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Relaxed, But Focused

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

CENTENNIAL, Colo. – After four straight days of intense practices, the Colorado Avalanche are starting to feel the sting of training camp on their bodies.

“It’s tough on the body. There are some more aches and pains than usual,” said defenseman Shane O’Brien. “I know I am feeling it a little more this year than in previous years.”

A traditional preseason usually involves three days of training camp followed by practices scattered around six or seven preseason games.

That is not the case this year with only six practices and no preseason games, and the players understand that they need to be in midseason form when the season begins this weekend.

“There is definitely some sense of urgency,” said veteran right wing Milan Hejduk. “You try and get in the best shape as possible over five or six practices.”

Everyone on the team had kept up with their conditioning in the offseason, but skating at a high pace and intensity for four straight days is something hockey players around the NHL aren’t accustomed to.

“I know it is a short camp, but everybody [in the league] is in the same boat,” said coach Joe Sacco. “I think we have done a good job of preparing the players. I think the players seem excited; there is a lot of enthusiasm on the ice right now.”

The Avs looked very relaxed between whistles on Wednesday at the Family Sports Center and with the addition of only three free agents in the offseason, it appears as if the chemistry and dynamic of the overall team is similar to that of last season.

That dynamic was seen before a power-play drill late in practice as a smiling O’Brien, 29, had some fun by poking his stick at a younger player, which happened to be 20-year old captain Gabriel Landeskog. The second-year left wing turned his head, also drew a grin and retaliated with a similar motion before refocusing on the upcoming faceoff.

“Me and Landy joke around,” O’Brien said. “He is a competitive kid. He doesn’t give up any ice out there.”

However once the puck has been in play in practice over the last four days, every player on the ice has been focused.

Seconds after Landeskog was joking around with O’Brien, he helped create a screen on a defenseman in front of the net to allow PA Parenteau to be open in the slot and score off a cross-ice pass from Matt Duchene.

Overall, the fourth day of training camp was centered on special teams with drills on stuff such as cycling and blocking and situational scrimmages on the power play and penalty kill.

Last year Colorado was much improved in both special teams categories with the ninth best power play unit (18.4 percent) and 12th best penalty kill unit (83.0 percent). It was the Avs’ highest power play finish since 2006-07 and best penalty kill finish since 2005-06.

“We feel that it is a big part of the game,” Sacco said of special teams. "We introduced some units to our power play, we were able to work on our penalty kill, which we did some new stuff today, and we will continue to work on it the next couple of days.”

Sacco said he plans on using a good portion of the team’s final two training camp days on special teams.

The Avalanche will head to Pepsi Center on Thursday for a closed practice at their home arena before returning to the Family Sports Center on Friday for the final time before the season begins on Saturday at the Minnesota Wild.

“We are ready to go,” Sacco said. “We have two more days, which will be beneficial for our club. We are ready and everybody is in the same boat, there are no surprises. I think it is a great way to start, in Minnesota on the road, in a hockey state. It should make for a fun evening.”

Happy Birthday Dutchy

Wednesday was center Matt Duchene’s 22nd birthday.

The Haliburton, Ontario native has appeared in 219 regular season games since being drafted by the Avalanche with the third overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

“I can’t believe I am 22,” Duchene said after practice. “Obviously, it is still pretty young but I remember walking in here, as an 18-year old, and I can’t believe it is my fourth year already. Time flies.”

Roster Reduced To 23

The Avalanche reassigned Michael Sgarbossa and Stefan Elliott to Lake Erie and placed David Van Der Gulik on waivers effective Jan. 17 on Wednesday afternoon.

If Van Der Gulik clears waivers, he will be reassigned to Lake Erie.

The transactions leave Tyson Barrie, Mark Olver and Patrick Bordeleau as the Lake Erie prospects on Colorado’s 23-man active roster.

Bordeleau is the only one of the three players that has yet to play in the NHL as Barrie made his debut last season and Olver made his during the 2010-11 campaign.

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