CENTENNIAL, Colo.--One by one, the Colorado Avalanche players left the practice ice and entered the team locker room exhausted and out of breath following the first training camp session of the 2018-19 season.
That is exactly what head coach Jared Bednar wanted.
"I think No. 1, that is the plan. I want it to be tough," said Bednar. "I want it to be taxing. I want guys to have to fight through mentally. I want them to have to fight through physically because we have to find ways to improve. Part two of that is we want to play with pace. We know we're a skating team with pace--the speed and the tenaciousness of our group is very important. We have to have that characteristic if we're going to be successful."
After nearly an hour of practice on Friday at Family Sports Center, the players lined up for a skating test--the same one they did last September before the 2017-18 season. It was nothing groundbreaking, and the Avs knew exactly what they were getting into as they trained for it all offseason--just like in the summer of 2017.
The test involved going from goal line to goal line twice and then finishing with a sprint to center ice under a time restraint. The players had to do it three times--first under 39 seconds, then fewer than 40 seconds and finally in less than 41 seconds--with a two-minute break in between to give them just enough time to recover before lining up again.
"Kind of knew what to expect. It's always hard, but I think that is good. Good to see the guys are in shape, and I think everybody has been working hard this summer to be ready at camp," said Mikko Rantanen. "We know it's a hard camp with the testing and everything. I think everyone is feeling pretty good."
It's all part of Bednar and the organization's plan to be the hardest working and one of the fastest squads in the NHL. With home games played at the highest elevation in the league at 5,280 feet above sea level, playing quick can be an advantage over opponents that aren't accustomed to the thin Colorado air.
"I think I was working more this summer with quickness stuff and getting faster in the first couple steps of the ice," Rantanen said. "I think that is the biggest key for me this summer. I was healthy all summer, so I was able to work hard. Really feeling good now."
J.T. Compher is getting ready for his second full NHL campaign and used his summer to make sure he doesn't have any lulls in his game during the six-plus month season.
"I changed my training a little bit, a little more conditioning. So as the season goes on, you're still in good shape," Compher said. "I'm excited. It's a good opportunity for myself with this team to get going at camp."
This is the second training camp where Colorado has instituted these tests, which have also been included at the club's 2017 and 2018 summer development camps with its prospects. Bednar says the results have been promising each year and are trending in a positive direction.
The Avalanche had a strong training camp and preseason in 2017-18 and that seemed to result in a solid start (8-5-0) to the regular season.
"Guys are coming in stronger and that is what we want," Bednar said. "We want to turn them into pros as quickly as we possibly can. We want our guys to keep continue pushing to get into better condition. Even the guys that have been in the league, be able to maintain the game and stay in their prime."
When the dog days of winter turn to spring and teams are fighting for a select few playoff spots, any advantage late in games can be a difference in a point or two. The Avalanche knows that first-hand after beating out the St. Louis Blues by a single point last season to earn the final berth into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"In order to play the way I want us to play, we're going to have to be able play up-tempo and be in top shape and physical," Bednar said. "We have to be prepared for that in the offseason. We're trying to bring the best out of our players right away."