CENTENNIAL, Colo.—Colorado Avalanche rookie camp came to a close on Wednesday, and the prospects now turn their attention to competing with the "big boys" when the main NHL training camp gets underway on Friday.
"It was good to get out there on the ice and be in a competitive environment," said defenseman Chris Bigras of the three-day camp. "Get out with some old friends that you've met from previous years. So it's a good time."
However, now it's time to get down to business.
The players often used the word "fun" to describe the last three days, and while that appeared to be the case on the ice, there was also a seriousness to each drill. The players were focused on performing at their best with the knowledge of what is ahead for them on the calendar.
For Bigras and forward Troy Bourke, who are in their third September camps, they paid extra attention on getting themselves ready for the next few days. Bigras is entering his first full pro season while Bourke is going into his second, and both want to compete for jobs on the Avs' roster.
"My first two years, [I was] just trying to enjoy the experience and I was just happy to be here," Bourke said. "Now it's my third year so I feel that I want to prove something. I want to be one of the better guys… I think for sure this rookie camp was more of a preparation for what is to come next."
The third day of camp featured two parts: a standard practice with drills like the previous two days and a controlled scrimmage.
Like on Monday, San Antonio Rampage head coach Dean Chynoweth and assistant coach Randy Ladouceur led the practice. Avalanche assistant coach Tim Army, goaltending coach Francois Allaire and development consultants Brett Clark and Brian Willsie also helped out, with Clark and Willsie serving as linesmen during the scrimmage.
The drills featured system introduction, defensive-zone coverage and line rushes; all part of the process of giving the prospects more and intricate info as camp goes on.
"I think the first day there was a lot of flow and getting the feel of the puck again, passing, shooting, all of the fundamentals," Bigras said. "As it progresses, you need to know the systems and be able execute them at a high level."
The coaches also seemed to want to make sure the players competed and weren't complacent after two days of drills.
"I think they wanted to see the pace continue to be quick, everything be crisp," defensive prospect Duncan Siemens said. "We have tomorrow, which is a little quieter day, to recuperate physically, so [the coaches made] sure that we're pushing ourselves and finishing every drill and really concentrating on going out on a high note."
The 27-minuite scrimmage was fairly informal as there was no running clock or penalties called. There were forced line changes for both teams as Chynoweth monitored time on a stopwatch and blew his whistle every 30-40 seconds to signal the change.
As the prospects raced up and down the ice with the puck, Chynoweth put them in different game-like situations while the scrimmage progressed: first 5-on-5 play, then 4-on-4 before having the final six minutes be 3-on-3—a scenario that will be seen more often this season with the NHL going to five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime periods.
The players were split into two teams, Team Burgundy (coached by Chynoweth) and Team Gray (coached by Ladouceur) while the three goalies rotated sides due to their odd number, forcing them do line changes on the fly.
"You have to be patient, you see where the puck is. It is more fun," Czech Republic netminder Roman Will said of the goalie changes.
While the final score doesn't really matter—Team Gray won 3-0—the prospects seemed to enjoy breaking up the monotony of strict drills for the randomness a scrimmage can provide.
"We're hockey players," said forward Julien Nantel. "We want to play games, so it was fun today."
Even the goalies seemed to enjoy the quick, unpredictable play.
"It was great. Especially the 3-on-3, it was a little fun," Will said. "It was 2-on-1 [one way], back to 2-on-1 [the other way]. I liked it."
Of the 27 players at rookie camp, 25 will also be among the 64 in attendance for training camp. The only exceptions are defenseman Kyle Wood (wrist) and amateur tryout forward Jan Mandat (lower body) who are out due to injuries.
While the rookies have a lighter day of work on Thursday, the veterans will be busy doing physical and medical testing before everyone heads on the ice on Friday. Training camp practices are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Friday and Saturday at Family Sports Center and are free and open to the public.
Training camp concludes on Sunday with the Burgundy/White intra-squad game at the University of Denver at 1 p.m. The Avalanche then begins its preseason slate on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center.
Trevor Cheek – Conner Bleackley – Mikko Rantanen
Alexis Pepin – Gustav Olhaver – Colin Smith
Duncan Siemens – Cody Corbett
Sergei Boikov – Justin Hamonic
Troy Bourke – Samuel Henley – JC Beaudin
Michael Schumacher – Julien Nantel – Nick Magyar
Chris Bigras – Nicolas Meloche
Mason Geertsen – Raphael Maheux
Note: goaltenders Spencer Martin, Maximilian Pajpach and Roman Will rotated between teams