Todd Richards blew the whistle, his players followed him to the whiteboard at center ice in the OhioHealth Ice Haus, and just like that…hockey was back.
The Blue Jackets opened their 15th training camp this morning with a 9 a.m. session followed by two more, wrapping up a six-hour day on the practice sheet. All healthy players were present and accounted for in sessions that began with line rushes and basic “teaching” drills, followed by a rigorous and demanding skating test to finish up.
Alexander Wennberg, entering his sophomore NHL season, said all the players know that the skate tests are coming – but they’re even happier to get them over with.
“It’s all mental,” Wennberg said.
There’s a great deal of physical exertion, too, but Wennberg’s point was that the mental strength is far more important to help push through. It wasn’t uncommon to see players doubled over, catching their breath and recovering before going off to another (off-ice) workout.
Scott Hartnell, who has done a few skating tests in his day, said most players need between 15-20 minutes in the dressing room to recover from the test.
Overall, it was a busy and productive day for the Blue Jackets, who plan to stay in three groups at least through the middle of next week. There were some interesting combinations, others expected, as most of the NHL veterans were split up among the three groups.
Here’s a rundown:
- The first look at a potential line combination featured Hartnell on left wing with Wennberg in the middle and Cam Atkinson on right wing. Last season, Hartnell and Wennberg hit it off with another rookie, Marko Dano, on the right side. With Dano’s departure to Chicago in the Brandon Saad deal, Richards is experimenting with Atkinson in that role, and if it clicks, the Blue Jackets could very well have three solid “scoring” lines.
- Ryan Murray paired up with David Savard on defense, another possible preview for opening night. Murray’s ready to roll after a tough 2014-15 and a really beneficial summer spent mostly in Columbus, getting back into peak shape and back to being a top-four defenseman for the Blue Jackets.
- Sonny Milano, William Karlsson and Oliver Bjorkstrand skated together in line rushes, an interesting look for the Lake Erie Monsters, who will have a boatload of young talent in their lineup this fall.
- We’ve said it countless times, but watching Murray skate and play defense is incredible. He’s patient but quick at the same time, effortless yet powerful, and makes everything look so easy.
- There was a big cheer for captain Nick Foligno when he took the ice for the second practice. Then, he took his spot on right wing with Ryan Johansen and Saad – the Blue Jackets’ new-look No. 1 line that’s got everyone buzzing.
- Johansen said it was a good first day with his new line mates: “We worked on some new systems things that we’ll be doing this year. Overall, it was a great day.”
- Matt Calvert and David Clarkson were the wings on a line centered by Gregory Campbell, who was hit by an errant puck and in considerable pain on the ice for a few minutes. After some attention from Blue Jackets athletic trainer Chris Strickland, Campbell was back up and into the next drill.
- Local kid Kole Sherwood skated with Nick Moutrey and Lake Erie Monsters captain Ryan Craig today. Pretty exciting day for Sherwood in his first NHL camp.
- “Duuuuuuuuuuuuub” was the chant in the OhioHealth Ice Haus when the third and final group took the ice. Brandon Dubinsky, of course, was one of the returning Blue Jackets in the group and it was pretty clear that he’s ready to get 2015-16 going.
- Dubinsky centered Boone Jenner and Rene Bourque, a line with three big-bodied forwards who skate well and are a tough defensive assignment – particularly in the offensive zone off cycles.
- Here’s Richards on the day overall: “I thought it was a good day. The guys worked hard and there was a focus. Execution was pretty good, too, and it’s a long day for the players, especially the last group having to sit around all morning and waiting. Everyone’s itching to get out on the ice.”
- More from the coach, on the energy surrounding the start of a new season: “There’s a lot of emotion when you come out here, whether you’re a veteran or whether you’re a young guy. As older players, you still have a little bit of nerves and there’s energy that comes from anticipation of the start of the season."