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Skating A Focus At Development Camp

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--There were no practice drills, checks into the boards or slap shots from the blue line. In fact, there weren't even any pucks on the ice. There was just skating—lots and lots of skating.

That was the highlight of the first day of on-ice activities at the Colorado Avalanche's development camp at Family Sports Center on Tuesday, and it is expected to be much of the same for the next two days as well.

Colorado hasn't had an on-ice portion to its annual development camp for the past several years, but the organization changed things this time and it appears the technical aspect of skating is an emphasis.

Skating instructor Tracy Tutton joined Avalanche director of player development David Oliver, defense development consultant Adam Foote and development consultant Brian Willsie on the ice, running three hour-long sessions with seven to eight skaters at a time. The 22 players at this year's camp are split into three teams—Blue, Burgundy and Gray—and each went through fitness and nutrition training while not on the ice.

For prospects like Chris Bigras, Mason Geertsen and Spencer Martin, who are all attending their third camp since being picked by the Avs in the 2013 draft, seeing some summer ice time is a welcomed sight.

"You can always pick up a few things to learn for power skating," Bigras said after his session. "Certainly the stuff she was teaching out there was good stuff. I don't think you are ever a perfect skater so it is fun to go out there and learn a couple new things that you can improve on."

The drills were meant to break down the act of skating to its basic form so each player could get the most power out of each stride. From taking one slow stride at a time, to working on the correct form while skating forward and backward, to racing as fast as one can with a resistance band strapped on, the future Avs did a little bit of everything to help them improve while on the ice.

"Just really focusing on the mechanics, like the ankle snap, the full extension, and everything like that," Geertsen said. "Get a full stride and then from a full stride to moving faster."

The lessons the prospects were taught aren't just for this week, but to be applied in the players' training for the remainder of the offseason so they're ready to compete when the Avs' main training camp begins in September.

However for some players, development camp is their only chance to showcase their ability against other organizational prospects.

Due to NCAA rules and scheduling during the school year, prospects playing college hockey usually can't take part in regular training camp activities. For the Avalanche's college players—JT Compher (University of Michigan), A-J Greer (Boston University) and Ben Storm (St. Cloud State)—it makes the summer camp even more important.

"It's great for us college guys to be able to show the staff what we are made of and how we are developing," said Storm, who also attended Colorado's camp last year. "To be able to learn from guys like Footer, Ollie and [Brett] Clark, they all know a lot about the game. They all played in the NHL, and they are all really trying to teach us as much as they can."

Each player will also have individual meetings with members of the Avs staff throughout the week where they'll discuss their game and the areas of it that they can improve on.

The power skating drills and what is learned in those meetings are things Compher is looking forward to taking with him to Ann Arbor when he captains the Wolverines next season.

"I think skating is something I need to work on, and any player needs to work on. Just technique and explosiveness, and just trying to absorb all the information and trying to use it when you go back," Compher said. "They are going to have some personal meetings where you can see your weaknesses. That is something I'm excited to learn what I can work on, and take it back to Michigan and use it throughout the summer."

Development camp is slated to have two more days of on-ice training: Wednesday and Thursday morning at Family Sports Center. Goalies and some light shooting drills will take place beginning at 8 a.m. before individual team practices start at 9:15 a.m.

The on-ice sessions, which are scheduled to go until 12:45 p.m. each day, are free and open to the public.

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