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Team Bonding In Vail

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

VAIL, Colo.—Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog wanted to do something a little bit different this year before the new season started.

So Landeskog and his teammates headed up into the Colorado high country for some team bonding, hoping that the lessons learned would translate to chemistry on the ice.

"It was a great opportunity to do some fun activities and have a good time in a relaxed atmosphere, and do some challenges to get the guys out of their comfort zones," Landeskog said.

Thirty Avs players and team coaches and staff were in Vail for the past two days to participate in team bonding exercises, which ranged from a team dinner to challenges on the top of Vail Mountain.

With this year's squad featuring a bunch of new players, it ended up being the perfect time for the club to get together before the season begins on Oct. 8.

"It's something that we think was needed with quite a few new faces on the team," Landeskog said. "Even with a lot of returning players, we thought we wanted to get the team together and get to know each other a little bit more and have a fun couple of days before craziness starts."

Landeskog came up with the idea of a preseason-bonding trip last spring and floated the idea to some of the team's staff on making it become a reality.

"I guess it was something that myself and a couple of the team staff members discussed in the spring," Landeksog said. "Came up with the idea of why not go up to Vail and go up for a couple of days. We have Vail just two hours away from Denver, and there is a rink here as well so we could practice some systems and Patrick can get in all the stuff we need to work on before the season starts."

The captain's idea was well received by both the players and staff, and it seemed like everyone had a good time getting away from the normal grind of camp and the preseason.

With the leaves changing on the aspen trees in the Colorado Rockies, the trip also brought the team into a picturesque setting away from distractions back home.

"It's great to get up to this place. It's so beautiful up here, and it's a little spiritual in a way too," said Matt Duchene. "To be in this environment and see the scenery, it's a calming thing. It makes you reflect on more than just hockey. I think it is a great thing that we were able to bond as a team last night and then yesterday with the activities. It was a great outing."

The whole weekend had a military focus to it as members of the Army Special Forces joined the Avalanche on Friday in the team building challenges. The Avs were split into six groups, with each consisting of five players and a member from nearby Fort Carson.

Each group then competed in five different exercises to build cohesiveness and earn points for a prize. The activities included a ropes course; working together to cross an area with wooden planks and barrels; constructing a cart with just tires, piping and screws; answering trivia on the Avs, NHL and military; and dropping bean bags on a target while zip lining through the air.

The winning team received a one-time use to get out of 'mountains'—a conditioning drill that the coaching staff often ends practice with.

"The activities we did, some of them were pretty high. I don't know if some of the guys are afraid of heights and stuff like that," Cody McLeod said of his teammates getting out of their comfort zone. "I guess in that aspect, we did. Guys stepping up in different situations to do these team events that we did."

On the ropes course, each group had one hour to get everyone across two different sections. The course didn't look too daunting from the ground, that was until the players climbed up and began walking on the obstacles high in the air—though they were strapped into safety lines just in case of a slip.

"The ropes course was a little different," Erik Johnson said. "It was pretty windy up there. I was a little nervous going through those hoops that I was climbing through."

After a couple hours at above 9,000 feet, the club finished the day with a dinner and two guest speakers.

"It was great. It was a great idea by Landy to do that," Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said of the experience. "I thought our guys did a really good job. They were involved. They wanted to be a part of the drills that we did on top of the mountain. It was great. We had two great speeches. The guest speakers did a really good job talking to our guys. I think we all learned a lot from these guys."

Saturday included more team bonding, but this time it was on the ice.

The Avs held an open practice at Dobson Ice Arena in Vail Village, where fans came in droves to watch the team's training in the middle of the mountain town.

It was also the start of the Avalanche's preparation for the season opener in less than two weeks.

"Today was business," Roy said. "We had a great practice. We worked on a lot of good things, and we truly believe that will prepare us well for our first game against Minnesota."

After the hour-and-20-minute practice, the Avs saluted the crowd before signing autographs for fans dressed in Avalanche jerseys, hats and shirts.

"Obviously we're the hometown team in Colorado, and it's nice to skate in front of some people that live two hours away from our practice rink," Duchene said. "It's nice for them to see us work and put the work in to get ready for the season."

The weekend was all about the Avs becoming a better team, though not necessarily through the traditional methods of drills and video work.

McLeod, who is entering his third season as an alternate captain on the club, said he thinks the experience will benefit the squad during the season.

"It's been awesome. Just hanging out with the boys, kind of get away from everything," McLeod said. "Met some good people with the Special Forces and talked about team building. Gave us some good activities to do, and it was a lot of fun. I think it will be great."

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