With no preseason games and just nine total days to prepare for the start of the 2020-21 campaign, getting back to the high competitiveness of game action is paramount for the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche and the rest of the NHL will be forced to find that in-game edge via intrasquad scrimmages due to the lack of exhibition contests, and the team held the first of three currently-scheduled competitions on the third day of training camp at Family Sports Center.
Wednesday's rendition focused on 5-on-5 play in controlled situations, making sure that the players could execute the club's system in a game atmosphere. Head coach Jared Bednar said Colorado will begin its power-play and penalty-kill work in practices and scrimmages once the squad reconvenes on Friday following a day off.
"I liked our practice again today. I thought it had good intensity to it," Bednar said. "We really just tried to stress to our guys the attention to detail and habits that we need in order to win hockey games comes next week. We have to start putting these together here, not just in a practice setting but also in a game situation like today. I thought the guys had pretty good focus when it came to that. It got competitive, there was some physicality to it, overall I would say I was pretty happy about it."
All 34 players currently at the camp were split into two teams on Wednesday and competed in two periods of 20 minutes each. The squads were broken fairly evenly between NHL, minor league and prospect talent, with most of the line combinations staying similar to how they've been during the first two days of camp.
Andre Burakovsky, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen were the top line for Team Burgundy, while the J.T. Compher-centered unit with Valeri Nichushkin and Joonas Donskoi led Team White.
"I thought the pace was really good. Even the last two days the pace has been really high," Compher said. "Guys are competing. Focusing on the details, that's a huge point of emphasis for us, making sure we have those details of those systems engrained in us."
Team Burgundy's Rantanen and newcomer defenseman Dennis Gilbert, who was acquired in the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that also brought over Brandon Saad, were the only goal scorers in the scrimmage, though Team White's Matt Calvert was also able to tally in the "just for fun" shootout at the end.
The Avalanche is also planning on scrimmaging on Saturday and Sunday after starting each on-ice session with a quick practice featuring the entire group.
"We're getting through our structure on video then doing some drills in practice that puts our players in different situations to work on different aspects of our structure. We want to see that again in competition in scrimmages," Bednar said. "You're never going to play as hard against your own team as you do with an opponent, but I liked the intensity with our practice today, especially for the first scrimmage of camp."
95 Andre Burakovsky - 29 Nathan MacKinnon - 96 Mikko Rantanen
17 Tyson Jost - 91 Nazem Kadri - 14 Shane Bowers
18 Mike Vecchione - 12 Jayson Megna - 61 Martin Kaut - 10 Miikka Salomaki
7 Devon Toews - 8 Cale Makar
9 Dennis Gilbert - 88 Kyle Burroughs
5 Dan Renouf
39 Pavel Francouz
30 Adam Werner
13 Valeri Nichushkin - 37 J.T. Compher - 72 Joonas Donskoi
11 Matt Calvert - 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - 25 Logan O'Connor
36 T.J. Tynan - 15 Sheldon Dries - 44 Kiefer Sherwood - 70 Nick Henry
49 Samuel Girard - 22 Conor Timmins
27 Ryan Graves - 28 Ian Cole
34 Jacob MacDonald - 58 Peter Tischke
32 Hunter Miska
Bednar said the same five players that had yet to take part in on-ice activities at training camp also didn't practice on Wednesday.
Forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad, defenseman Erik Johnson, goaltender Philipp Grubauer and AHL contract defenseman Keaton Middleton remain "unfit to play" and were not at the practice facility on the third day of camp.
Bednar has said he couldn't say what the timetable is for the players' possible return but noted each is in a different situation, so some could possibly come back earlier than others.
Due to current NHL and NHL Players' Association policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic regulations, Bednar isn't allowed to disclose the nature of players' absences.
BO TO CO
Prospect Bowen Byram will travel to Colorado on Friday but won't be able to join the team for on-ice activities for a week. Under current league regulations due to the pandemic, Byram must quarantine for seven days and have four consecutive negative COVID-19 tests in that period before being able to join the club.
The earliest Byram could take the ice with the Avs would be on Jan. 15, the day of the team's second game of the season against the St. Louis Blues. Colorado then has three days between contests for Byram to get up to speed before it plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 19.
Byram was a co-captain for Team Canada that won the silver medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship on Tuesday night. He finished with five points (one goal, four assists) in seven games and was named one of the three best players for Team Canada at this year's World Juniors while also earning a place on the all-tournament team.
"I thought he got better as the tournament went on and was really making a push to help Canada try and get back in that game last night," Bednar said of Byram. "I thought he was a play-driving defenseman last night, he was up and involved on the rush. He got a good chance shorthanded when he took it to his backhand and put it off the post I think. He was trying to be a difference maker and that is exactly what we want to see from him here."
Byram can play up to six games without having his first year of his entry-level contract kick in. It's still unknown when his major-junior team, the Vancouver Giants, will be able to begin their Western Hockey League season, so Byram could be in Colorado for a while, even if he's not skating in games.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Defenseman Conor Timmins was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, and grew up in nearby Thorold, just on the other side of the Niagara River and the U.S.-Canada border from Buffalo, New York.
Timmins let his allegiance to the playoff-bound Buffalo Bills of the NFL be known during Wednesday's media availability.
"Obviously it's nice to see the Bills doing well, it's been awhile. So I'm pretty excited for their playoff run," Timmins said.
Timmins on the day's scrimmage:
"In terms of the pace of play today, I thought it was good. I think we had two good days of practice to kind of get things going. I think the boys kind of built on that today, and I think everyone was pretty happy with how the scrimmage went."
Cale Makar on his training camp defensive partner Devon Toews:
"We haven't seen too much of the ice together just because we got an uneven number of defensemen out there, but you can just tell he thinks the game really fast and moves the puck really well too. I can't wait to truly get in there with him and kind of play some full D with him."
J.T. Compher on Team USA's win over Canada at the World Junior Championship:
"I've been a part of USA Hockey since I was 16, and I think it's a huge testament to Jim Johannson (former USA Hockey executive), who passed away a couple years ago, the mission that he had to build us into a program that can compete in any tournament with any team. I'm super proud of that group last night, underdogs going into that game last night, a very good Canada team, and they're able to represent the U.S. very well and bring home that gold medal."