At times it seemed to drag painfully forward, but the summer mercifully finished Saturday morning with the official opening of prospects camp.
All 38 players poured out onto two rinks at 9 AM for the first workouts at 8 Rinks.
Assistants Mike Kelly and Rick Bowness each ran groups through skating, passing, and one-on-one drills for the first hour while Alain Vigneault, Steve Tambellini, and Stan Smyl watched the prospects from above.
"Obvioulsy the fact that I know what they did last year it's a bonus," said Vigneault, who coached prospects Jesse Schultz, Prestin Ryan, and Mike Brown last season in Manitoba. "But a lot of these kids are just in their learning curve and it was important for them to have a real strong summer"
"Hopefully they're in great condition. That's a part of what we want to happen this year, as much as with the players that are here right now as with the veterans that are coming in. We want to be one of the best conditioned teams in the league and that's the responsibility of the players."
One who won't disappoint is 24-year-old finesse forward Schultz, who spent the hot months buried under weights in the back of a Winnipeg gym. After a breakout season with the Moose last season, Schultz is ready to make a play for a roster spot.
"Jesse Schultz was our top scorer last year in Manitoba," said Vigneault,. who watched Schultz score 37 times last season in the AHL. "He's a young man who's come a long way as far as his progression and his professionalism to the game, and he's got great hands."
"He's got the talent and the potential, now it's up to him grab this opportunity and make the best of it. He's going to get a really serious look, and he's going to have to perform."
Schultz got off to a good start. He impressed Saturday morning in drills and scored a nifty shootout goal in the post-practice scrimmage to earn his white team a 4-3 win.
"I'm excited and ready to go," said Schultz. "I'm trying to build off last year. I know it's a new level, but I'm just going to do my best."
Being one of only a handful of players who knows Vigneault's style won't hurt him any, though he knows it's still going to boil down to on-ice results.
"It's going to help, it doesn't give me a spot or anything, but he's familair with me and I'm familair with how he coaches. It's a good thing, but that's all it is. It's still up to me to play hard."
Vigneault has said he feels Schultz has the talent to be a top-two line player at the NHL level. Schultz knows the spotlight is on.
"There's going to be pressure, but you always want to have pressure because that's when you tend to pick up your game and show what you can do best."
The heat of having Canuck management watching from above helped as Schultz led Team White to victory with an overtime deke on Team Blue's Julien Ellis Saturday morning.
Nathan Smith beat Dustin Slade on a breakaway in the first half and Jannik Hansen fooled Frederic Cloutier in the second for an early 2-0 Team Blue lead.
Burnaby-boy Milan Gajic beat responded with consecutive penalty shot goals on Ellis to tie it late, sending the scrimmage to a shootout where Schultz got the win.
Schultz, Luc Bourdon, Alexander Edler and the rest of the Canucks prospects practice again Sunday morning at 9 AM.
|Team Blue skaters work through drills while White's get set to take the ice. Vancouver Giant Mario Bliznak watches teammates.|
|Warming up the hammy. Slade gets set. The team gets loose. |
|Daniel Rahimi listens to instructions, then gets invlved in front of Slade, while Prestin Ryan catches his breath.|
|Ryan makes a pass. The players rest after drills, then battle in scrimmage.|