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The Finnish Worm

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Ryan Johansen
probably said it best after today's scrimmage: "It's been a great week for all of the guys here."

It began on Monday for most of these kids, who flew in from all over the world to get a better idea of what it's going to take to make a living in the National Hockey League. They arrived at Nationwide Arena with wide eyes and open minds, ready to make an impression on the organization that showed the trust and faith to bring them into the fold.

If you think about it, it's a daunting task for young men who (for the most part) are under the age of 20, and like Brad Larsen said, many of them have never left the comforts of home until this week. From start to finish, the Blue Jackets player development staff and the coaching staff of the Springfield Falcons gave the prospects a five-day version of "Pro Hockey 101."

Today's scrimmage and shootout competition at the OhioHealth Ice Haus brought a standing-room only crowd to the rink on a day where outside temperatures cranked up over 100 degrees, but this wasn't simply an escape from the summer heat. Blue Jackets fans cheered the prospects on, handing out "BOOONE" chants to Boone Jenner and giving rousing ovations for every Johansen snipe -- a show of support that did not go unnoticed by the players.

Because of some minor injuries and precautionary measures, the group wasn't large enough to hold a traditional full-length scrimmage, so Larsen, Nolan Pratt and Chris Clark got creative and came up with several mini-games to pit Team Blue against Team White.

Right out of the gate, it was fast-paced 3-on-3 hockey and Johansen showed off his wide-ranging skill set. Young Swedish forward Daniel Zaar drew a lot of attention in the first drill, flying up and down the ice and ripping several wristers on goal, some of which could only be fought off by the goaltenders. After a few runs of 3-on-3, they quickly switched up and went 2-on-2 for a bit and got the heart rates pumping pretty good.

The second drill was a staggered-net drill between the blue lines, a sequence that forced the three players (two skaters, one defenseman who had to skate in from the off-side) to work in tandem and get quick shots off at the goalies.

Next up was a game of 3-on-3 played from board-to-board along the red line, and Ice Haus security had to move fans from a couple of sections to make sure they weren't in the line of fire for deflected pucks. Team White got the better of Team Blue and Oscar Dansk was the star goaltender in the drill, but fellow Swede Anton Forsberg was not far behind. The big, lanky netminder displayed quickness and a fiery competitiveness that has helped him succeed on some prime stages of junior hockey.

As punishment for the loss, Team Blue had to a set of "suicide" skates to the far end line and back.

To wrap things up, the two teams participated in a fast-paced shootout competition where the first to 10 goals won. It was a frantic race for pucks at center ice, and there were a lot of goals at the far end of the ice thanks to Jenner and Johansen (Ryan Murray snuck a couple of beauties in there, as well). On the near side of the ice, Dansk and Forsberg were stealing the show and a clutch stop from Dansk at the very end sealed the deal for Team White.

Jubilation, teamwork, camaraderie -- all the things Larsen and his staff wanted to see after a week full of hard work and learning experiences.

Off-ice workouts in the CBJ training room are just one of the several parts of the development camp week.

Here are some other random, assorted notes from today's finale:

-- Johansen knows this is a big year for his development, and he's walking the walk. He was a beast in the scrimmage today and made the shootout look easy. His added weight hasn't taken away from his speed, and some hard work on his wrist shot looks to be paying off.

-- Oliver Gabriel is a name that doesn't get a lot of attention, but he could be due for a big year in Springfield as he plays his first full pro season. He's got a terrific shot and underrated hands around the net. He's familiar with Johansen from their days with the Portland Winterhawks (WHL), and has played many games against Murray when he was with the Everett Silvertips.

-- Mike Reilly is one to watch, folks. If he keeps maturing physically as quickly as he's maturing on the ice, he could be an impact player right away at the University of Minnesota. He passes the puck quickly and wastes no time making the transition from defense to offense. A quick look at his fluid skating gives you the impression that he has the requisite tools to be a standout player.

-- Camp invites Alex Aleardi (Plymouth) and Joel Hanley (UMass-Amherst) opened some eyes this week, and it's safe to say their situations are worth monitoring as the summer moves along. Aleardi has quick hands and showed an astute finishing ability, while Hanley is a swift-skating blue liner who looked to handle the environment pretty well all throughout the week.

-- Jenner is close. Very close.

-- Larsen pointed out Dalton Smith's improvement from a year ago, specifically the work he's putting in to get better with skating. Smith is a big power forward who played a small sampling of games with the Falcons last year, and you got the sense that Larsen is eager to see what the former Ottawa 67's star can bring in his first full pro season.

-- Lastly, thanks to all the fans who came down to the Ice Haus this week. It was a great time from open to close, and the players were pumped up about your support.

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