However, before the players went their separate ways on Monday, perhaps the hardest work-out of them all took place on the North Shore.
Every year, one of the hi-lite events on the camp’s itinerary sees the players do the Grouse Grind. Located on the west side of Grouse Mountain, the Grind is a wilderness trail that climbs to 1,100 metres over a distance of just under three kilometres.
As has been the case the past few years, the prospects were put into groups of five or six. Whichever group collectively got to the top of the Grind first would be crowned the winner.
“It’s a true test of fitness and team work,” says 22 year-old forward Taylor Matson. “Going up with five or six guys was a lot of fun.”
Matson was the elder statesman of the winning group Monday morning, joined by fellow prospects Antoine Laganiere, Joey LaLeggia, Kellan Tochkin, and Travis Oleksuk. Together, the group finished the Grind with a time of 45:19.
“You’ve got to push each other and you can’t leave one guy behind,” adds Matson. “Our group did that to our best and we came in first.”
Maston, who has played with the University of Minnesota the past three seasons, was originally drafted by the Canucks in 2007, going in the sixth round (176th overall). The native of Mound, Minnesota, who concluded his third Prospects Camp this week, knows he felt more comfortable this time around.
“I feel more like a leader this year because I’ve been around and know the ropes,” says Matson. “I was definitely teaching the younger guys I know from previous camps or those here for the first time. It was good teaching them how to do things.”
Matson may have had an advantage on some of the other prospects when it came to the challenge of the Grouse Grind, especially those who were recent draft picks last month. For those and others getting their first taste of a NHL camp, the past few days have been quite intense, both on and off the ice.
“The whole week has been a great experience,” says Frankie Corrado, Vancouver’s fifth round pick from this summer’s Entry Draft (150th overall). “There’s a lot of skill out there, some strong players, and this was a great way to end the week. It was a good hike and I’d like to do it again.”
Corrado hails from Vaughn, Ontario and plays with the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL. He says couldn’t have asked for more in his first days as a member of the Canucks family.
“It was pretty eye-opening,” says Corrado. “You go to Rogers Arena at first and you’re wide-eyed and looking at everything saying to yourself ‘Game 7 was being played here not too long ago!’”
“Vancouver is a great place with a great organization,” adds Corrado, who will return for the Canucks Prospects Tournament in Penticton, B.C. September 11-15. “They really care about their prospects. I couldn’t have been more blessed than with a better situation.”
Every one of the Canucks prospects who participated in the Grouse Grind completed the journey up the mountain within the hour mark. That’s a pretty impressive time for all the athletes who have been training hard the past week.
“The players that do it for the first time really can’t appreciate it how difficult it is,” says Canucks Director of Player Development Dave Gagner. “They’re told by the other guys, but until you’ve done it…it’s quite an experience for them.”
“To get up here…see the view that you have…it shows the beauty of this city and what this city has to offer in terms of lifestyle,” adds Gagner. “They were all excited to get up here and see the view.”
And so concludes another Prospects Camp in Vancouver. These past few days provided many of the players an idea where their strengths lie, but more importantly, hi-lite the areas they need to improve on moving forward.
“We wanted to show them what we expect of them in terms of work ethic and their conditioning levels,” says Gagner. “A lot of guys have some work to do in the two months before camp. It’s been an eye-opener for a lot of the guys.”
Gagner says while improving the skills and conditioning of the prospects was their number-one priority, the organization also knew it was important to give the players a chance to enjoy themselves. Activities like dragon boat racing, golfing in Stanley Park, and hiking up the Grouse Grind were just a few examples of the activities the club got the players involved in.
“We also wanted them to enjoy the time and have some activities where there’s some team building and some fun,” concludes Gagner. “They got to do a variety of things that show off the beauty of this city.”