BROSSARD – After going all-out for the last five days at the Bell Sports Complex, players were quick to put their Canadiens Rookie Camp experience into perspective.
Minutes after Team White registered a 5-0 victory over Team Red on Tuesday afternoon in the camp’s third and final scrimmage in as many days, prospects and invitees wasted little time sharing their thoughts on how they fared with coveted training camp spots up for grabs.
“It was exciting being a part of Rookie Camp. I was in Saskatoon getting ready for it. I felt sick the first three days, though,” offered Nikita Scherbak, who took part in his first scrimmage on Tuesday after being sidelined with a flu virus for several days. “It was tough to watch the guys all week. I was walking around, and they were all skating and practicing and I wasn’t feeling good about it. I felt frustrated.
“I felt good out on the ice, though, but my nose was bothering me. It was tough to breathe after 20 seconds,” added the 18-year-old, who was selected 26th overall by the Canadiens in 2014. “This was a great experience. I had the chance to talk to Alexei Emelin a lot in the locker room on Monday, and Alex Galchenyuk also. I like to speak Russian with the other guys. They support me. It’s good.”
Like Scherbak, Daniel Audette also enjoyed the opportunity to go up against some of the organization’s top young guns steadily climbing up the Canadiens’ depth chart.
“It started out a little bit tough, but I picked things up as camp went on. I picked up momentum and got used to the speed out there. I felt more comfortable on Tuesday, and I think it went well,” offered Audette, who was selected 147th overall by the Canadiens in June. “I really took note of the maturity level of the pro guys, and just how hard they work. They work extra hard in practice. I’ll take that back to Sherbrooke with me, and put those lessons intro practice.
“I could see that I need to get bigger physically, and get stronger. You can always improve your speed, too. I think every player has things to improve upon,” continued Audette, who posted 21 goals and 76 points in 68 games for the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix in 2013-14. “Over the course of the week, I spent some time talking to Francis Bouillon. He played with my dad, Donald. We worked out a little bit together, too.”
While Audette opened plenty of eyes during Tuesday’s scrimmage with his patience and creativity, Christian Thomas also impressed onlookers by scoring in his second consecutive game.
“I definitely have a lot more confidence out there, especially being one of the older guys. I know what to expect. I know how tough it is after all of the physical testing,” mentioned Thomas, who registered 11 goals and 27 points in 55 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs last season. “It’s definitely a lot easier when you play a simple game. I think that’s what they’re looking for, too. Every player is here for a specific reason, and I try to focus on that and do it the best that I can.
“Going forward, I’m just going to worry about what I do on the ice and just play the best that I can,” added the Toronto native, who was drafted 40th overall by the New York Rangers in 2010. “I want to show the guys upstairs what I can do, and let them know that I’m ready to play.”
Thomas’ linemate, Nick Sorkin, also closed out Rookie Camp on a high note, chipping in with a goal for Team White.
“College is just kind of a different game, so it takes a little time to get used to the game at this level. Everyone is better, stronger, faster, and they play their position a lot better. I really worked hard this summer, training, working on my skating. I’m just glad that the hard work paid off,” confided Sorkin, who signed a professional tryout contract with the Bulldogs in March after wrapping up a four-year stint at the University of New Hampshire.
“I kind of have a big frame, and if I can use that in the corners and when it comes to positioning, I think that would definitely help,” added the 23-year-old left-winger, who suited up for nine games with Hamilton in 2013-14. “Goalies at this level are better. I need to keep working on my release and shot. Speed is another important aspect. I’ve been working really hard on my stride. If I can figure those things out, it should all kind of come together.”
That’s something Tim Bozon is banking on, too.
“I think there are always things that we can improve upon. Camp was all about working hard, going to the net, forechecking and backchecking. It’s tough to find chemistry on the ice and to make nice plays, but the important thing is to work hard and show the organization that we want it. That’s what I tried to do,” offered Bozon, whose remarkable recovery from a bout with Neisseria meningitis in March continues to serve as a source of inspiration for people around the globe. “If I move on to main camp, I think there will definitely be more opportunities for me to show my value. I really wanted to work hard during the final scrimmage. That was important to me.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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