PROSPECTS CAMP – DAY 1
A who’s who of Vancouver Canucks prospects took over parts of the University of British Columbia on Monday as the 2009 Summer Conditioning Camp kicked off.
The weeklong camp, which involves 27 prospects between the ages of 18 and 26 that have been drafted, signed or are free agents, will test the players both mentally and physically, on and off the ice, and it started with two intense on-ice sessions Monday morning.
The players were split into two groups that skated concurrently; group 1 tackled puck-handling fundamentals with Dusan Kralik, senior instructor with Endure Sports who has trained the likes of Sam Gagner and John Tavares, while the second group worked with Ryan Lounsbury, assistant coach of the men’s Brock Badgers hockey team, on skating before they switched.
The players were run through a variety of skating drills that showcased their technique, stride, turns, pivots, etc., which was all filmed and will be analyzed by Lounsbury.
“It’s only the first day so there are some nerves around but everyone’s getting their feet wet and feels pretty good,” said 22-year-old defenceman Ryan Donald, a first-time camp invitee.
“It was good to get the first ice times one out of the way to get a good feel for what’s expected the rest of the week. Both sets of drills were good, we did a few skill drills touching the puck a little bit and it was good to work on some smaller puck things that you don’t really think about.
“Then the video analysis was good because it was taped and that really gives you a feel for what you need to work on, what your weaknesses are and that always helps.” RAI TURNS TO YOGA
Following a quick lunch, players shifted gears for a half-hour classroom media-training lesson before being run through a series of mental and physical tests.
While there are a lot of new faces at camp this year, there are a few second-year camp goers, including forward Prab Rai.
Having the familiarity of taking part in camp last season made coming into this week a breeze for the 19-year-old and he even put up a preemptive strike prior to testing by working on his flexibility.
Rai said he struggled heavily with it last camp and it hurt his overall fitness testing. This time around he was ready thanks to a dedication to stretching 24/7.
“Last year my flexibility was bad, I wasn’t too big on stretching so it’s one of the things I focused on. It helped with muscle tightness and lactic acid and stuff so I found that stretching properly really helped me this year.”
Rai is coming off a breakout season with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds in which he scored a career-high 25 goals while equaling his personal best 65 points from the 2007-08 season.
Was it because he was stretching like a circus contortionist every day? Probably not, but Rai does credit the ultimate stretching class with helping him centre his game.
“I’ve been doing yoga once a week for a while now and it’s actually really helped me,” Rai said. “I feel better when I train and getting out of bed in the morning and stuff, I don’t feel as sore and tight.
“Yoga is all about the core and balance and stuff and that’s what hockey is. There’s a lot of focus on leg strength and stuff and that’s exactly what hockey is.”
Rai got the idea to take up yoga at prospects camp last year. The Canucklings were put through a complete yoga lesson as part of the workout regime in 2008 and the Surrey, BC product wasn’t as bendy as he’d hoped.
No doubt Rai will have a better showing when the prospects hit the mats on Thursday, but while he was looking a little past Monday’s workouts, others couldn’t focus past 45 seconds. WINGATE OR V02 MAX - WHICH ONE IS HARDER?
Forty-five seconds is how long it takes to complete the wingate test, a hellish bike ride that assesses peak anaerobic power, anaerobic fatigue and total anaerobic capacity.
That was one of two physical tests no prospect was excited to tackle, the other was the V02 max, also known as the widow maker – that’s a lie, but the pain this hardcore test, which reflects the overall physical of an individual, was best summed up by prospect goaltender Morgan Clark.
When asked if he was okay after the intense ride, Morgan jokingly responded, “I’ve never been less okay in my entire life.”
This is only Morgan’s second camp, so maybe he’s not the best person to judge how tough the VO2 max is.
Fourth-year camp attendee Kris Fredheim - now there’s a character witness.
The 22-year-old BC-born defenceman struggled deciding whether the wingate or V02 max was worse, but he ultimately chose the latter.
“Mentally I think the VO2 is tougher, it’s longer so you’ve got to get up for it,” Fredheim said. “The good thing is that once you’re done, it’s something you’ve accomplished.
‘The wingate takes a lot out of you, but it’s short and sweet even though it’s really hard work.”
Following fitness testing the prospects returned to their hotel to rest up for another busy day on Tuesday, which includes three classroom sessions followed by a core workout program.RAYCROFT SIGNS & O'BRIEN RE-SIGNS
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis was in attendance at prospects camp in the morning before taking care of some business in the afternoon.
Gillis and the Canucks announced that the team has signed free-agent netminder Andrew Raycroft and re-signed feisty defenceman Shane O’Brien.
Raycroft, the 29-year-old former Colorado Avalanche backstop who has also spent time with the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs during his eight-year career, posted a 12-16-0 record last season alongside a 3.14 goals against average and .892 save percentage last season in Denver.
In 230 career NHL games, Raycroft has a record of 94-96-16 with six shutouts and a 2.90 GAA and .899 save-percentage.
He’ll serve as backup to Roberto Luongo
, the Canucks workhorse who will undoubtedly carry a 65-70 game load next season.
That doesn’t leave many battles for Raycroft, but he’s prepared what comes his way.
"Whenever you get the call you have to play well,” Raycroft said via conference call on Monday.
“Practice becomes very important. You look back and there are a lot of teams that have had a lot of success and needed someone to fill in at times and pick up the slack, whether it's injury, or fatigue or a random night in January. Every team needs a second guy who can play. I look forward to having that chance."
Shane O’Brien returning to the Canucks is a shock to no one as despite some rough patches throughout the season, the 25-year-old, who spent most of the time on Vancouver’s third defensive paring, proved to be a pleasant surprise after being acquired just before the start of the season.
O’Brien had 10 assists to go with 196 penalty minutes last year while averaging just under 15 minutes of ice time. He was often a standout on the backend, sometimes for his physical presence, sometimes for his overly aggressive nature that led to penalty trouble.
Either way, O’Brien believes he has something to prove during the 2009-10 season.
“Obviously it’s just a one-year deal and we’re all looking for the multi-year deal and to find a home, but I have a lot to prove, I think,” O’Brien said on a conference call Monday afternoon.
“I know what I can be as a player and I’m going to come to camp ready to go and to prove myself, and all the rest will take care of itself.”
With the void left by Mattias Ohlund’s departure to Tampa Bay, there is certainly room for O’Brien to move up within the Canucks defensive ranks. Added responsibility is something O’Brien is in search of and with his only goal of the 2008-09 season coming in Vancouver’s final game of the playoffs, him stepping up offensively would mean a lot to the team.
"I'm never going to be an offensive guy, but I think I can contribute more offensively," O’Brien said. "Hopefully I will get a little bit more of an opportunity this year with ice time.
"You have to earn your ice time. If I get a little more ice time I can contribute a little more offensively and continue to be a real solid in my own zone and be tough to play against."