Everybody in the NHL is a fine-tuned machine these days—a departure from the good old days of hockey—and that requires a lot of effort put in over the summer. Most guys train nearly year-round, making the fitness gap when camp starts slightly under game-shape.
“It's a long summer,” said Avalanche center Matt Duchene. “It’s a 12-month job now. You take some time off after the season, but as soon as you start training it's hammer down and it's a marathon and a sprint at the same time toward camp.”
Even with all of the training, skating, lifting weights and running drills, nothing over the summer compares to playing a game scenario with true physicality, throwing bodies around the way you’re used to doing. For the NHLers, this is the one aspect of camp that can’t be recreated during the offseason and it provides them with a chance to begin regaining their feel for fast-paced hockey.
“Ever since I came in, it’s been getting shorter and shorter. It’s fine,” said veteran forward Alex Tanguay, who’s preparing for his 15th season in the league. “Guys now prepare differently (than) when they used to 15 to 20 years ago. So the guys are ready to play right away from the get go. It’s just a new NHL, so that’s part of it.”
“No matter what I do in the summer, I don’t feel I come in and just feel sharp. So its getting used to people coming at you again, people hitting you again, leaning on people. That balance there,” said 16-season elder statesman Jarome Iginla. “In the summer, it’s amazing how good your hands feel when no one’s on you and you just relax and stuff. And then, when you’re trying to do everything at a lot quicker speed and guys are coming at you and all that, it’s an adjustment.”
Players like Tanguay and Iginla have been around long enough to see the impact of changes like a shortened training camp or the addition of the shootout instead of games ending in a tie. In the case of training camp, less can be more.
“I definitely enjoy it a lot more. When I first started I think the camps would be like five weeks and it was long. It was a lot more chance for the coach to ‘bag’ you. But, in saying that, some guys would literally not…work out all summer,” said Iginla. “It was a different era. I like this one. Guys all come in good shape. Guys are expected to be in shape. They’ve been skating.
“Then, by the time (camp) starts, you just get right into it. The first week is about working out cobwebs and the timing but then, guys have been skating for the last month and a half or so, so let’s get it going.”
Camp and preseason are essentially a tuneup for opening night and beyond, when players hope to hit the ground running and not look back. The beginning of the year is as important as ever—as evidenced by the Avalanche’s 10-1 start in the previous campaign—despite the misnomer that ‘the Stanley Cup isn’t won in October.’
It allows teams to get ahead early and keep on the gas, which is exactly what the Avalanche did and hope to do again.
Team Grey 2, Team Burgundy 1 – Consolation Game
The losing teams of both games from the first day of camp met for the first contest of the second day, battling it out for third place in the annual round-robin tournament. Team Grey came out swinging early, dominating the majority of the play before taking the lead on a Brad Stuart slapper from the blue line.
Stuart received a juicy pass from Iginla, who had just been stopped on a breakaway chance by netminder Reto Berra. Berra looked strong for the majority of the tilt, going as far as stuffing a Nathan MacKinnon solo attempt to keep his club in the contest. He was rewarded for his efforts by a tying goal from Burgundy teammate Ben Street, who beat Roman Will for the equalizer.
Despite the good fortune, Burgundy just couldn’t find a way to keep the momentum. They team had a go at an empty net—the goalie had lost position during a scrum—but quick hands from MacKinnon prevented the tally.
Burgundy got another chance to take the lead after Landeskog was taken out by an errant stick and given a penalty shot but his attempt was stopped by Calvin Pickard, who was subbing with Will throughout the match.
From there it was a back and forth sprint to the end. Will came up with a huge save on a Tanguay breakaway, getting enough of the puck to deflect it away and fueling Team Grey to come up big with the game-winner just minutes later.
With the clock ticking down and a shootout on the minds of most spectators, Croatian winger Borna Rendulic fired a missile up and over the glove of Berra and into the net. Team Grey held on to win 2-1 with the backbreaker at the end.
Colorado’s amateur scout Anton Edlund (Burgundy) and Lake Erie Monsters assistant coach Jock Callandar (Grey) served as coaches for the game.
Team Blue 3, Team Black 0 — Championship Game
The championship game offered a glimpse at the top two teams from the camp, pitting prospects and vets against prospects and vets in a bid for supreme bragging rights and some good looking hockey.
Blue jumped out hard and fast, finding a groove early thanks to dominating play from its top line, which featured center Matt Duchene between first-round pick Conner Bleackley and Lady Byng Trophy winner Ryan O'Reilly. It would be this line that would do the bulk of the scoring in the contest, with the 18-year-old Bleackley finding the back of the net first.
Breaking down the wing on a two-on-one with Matt Duchene, Bleackley put his talent on display when he looked to pass to Duchene. His glance drew goalie Sami Aittokallio off of the near post, allowing Bleackley to rip a shot past the Finnish keeper and into the goal.
“We were both late coming back. The puck kind of squirted out and I just tapped it to him. We went down and, you know what, he looked pass—I was open for a split second—he looked pass and he saw I wasn’t open,” said Duchene of the score. “He made a great play and held onto it and fired it home. That’s a heady play. That’s a veteran-type play. He played awesome today. It was fun to play with him.”
Duchene continued the scoring with a tally of his own on a cross-crease pass from Ryan O’Reilly. Goaltender Spencer Martin lost the puck in the crowd in front of him and Duchene tapped it into the yawning net before the 19-year-old netminder knew what happened.
Martin redeemed himself later, stuffing Garrett Meurs on a penalty-shot bid and O’Reilly later in the game, but it wasn’t enough.
Team Blue defenseman Bruno Gervais put the nail in the coffin with a top-shelf rip over the left glove of Aittokallio for the 3-0 lead.
Team Black played a physically punishing game, serving up a handful of big hits throughout the match, including a huge Erik Johnson open-ice check on Bleackley, who later returned the favor to the chagrin of Johnson. Duncan Siemens and Cody McLeod got into a scuffle, with Siemens dropping his gloves but the dance ended before fisticuffs.
Colorado's amateur scouts Neil Shea (Blue) and John Harrington (Black) coached the squads.
The official end to training camp is the annual Burgundy/White Game, taking place at the University of Denver on Sunday. Puck drop for the intra-squad matchup is at 11 a.m. and will feature a shootout at the end of the game, no matter the outcome of regulation.