"Player practices," or whatever you wish to call them, can sometimes be unpredictable. You're never sure who's going to be there, and it's hard to be certain what the players actually get out of them.
It's even more difficult for those covering the team, because you're not sure if these are just skates to get the guys' legs going again, or if they're actually thinking about Oct. 13 when they embark on a 3-on-1 against a helpless, unsuspecting local fill-in goalie.
But after spending a week around some of the Blue Jackets players at the Ohio Health Ice Haus, it's pretty clear these guys are gearing up, and they're doing so together. They can't stress enough that this is a close-knit team, one that goes about its business together and tackles all obstacles ensemble.
Did I think I'd find this out in early September? Not a chance, but I'm pleased to report that the epicenter of optimism around the club can be found in the locker room.
Today's week-ending skate was energetic and, like Thursday, featured a lengthy scrimmage to round out the session. Those not in attendance today were Artem Anisimov, Derek Dorsett and Sergei Bobrovsky from the Blue Jackets, while Toronto's Dave Steckel and the Flyers' Jody Shelley opted to remain off the ice, as well.
Before we say goodbye to another week (and get another day closer to the 2012-13 NHL season), I'll jot down some brief observations from the Friday practice:
-- Vinny Prospal may be 37 years of age - and that's by no means a knock on him - but I'm convinced this guy could play until he's 40. He looks fresh on the ice, rejuvenated for another season, and his unique/charismatic/47 flavors of awesome goal celebrations were back in full force this week.
-- Derick Brassard has been flying all week. He trained hard this summer back in Ottawa/Montreal with former teammate Marc Methot and some other friends. He's been shooting the puck a lot in these practices, and has shown that he's not shy about driving the puck to the net.
-- Significant jump in Cam Atkinson's stride since arriving in town yesterday. I enjoy the frequent reminder that he has one of the most underrated and downright scary wrist shots I've seen. And as a goalie, it makes me thankful that my regular opponents don't possess that skill level.
-- Speaking of goalies, the Blue Jackets goaltending duo has rotated days on the ice this week, with the opposite net being filled by a local netminder. Steve Mason was between the pipes today and, much like he has all week, looked pretty solid and made a lot of saves. His much-improved physical conditioning has been a hot topic of late, and no one's more ready than Mason to make it happen on the ice.
-- John Moore has really stood out. He's been active, aggressive and smart with the puck on his stick and you can tell he's really worked hard on his positioning. Moore has always been an adept transporter of the puck, but now looks poised to take another step forward in his development.
-- It's great to see the veterans leading the way during these skates. R.J. Umberger, James Wisniewski, Brandon Dubinsky, Adrian Aucoin, Prospal, etc. have been important pieces of the organized practices and making sure every player gets something out of them.
-- I'm starting to wonder if Aucoin knows what it feels like to miss the net. He took two shots in today's scrimmage. He scored both times.