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Wednesday's hard practice sends a message

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

Up-downs, suicide sprints, bag skates. Every sport has its version of the punishment practice after a disappointing performance.

Todd Richards doesn’t necessarily subscribe to that approach, but it certainly doesn’t mean he felt his group didn’t need to be sent a message.

“We’ve got to get better," Richards said today. "Guys have to handle pucks and we’ve got to do certain things to get better. I don’t believe in just lining guys up. It may happen but I’m not a big believer in that."

So there were pucks at Blue Jackets practice on Wednesday afternoon. But that doesn’t mean the legs weren’t the target.

The team spent the session going through relentless line rushes and breakout drills, all of them the length of the ice and most of them evolving to include a pair of back-checkers.

The forwards would simulate a forecheck on the members of the coaching staff, set up a point shot, and then regroup with the defense in the neutral zone before chipping the puck in deep and doing it again. Most of these drills went through at least three repetitions before a new line would rotate in. The previous group glided to the side, hunched over with their sticks on their knees and catching their breath.

Richards would stop the drill every so often to instruct the forwards, teaching them how to open up for passes in the neutral zone and correcting assignment mistakes on the forecheck.

At one point, Richards called for everyone’s attention before saying, “I know you’re tired. When you get the puck on your stick, bear down and make a pass. Don’t give someone a hand-grenade.”

"Hand-grenade" is a metaphor for a bad pass, a decision made without thinking due to panic or fatigue that puts a teammate in a poor position.

After the loss to Carolina, Nick Foligno said he thought the coaching staff would address the team’s turnover problems. He was correct.

Foligno was one of a handful of players not on the ice, along with Matt Calvert and Scott Hartnell. Those players had maintenance days, while Ryan Murray remains day-to-day.

“Our battle and compete wasn’t there last night for 60 minutes, and I think that’s the message that was sent,” said defenseman Dalton Prout. “Our work ethic is what drives this hockey team and it’s what made us successful last year. When it wasn’t there, the message needs to be sent that we need to get back to our game.”

That seemed to be what the coaching staff wanted the team to learn.

“If we don’t want to work in the games, we’ll work in practice,” said Richards. “I don’t believe in using practice as punishment. Practice should be fun and you should be getting something out of it. But there are some times when you have to.“

After a hard-working afternoon, it was time move on and focus on getting back in the win column Friday when they meet the Hurricanes again in Raleigh.

“Everybody in this room needs to hold each other accountable as a teammate to make this team better,” said Prout. “I think we did that today with good focus in practice.

Other stuff around the rink...

*James Wisniewski had what Richards described as a “very good day,” saying he was able to shoot the puck when skating in the OhioHealth Ice Haus. Richards wouldn’t put a timetable on Wisniewski’s return, but said he may be a possibility for this weekend.

*Despite the frustrating loss, Richards saw good things from forward Brian Gibbons in his second game with the Blue Jackets.

“I thought Brian was good again. Probably not as good as he was in New Jersey, but our team game wasn’t as good. He showed bursts of speed, and that’s how I envision him,” said Richards.

“He’s a guy that has that breakaway speed where he’s able to pull away from defenders and make plays. But he makes these little skill plays in the offensive zone as far as finding guys and putting pucks on sticks where that player’s able to have some time and get himself ready to make the next play.”

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