Today is the day we have all been waiting for. I love the summer, but today is the day when hockey returns, the day when we get the skates back on and get on the ice. It is where we are supposed to be. We circle this date on the calendar and look forward to it all summer because it is when we are able to do what we love again, and that is coach hockey.
I was so excited yesterday that I got to the rink at 7:30 a.m. That might have been a little too early because I was in my office looking for something to do. So I watched some film and waited for the day to really begin when the rookies showed up at 10 a.m. I was here at 6:30 a.m. today and am ready to get on the ice. This is a special time of year because for a lot of guys this week, this is their first professional training camp. My first pro camp was in 1975 and was a little bit different than what camps are like today. I was the first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the WHA. The league was only a few years old then and was trying to rival the NHL. I had always been one of the better players on every team I played on and everything had been so easy for me up to that point. I had broken every scoring record, and thought I would do well in camp. Boy was I surprised. I was 21 and went to my first camp 10-15 pounds overweight and at that age the weight kind of begins to stick with you. I went to camp and there were some tremendous veterans there, like Dave Keon and John McKenzie. These guys were icons in the ’60s and ’70s, and I went in there thinking I was all that, but really I was all nothing. The problem with me is that I had no idea how to work to become a professional hockey player. I was picked on unmercifully because I was the first-round pick, who was a little overweight and who did not take it as seriously as I should have. Those are memories that stay with you and every other camp that I went into, I was in really good shape. I learned a great deal about what you have to do to become a pro hockey player from that camp, and I incorporate that into my coaching philosophy today. Everything I pretty much do as a coach is drawn from experiences because young kids don’t know what to do. They have no idea how hard they have to work because they are only used to working as hard as they need to at their current level. In no way does that prepare you for being NHL conditioned. That is why we will push them really hard today. You have to have a barometer of seeing how hard they worked during the summer and you have to let them know that this is the pace you want to keep during the year. If they are not at that pace, then they need to get there in a hurry. Young guys today come to camp and are not even close to being out of shape. If one of them is then it is definitely something I can talk to them about and identify with them and help them get going in the right direction. If a player is in the proper condition then they can pat themselves on the back knowing that they worked hard all summer and made it through today’s practice. One of our main goals this week is to get the group to band together as a team really quickly. We want them to think they are all Washington Capitals and to work hard and to do things the right way. We have a game Friday in Philadelphia and we want to do everything we are capable of doing this week to prepare for that game. We also want them to have a feeling that they know what it takes to play for this club, so when they come back to development camp next summer or to camp next year that they are ready to go. If they do that then any mistake they made this year won’t be made again next year.