Saturday, September 20th had been circled on the calendars of all the Vancouver Canucks and there was no hiding their excitement when it finally arrived.
The Canucks hit the ice for the first time this season on Saturday as they practiced at the Meadow Park Sports Centre in Whistler; today was the first opportunity the 46 players taking part had to prove they belong.
The team was spit into two teams, Team A skated from 9 to 10:30 a.m. before spending 45 minutes with off-ice conditioning, Team B practiced from 11 to 12:30 p.m., they then conditioned off-ice for 45 minutes.
There were plenty of familiar faces to be seen, including the likes of Roberto Luongo
, Ryan Kesler
and Willie Mitchell, and some fresh faces that had fans in attendance checking their roster a few times.
Pavol Demitra, Kyle Wellwood, Darcy Hordichuk and Ryan Johnson all got a few double takes, but other than that it was business as usual. A camp is a camp is a camp, not much changes from year to year, according to Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, although something was different on day 2.
"The only difference that I can sense is a higher sense of purpose from our group," Vigneault said. "Obviously we're not going to dwell on what didn't happen last year, just like when we started last year we didn't want to dwell on the prior success that we had.
"Obviously we came up a little bit short last year, I thought we battled really hard quite a few times in the middle, but for whatever reason in the last stretch there we weren't able to get it done. I think our players want to reestablish themselves, they're proud players, they compete hard, they leave it on the table and I think they want to get back to the confident and winning team that they've been."IDEAL FIRST PRACTICES
The players did just that during their respective ice-times, passes were crisp and timely, shots were blazing and the overall pace was fast. No one really rose above the others, with the exception of a nice play here and there, while at the same time no one was disappointing. If there is an ideal way for the first practices of a new season to go, this was it.
The only sore spot was the condition of the ice, it was cleaned numerous times throughout the day but to no avail, it closely resembled an outdoor community rink that doesn't get very much TLC.
"I think the coaches were really smart about it, they realized the ice was really bad out there and I think they let off a little bit at the end," said Kesler.
Its tough to pin the blame for soft ice on anyone, players are battling for their careers so they're giving it all they've got. Their blades are quickly carving their way, hopefully, to success.KROG WORKING OUT THE KINKS
Jason Krog, last year's American Hockey League regular season and playoff MVP, is one of the players battling for a sacred spot with the team and the BC native said it's so far, so good after the first day on ice.
"It was pretty tough, but it was really good to get up to full speed again. You spend the whole summer practicing and that but it's definitely not as intense as this so I thought it was a really good first day. It was hard but it wasn't too much.
"I felt pretty good out there, I was tired but not exhausted so I was happy with the way I felt as far as conditioning goes."
Krog was focusing on getting his timing and hand quickness back, among other things, during the first day, all while trying to keep the reality of his situation in perspective. He's attending an NHL training camp, yes, but at the same time he isn't cockily taking anything for granted. Butterflies are nowhere near his stomach thankfully, he's handling everything just fine so far, even if sporting Canucks gear is a dream come true.
"Anytime you have a shot to play for an NHL team, and the fact that this is my home province and it's a team that I watched growing up, there is a lot of pressure, so I'm trying not to put too much on myself. I'm just going out there and playing my game and I'll worry about what happens when it happens. I'm older now so the nerves don't bother me as much either, I'm just having fun out there and working as hard as I can."RAYMOND FEELING COMFORTABLE
Forward Mason Raymond
is also handling the nerves well so far, the experience he gained last year at training Canucks camp is doing wonders for his confidence these days. He's still whistling his way through drills with the speed of a cheetah, despite having added some pounds in the off-season. It was only five pounds, but it's five pounds of muscle according to him, and it clearly hasn't slowed him down.
"I know a little bit of the ropes, I know what it takes and what you've got to do to earn a spot on the team. Saying that, a lot of guys are playing for jobs and you've got to be sharp out here and on your game. Everybody is working hard for that spot up there in the top six, it's interesting and it's going to be exciting down the stretch."
Vigneault said that young players like Raymond, Jannik Hansen
, Cody Hodgson and Michael Grabner can definitely make the team based on what they do this weekend in the exhibition games, and he's impressed with what he's seen from them so far.
"Whether it be Cody, Grabner, whoever, some of those young kids, if they come in and they show that they've got skill and they can help us find a better balance between the offence and the defence, we're certainly going to go that route.
"I'm hoping that in Mason's case, the fact that he's got a year under his belt, will permit him to make that consistent step at the NHL. Certainly that offensive skill that we talked about, there's a player who has it. Jannik Hansen
is another player in my mind that's a good two way player who has some of that skill. Cody's got some of that skill, Grabner's got some of that skill."
All that young skill, and let's no forget about the established veteran skill, will once again be put to the test on Sunday as players will go to war during another full day of on and off-ice activities.