TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — You don’t need to remind Oscar Dansk. He knows this is the most important season of his hockey career.
Sure, he’s but 20 years old and has yet to play a minute of professional hockey, but he’s stepping into a situation ripe with opportunity. The Blue Jackets made the decision this summer to “go young” in goal with the Springfield Falcons (AHL), letting Mike McKenna and Jeremy Smith - who carried the mail in 2013-14 - walk via unrestricted free agency.
They’re turning to Dansk and Swedish countryman Anton Forsberg, whose combined age is still younger than Martin Brodeur. Both goaltenders have some experience in North America (Dansk in Canadian major junior hockey and Forsberg briefly in Springfield) but are, for the most part, going into a bit of an unknown.
And Dansk in particular feels he has a lot to prove.
He struggled at times last season, losing his starting job in Erie to teammate Devin Williams and he did not have a good performance at this tournament a year ago. Though it’s a stretch to say he’s competing for the No. 1 job this week, a strong tournament will go a long way toward building confidence for Falcons’ training camp later this month.
“It’s a huge year for me,” Dansk told BlueJackets.com. “I’m so excited, and it feels like this kind of came out of nowhere. I’m ready to get going and earn it. I’ve waited a long time for this opportunity. I’m anxious to get started, no doubt about that.”
Dansk and Forsberg will compete under the watchful eye of Jared Bednar, the new Springfield head coach who just so happens to be coaching the Blue Jackets’ top prospects in this week’s tournament.
It’s not yet known which goalie will get the call in Game 1 today (3:30 p.m. vs. Minnesota), but if it’s Dansk, he’s ready to rock and roll.
“I think we compete against each other no matter what, whether it’s Traverse City or training camp,” Dansk said. “That’s how it goes, and I think that’s the way it should be. I just really want to find my game and be comfortable; it always takes a little time to get back into the rhythm of hockey season and back into game shape.
“I want to prove that I have the ability to play at this level and be a No. 1 goaltender.”
In addition to working hard on flexibility and agility this summer, Dansk spent a lot of time investing in conditioning and making sure he arrived in Columbus in peak shape.
He’s locked in on making sure this opportunity is one that he takes full advantage of.
I’ve mostly been working on a lot of conditioning things. That’s been my main focus this summer. Working on flexibility, agility, things like that.
“I want to play my game and help the team win games,” Dansk said. “That’s our main goal, right? I’ll do whatever I can to give my team a chance to win whenever I play.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this…can’t tell you how excited I am.”
THE TOURNAMENT BEGINS
The Blue Jackets play their first game of the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament this afternoon, taking on the Minnesota Wild at 3:30 p.m. at David's Rink (one of two rinks in the Center Ice Arena complex here in Traverse City).
But that's not all for the kids on Friday; the team will hold a pre-game skate at 8:30 a.m., their first organized practice in Traverse City since arriving Thursday evening.
We'll know more about line combinations, starting goalies and more after the Blue Jackets prospects complete their first skate, but there were some interesting combinations during their pre-flight practice on Thursday morning.
Alexander Wennberg took some shifts between recently-signed Sonny Milano and Kerby Rychel, which is undoubtedly one of the most offensively-gifted trios in the tournament.