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Competition and Chemistry Bred at Rookie Camp

Avalanche prospects feel ready for training camp

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--When athletes of any kind get together, competition is inevitable. It's how many of them are wired. They want to win and prove that they're the best, no matter if the game is hockey, offseason golf, pregame soccer or Ping-Pong before or after practices.

For the 25 players at the Colorado Avalanche's rookie camp, they had a new challenge this year with the Rookie Showcase, and the tournament seemed to have brought them closer together.

"I enjoyed it. It was really intense but it was really fun to compete against players from other teams," said Samuel Henley. "We're all kind of friends in here. We're obviously competing against each other, but it was just fun to prove ourselves against other players."

The Avs closed its annual rookie camp on Wednesday morning at Family Sports Center with a short practice, finishing a week of testing, on-ice sessions and two games against their peers from the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.

Now, the players said they're ready for the team's main training camp and battling for roster spots on the Avalanche and the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. 

"This is a good group of rookies actually," said defenseman Cody Corbett, who participated in his third Colorado camp after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2014. "We worked hard in the two games and got a couple wins, and the last few days of practice have been really good. The coaches have been happy, the staff is happy, all the guys are happy-everyone is chirping and talking and feeling upbeat. We're all pretty excited to head against the big boys."

Video: Corbett talks about Avalanche training camp

In recent years, rookie camp featured three practices to introduce the prospects to systems and the Avalanche way of doing things before the veterans were added. That often resulted in tough competition among the young players as they hoped to make a strong early impression on the team's management, coaches and development staff.

All that still remained this past week, but facing other NHL organizations also brought out the best in the prospects and helped them build a cohesiveness with one another.

Developing a chemistry in such a short period of time is impressive considering that this year's participants were from five different countries and played for 21 different teams in nine separate leagues last season.

"It helps that every guy knows each other because at the start of the camp, maybe some guys didn't know each other," said Julien Nantel, who was drafted by the Avs in 2014 and signed an entry-level contract with the team last spring. "With games like that, competition, adversity that we had, it helped."

Troy Bourke was at his fifth Avalanche rookie camp and did his part as a "veteran" of the group to get to know his newer teammates.

"[We] took a couple different guys out for dinner every different night," said Bourke, a member of the 2012 draft class. "It was nice to get to know some of the guys. A lot are just young, good kids, easy to approach. I hope they look up to me and some of the older guys, and we take pride in that. It's just a fun camp, and we're glad it's over now and looking forward to main camp."

Video: Henley offers his thoughts on rookie camp experience

The Avalanche had roughly an hour practice on Wednesday and spent a good portion of that time having a breakaway challenge that kept the team laughing and smiling, and of course, competing.

"We had a little game, it was fun, every guy liked it," Nantel said. "It has helped us relax and maybe relax for the next [few] days [as we] prepare ourselves for the main camp."

There can be plenty of stress for the prospects when the primary training camp rolls around since the main point of it is to separate the men from the boys, so to speak.

However, the "rookies" are coming in with a bit of momentum this year.

"Moving on to the main camp, it is huge for us just to have a chance to play a game," Henley said. "Actually it's a bigger difference then practicing, just getting back to game shape. We've practiced a lot of systems, too. That is going to help us a lot going into the main camp."

This year's Avalanche Training Camp is set to have 59 players in it, which brings plenty of new faces to compete against.

"I'm excited, and I speak for the rest of the guys that everybody has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, just because," Corbett said. "You're always fighting for a spot, fighting for a job. It's one of those things where you just come into camp and work your bag off."

The grind to a new season and the NHL is well underway for the rookies, and the work continues Friday morning when on-ice practices begin.

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