A few minutes into today's intrasquad scrimmage at Nationwide Arena, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards blew his whistle and ground everything to a halt.
Though he kind of figured this would happen eventually, he wanted to get out in front of it before it became a problem: he could tell fatigue was starting to set in, and the intensity of the scrimmage was suffering. After a brief, one-way conversation with the players, they got back at it and finished with a strong fourth practice at Training Camp presented by OhioHealth.
The hitting picked up -- and Boone Jenner led the way finishing checks all over the ice -- and the pace followed suit. With only three days separating the Blue Jackets from an opening night date against the Nashville Predators, Richards was far more pleased with the second half of practice than he was with the start.
Part of the issue was the limited number of players skating; every line is double-shifting and playing twice as much as it would in a normal game situation, so the legs take a little bit to get acclimated.
According to R.J. Umberger, who has been skating on the team's top line during training camp, the onus is on the players to put a bit of a "crash" day in the rearview mirror and focus on three key days ahead.
"I think every team is going through this right now," Umberger told BlueJackets.com after practice. "We practiced today and it showed a little bit, both mentally and physically with our sharpness. It’s our job to retool and finish this week off strong before we go into Nashville. The last three days, our intensity level has been really high and the adrenaline has been rushing.
"Even in a normal camp, they always say between day three and four is your toughest because fatigue sets in and your mental (game) can be a challenge. It’s up to us to get energized and back at it again because our turnaround is really fast here."
Off ice preparation is just as important as what they're doing on the ice, Umberger said, and getting ready for the upcoming season cannot be confined to the rink. A strong, consistent work ethic is spotlighted even further in a compacted schedule because the work cycle is going to feel like it never stops.
"You have to make the most of every moment here," Umberger said. "When you’re away from the rink, you have to be thinking about systems and preparing yourself. The practices leading up to Saturday – even the morning skate Saturday – we have to be crisper and we’ve got to execute.
"I’m sure there will be a lot of grey areas going into that game because it’s also new for a lot of guys, but bottom line it comes to work ethic. It’ll carry you through, and there’s no reason for us to be outworked."