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Prospects Get Comfortable on Day 1 of Rookie Camp

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

CENTENNIAL, Colo. – For the first time since late April, the ice at South Suburban Family Sports Center was alive with Colorado Avalanche players clanging pucks off of goalposts and coaches blowing whistles and barking orders about the next practice drill.

Okay, so the players were prospects of the Avalanche taking part in the first day of rookie camp on Monday, but the sight of Avs practice jerseys on the ice again signified the start of a brand new season of hockey

Twenty-eight players are taking part in this year's rookie camp, which comprises 16 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders. It is the first camp for 18 players, which includes five of the Avs' seven picks from this past summer's draft—Conner Bleackley, Kyle Wood, Nick Magyar, Alexis Pepin and Julien Nantel. Also, four of the seven players from the 2013 draft are in attendance—with the only absences being Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon, who will be at the NHL camp, and college players Will Butcher and Ben Storm.

With so many new faces to the organization, rookie camp is a time for players to learn the "Avalanche Way" and get adjusted to the speed and the systems that will be ran during Colorado's NHL training camp, which begins on Friday.

"I think just get comfortable on the ice," said Bleackley on what he's looking to accomplish in rookie camp. "Get more comfortable every day and trying to improve every day. Comfortable with as far as systems and know what the coaches want with D-zone and whatnot. Just trying to learn as much as I can in these next three days to get me ready for the main camp."

Bleackley was Colorado's first-round draft choice this summer and will be looking to make the same positive impact that Chris Bigras did last September.

Bigras had an outstanding 2013 training camp with the Avalanche and was one of the final young players to be released to their junior club. His performance was good enough for Colorado to sign him to an entry-level contract, securing the defenseman's fate with the organization once his time with the Owen Sound Attack is over.

Entering his second camp, Bigras said he still had some nerves before stepping onto the ice in the morning but got back into his comfort level after receiving some passes and taking some shots.

"I kind of know what to expect a little more coming into the second year," Bigras said. "The level of compete and the focus it takes. It's certainly a confidence booster coming in here knowing what to expect."

Rookie camp is also a time to make sure the prospects are ready to compete with the NHLers.

For Minnesota native Cody Corbett, who is in his second professional training camp, compete also means being able to breathe comfortably in the thin Colorado air.

"Just really get used to the altitude. It's really different than Minnesota," Corbett said. "It's a little tough to get used to the oxygen levels. The next couple days here will be getting ready for the big camp."

This year's rookie camp also has a bit of an international flavor to it as there are five European players that made the trip across the Atlantic: Borna Rendulic (Croatia), Roman Will (Czech Republic) and Swedes Dennis Everberg, Michael Schumacher and Wilhelm Westlund.

Westlund was the Avalanche's seventh-round selection at the 2013 draft and wasn't in attendance at last year's camp, but he's been making his presence known around the organization this summer. He attended the club's off-ice development camp in July and is now in his first NHL training camp.

Lake Erie head coach Dean Chynoweth led the 90-minute practice while Monsters assistant coach Randy Ladouceur, Avalanche director of player development David Oliver and development consultant Brett Clark also helped run drills. Avalanche goaltending coach Francois Allaire and Lake Erie goalie coach Jean-Ian Filiatrault were also on the ice working with netiminders Roman Will, Spencer Martin and Francois Tremblay.

The practice began with shooting drills before moving on to working in transition, one-on-one and then two-on-one scenarios. The players also worked on odd-man rushes before moving onto defensive-zone coverage drills, an area Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy stressed with his players last season.

Day 1 concluded with tip-in drills from the point, with both one and two players standing in front of the crease.

Conner Bleackley

What You Didn't See

Conner Bleackley's leadership was on full display after practice.

While the other players were removing their equipment in the locker room, Bleackley went into the team players' lounge and brought out a handful of water bottles and started handing them out to his fellow campers.

There was a reason why the Avalanche thought so highly of Bleackley's leadership when the team chose him at No. 23, and why he was named captain of his junior team, the Red Deer Rebels, at the age of 17 last November.

What's Next

Rookie camp continues with the second day of on-ice practices on Tuesday at Family Sports Center. Goalies are set to begin their workouts at 9:45 a.m., while the rest of the players will hit the ice around 15 minutes later.

All practices during the Avalanche's rookie and training camp are free and open to the public.

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