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Camp Confidential: Healthy Bodies, Focused Minds

Coyotes seeing steady improvements one week into training camp

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes capped their first week of training camp with a highly energetic practice Monday at Gila River Arena. 

Rick Tocchet feels everything is moving in the right direction. Especially the scrimmages, which have become a practice staple.

"The trend is that it's gotten better each time -- the pace -- which I like," Tocchet said.

The little things, game-simulated things continue to be important, such as responding with a jump after between-period breaks. When play resumes, the skaters face a slick, fast sheet of ice. They need to be ready to go from the start. That's why Tocchet has the ice Zambonied before camp scrimmages.

"We have to train our minds," Tocchet said. "It's no different than the playoffs. After the first period, you flood. Then you have to come back and have that intensity, so that's what we were preaching today. You've got to make sure that when you have that delay, your mind has to get right back into it." 

Each scrimmage has included an uptick in pace, quicker puck decisions, faster feet, and stronger communication.

Lines, too, are beginning to mesh.

"(Dvorak, Hall and Garland) are starting to find their chemistry," Tocchet said. "Earlier on, they were just okay, but the last few days I thought they were very good. Schmaltz, Kessel and (Soderberg) were better today. Those guys were a little bit slower out of the gate, but they've been better. (Stepan's) line has been good. I think (Keller) has had a really good camp for us, he's done well, Crouse and Step too."

Conor Garland scored both goals in Saturday's scrimmage. Garland, Nick Schmaltz, and Clayton Keller scored in Sunday's scrimmage. Carl Soderberg scored Monday. 

Monday's practice included extra-attacker (6-on-5) scenarios. Garland netted the proverbial 'equalizer' on the final drill as players from the bench counted down from 10. 

There also was a shootout; Jordan Gross scored the deciding goal.

All players in camp were active Monday.

"We've been really fortunate," Tocchet said. "The week prior to Phase 3, it started coming together. These last two weeks, we've been healthy. A couple guys have been banged up, but nothing major, so that's big for us. You need the chemistry, if you have seven guys in and seven guys out, or this guy's not in, there's a lot of different moving parts. For us, we've been lucky, so far, where we've had pretty much everybody together, practicing together and playing together."

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Balancing the players' workload remains critical.

The Coyotes are off Tuesday. It is their second free day. Friday was the first.

"The scientific approach (to camp) for me is the recovery," Tocchet said. "It's the recovery between the skates which is huge. I told the players to be diligent with their recovery. If it's a day off, make sure you're getting your treatment for the next day."

Some practices have involved heavy conditioning, others have been more system-oriented.

"You're trying to balance everything," Tocchet said. "I felt for the most part that guys came into camp in fairly good shape, so you've got to be careful that you don't overload them on conditioning, So, we've balanced that."

Niklas Hjalmarsson shared Tocchet's observations.

"I think the guys have been pretty well prepared for coming into this Phase 3," Hjalmarsson said. "I feel like a lot of guys were here early skating on their own a little bit before things started, so I think that helped a little bit too. Obviously as we get deeper in this Phase 3, the guys are stepping up their game. It always takes a couple of days before you get back into it." 

Tocchet noted a difference when the team returned after its first day off.

"There's a lot more jump," he said. "I left them with a message after the fourth day (on Thursday), I said 'Make sure you have a good day off, but the next time we come here, you guys have to pick it up.' We talked about it as a team. They took it, and they came back and did a really good job. I think it's about getting away from the rink and rebooting yourself, and it helped."

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The NHL released COVID-19 testing results Monday.

Only two tests returned positive through the first five days of Phase 3 (July 13-17). A total of 2,618 tests were administered to more than 800 players.

"I think that's huge," Tocchet said. "That's great to hear that stat."

Tocchet emphasized all aspects of camp rely on one thing: safety. 

"For us, if you're asking these guys to train and be ready, they've got to be safe," he said. "I think we've really done a terrific job, especially the last two weeks. Guys are really hunkering down and doing the right things, and it's really showing right now. There's another week before we get to that bubble and it's really important that we do all of the right protocols, and so far, I think our guys have done a hell of a job."

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Rick Tocchet doesn't dog his players too much during a game.

"I bark a little bit, but I don't bark a lot," he said. 

With no fans in the stands, he does plan on being a little louder.

"More talking to help out the team," he said. "Just to tell the guys by the bench he has time with the puck or to change, to get a guy off the ice. Sometimes you're in some of these buildings and (the players) can't hear the coach because of the fans." 

But now, a line change means a line change. No alibis for staying out too long.

"The players like to use (the crowd noise) as an excuse, right?," Tocchet said. "'I didn't hear you, coach.' Now they know. If I want them off the ice, they're going to hear me. John MacLean and Phil Housley -- the same thing;  we're going to have to supply some verbal instructions a little more than we would if there were fans."

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On a lighter note, many Coyotes found video games to be a safe social-distancing activity during the pause. Jordan Oesterle and Lawson Crouse played "Fortnite" with a group of teammates; Christian Fischer played "Call of Duty." Many others hopped online, also, to compete with one another. 

"Everyone kind of gets into their own thing," said Lawson Crouse. "We're trying to stay isolated as best we can. Guys have different things -- guys play video games, guys read, there's different activities you can do. I think it just really depends on the person or the player that you're talking to."

Tocchet said he wasn't much of a video gamer during his playing days.

"I wasn't a big video game guy," Tocchet said. "We used to play a lot of cards, a lot of card games. I know some of these guys play video games, I just don't want them doing it until three in the morning. That's the problem. I have to take video games away (from my son) from time to time; he's up all night playing those video games. So, I give those guys a speech on that."

As for the logistics in Edmonton, no one has much of an idea, yet.

"A lot of times, in between games, even on the road in the hotel, usually a room is set up where there's a ping-pong table, or guys are playing cards, guys are watching another game that's on," Tocchet said. "It's kind of a meeting place, and I enjoyed that as a player. You go there for a couple hours and then you go to bed. Most teams do that sort of stuff."

Photo Credit [All]: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes

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