The Vancouver Canucks kicked off Training Camp Friday morning bright and early with Miller, Bachman & Witt hitting the ice at 8 a.m.
Team Blue went through a dynamic warm-up before dressing for their first session; a brief video meeting followed prior to 100 of the next 120 minutes were spent on ice. During a 20-minute flood between skates, players were in another video meeting.
Some then took part in an optional off-ice workout and those requested by the media did interviews.
Same drill for Team White immediately afterwards.
NO COACH WILLIE
There are a lot of familiar faces at camp this year, but Willie Desjardins’ isn’t one of them.
The Canucks head coach underwent successful surgery to address an acute flare up of his preexisting hip condition on September 9th and although he attended media availability Thursday before the team departed to Prince George, he wasn’t able to attend camp.
That being said, he’s definitely here in spirit.
“Actually,” laughed assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, “I don’t know if anybody knows how to clock callers on your cell phones, because he’s in touch with all of us quite often. He certainly has his finger prints on everything we’re doing here.”
That’s to be expected from Desjardins, who is likely in more pain that he’s not at camp than any physical pain he’s dealing with right now.
“We’ve got an experienced coaching staff, so we’ll be good and the first two days the emphasis is systems, so we’re going to walk through a lot of stuff, then we’ll have battles at the end of the day. Certainly Willie’s influence is here.”
Gulutzan was pleased with the first day of camp, although he said it’s too early to name standout players. The energy was high in the building and things weren’t quite as clean and crisp as they will be later on during camp and the pre-season - that’s when the men will separate from the boys.
“Some guys can handle that and some guys can’t,” said Gulutzan. “It’s hard to tell in the first day, but as camp moves on, you’ll see the polish of the veterans come out and you’ll see which young guys can stay the pace and the crispness of the veterans.
“Overall it was a good first day for us. There’s always a little juice to the first day of camp and with the people of PG in the stands cheering them on, it’s amped up.”
SECOND TIME AROUND
Despite being at different stages of their careers last year at Canucks camp, Luca Sbisa and Bo Horvat were both rookies in Vancouver.
Who? What? When? Where? Why?
This time around they know exactly what to expect and what’s expected of them and both said they much prefer it that way.
“Going into camp last year I was faced with a lot of new things, new coaching staff, new team, new teammates, new environment,” said Sbisa. “It’s easier to focus on hockey when you’re comfortable, but that being said, every camp presents new challenges and I’m ready for them.”
The media questions, they’re still the same.
Can you guys push for a playoff spot? Is the team better than it was last year?
“People didn’t give us credit at all last year, but we showed up and played good hockey and we squeezed ourselves into a playoff spot. We weren’t happy with losing in the first round, we think we still have a really good team, really strong core with the veteran core and then young guys pushing for spots, so I think this year around we’re looking at a better team. Guys like Bo, with a year under his belt, is ready to take on a bigger role.”
“I feel a lot more comfortable knowing the coaching staff and most of the players, it’s a lot easier to come into that,” said Horvat, who was asked about what advice he’d give Jake Virtanen on trying to make the jump to the Canucks this season.
“I think he just needs to play his game, do what he’s done to get noticed and get into the situation that he is in right now. I think if he goes and plays his game, has fun with it, plays hard every shift and does what the coaching staff wants him to do, he’ll be fine.”
NEW GOALIE DUO
Insert Jacob Markstrom.
With Eddie Lack traded to the Carolina Hurricanes this off-season, it’ll be Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom backstopping the Canucks this year and both say they’ve come into camp ready to earn their starts.
Coach Desjardins said Thursday he’d like Miller to play 55-60 games, with Markstrom starting the rest. Coach admitted that’s a loose plan which could change a lot based on performance and injuries, and Miller and Markstrom both agreed they’re just numbers.
It’s one start at a time.
“You show up and you have to prove yourself every time, that’s the attitude I’ve taken every year,” said Miller. “This sport is always about what have you done lately and maintaining your position because you see guys all the time pushing, pushing, pushing trying to crack the line-up, especially in recent years.”
Miller was obviously happy the Canucks opted to keep him between the pipes and he’s planning on rewarding the team with a stellar season.
“It’s nice to have somebody who believes in you and I definitely believe in myself. I did the work necessary to get myself where I need to be this year and I’m ready to get things going.”
When Miller needs a break, Markstrom will be there. He’s waiting in the wings, waiting to prove he can play in the NHL as more than a back-up.
“It feels great that I signed a new contract and that Benning and those people up top have faith in me, but you’re not going to get anything for free,” said Markstrom. “You’ve got to earn everything and come to the rink every day and work as hard as you can.”
Markstrom said his success last year in Utica has his confidence high coming into this season and despite the shortened summer, he feels he’s in the best shape of his young career.
“I feel very, very good and it was nice to finally get onto the ice today. It’s only going to get better from here.”