’m real excited to be suiting up tonight, playing in the Pepsi Center with an Avalanche jersey on,” the 19-year-old center said. “I’m going to go out there and try and keep it simple and try and stick to my game.
“Just get pucks in deep and be hard to play against. One of the mantras of this training camp is be relentless. I think [I’ll] just get in the dirty areas and shoot the puck as much as I can and be good on faceoffs.”
This time of year, it’s all about making an impression, and there are more than a few guys in tonight’s lineup looking to do just that.
“I’m just excited to be here and be able to play this game,” Norwegian forward Andreas Martinsen said. “I’m just going to keep on going and try to move my feet the whole time and try to use my body out there and use my shot, if I get the chance. Just go out there and play hard.”
While someone like Bleackley will be adjusting to the difference between playing a junior hockey game with his Red Deer Rebels and playing at the NHL level, Martinsen—an eight-year pro—will have to adjust to the size of the rink as well.
“It’s a little different from what I’m used to, from Europe with the bigger ice and everything,” he said. “It’s faster. It’s less ice. You’ve got to make decisions faster. You just have to move the puck quick and move your feet the whole time. That’s what I’m going to try to do tonight.
“It’s just a little adjustment but I feel I’m getting there. I like the small ice. You’re closer to everyone, you can shoot from anywhere, and it’s easier to bang bodies. I’m excited.”
Ultimately, these guys know what needs to be done. They’ve been playing at a high level for years now, and they said they know it all comes down to execution.
“Just need to play my game, not try to play outside myself,” rear guard Mat Clark elaborated. “I know my role by now, going into my sixth year [as a] pro. So I’m just going to try to do my job and get some hits in on these guys over here. Just try to play a solid, steady game.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. MT at Pepsi Center.
When defenseman Mat Clark steps on the ice at Pepsi Center, it will be a special experience for himself. Clark, who was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline last season, was born in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, and spent his first few years growing up in nearby Lakewood.
|Mat Clark |
“It was pretty cool when it happened last year,” Clark said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “I was pretty excited, obviously. Being born here and living here until I was about four years old, it was kind of cool coming back here.
“[During] camp I [got] to travel around and see some of the sights. My parents know more about it. I tell them like where I’ve been and they say ‘Oh yeah, you went there as a baby.’ So it’s kind of funny in that way, and I’m pretty excited. I loved watching the Avalanche growing up, too. So it was pretty surreal when it happened.”
Clark was too young to really remember what it was like living in Colorado, but he is still enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with his birthplace during any downtime.
“I was just a baby,” he said. “There’s flashes, you know, but not much.
“My parents and sisters remember, and they tell me some different things. I went hiking up some trails that I apparently had gone up as a kid too, so that’s kind of funny.”
There will be an additional reunion experience tonight for Clark as well, as he faces off against members of his former organization.
“There’s a lot of guys that I know over there, but I’m really excited to play against them,” Clark said. “I warned them last night, ‘There’s going to be no friends on the ice.’ It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”
Gabriel Landeskog—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Alex Tanguay—Mikhail Grigorenko—Nathan MacKinnon
Andreas Martinsen—Joey Hishon—Mikko Rantanen
Dennis Everberg—Conner Bleackley—Jack Skille
Brandon Gormley—Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov—Nate Guenin
Nick Holden—Mat Clark