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Camp Confidential: The Pack Begins to Pack

Anticipation mounts as Coyotes prepare to leave for Edmonton on Sunday

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Christian Fischer has begun packing for Edmonton.

"I took out my suitcases today and I was like 'How many do I need?' 

"This is going to be a little different than even our longest road trip of the year, and that's only like 10 days. No matter what, we're going to be there for 10 days, at least."

The Coyotes leave for the "bubble" in three days. How long will they be there? Well, the longer, the better.

"Obviously we've seen and followed along with the NBA guys (in their Orlando bubble) and see their whole situation," Fischer said. "I don't think many of us have thought too much into it, with where we're staying and what it's all going to look like."

While many questions remain, Fischer is excited to enjoy the road trip environment.

"If you ask any player, the road is the funnest part," he said. "You're hanging out with 23 grown men that are acting like kids, like it's a field trip. It's fun. Usually, you have the time, if you want, to grab dinner and go to your room and get away from the guys. But now there ain't any getting away from anybody. I'm sure there'll be a few arguments with (Jason Demers); I think that's guaranteed. But other than that, I think everyone's looking forward to it." 

Nick Schmaltz shares Fischer's enthusiasm. He says the players are itching to get to Edmonton. 

"I think for the most part everyone's just really excited to get going again," he said. "It was a long, long time off. It was pretty much the full length of an actual offseason. So, everyone's pretty much ready to get going. We're tired of sitting at home and not doing a whole lot. We're ready to be back with each other in a competitive environment and try to do something special with this run." 

Hockey - and winning - is at the fore of everyone's mind. But, for off times, what about those options?

"From what we've read, I think we're going to have (a few entertainment options) in Edmonton," he said. "Whether it be ping-pong, or billiards, or Xbox and PS4, all that kind of stuff. We're not going to be sitting in our rooms for 12 hours a day when we're not at the rink. I think a lot of the guys will be playing cards and board games. There are more than enough ways to keep yourself entertained. If one thing goes stale, you just go to another thing. I think there's probably 20 things you could end up doing to get away from hockey, like reading a book or Facetiming with your family. It'll be interesting. No one's done this before. But I think there'll be more than enough options to cure the boredom."

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The Coyotes will hold another scrimmage Friday. 

Assistant coach John MacLean may lead officiating duties, as he's done throughout training camp with Tucson Roadrunners head coach Jay Varady.

"I think I've done a pretty good job," MacLean said, with a chuckle. "But I always forget how much abuse the officials take as you go up and down the benches. As you noticed during (the scrimmages), I've tried to get to the other side a little bit, just so Jay could take a little bit of the abuse as well. The players, whether it's a scrimmage or a real game, they're always on top of you. They think you missed something. But it's good exercise to get up and down the ice, so it's been fun."

Assistant coach Phil Housley gave MacLean's officiating a rather respectable 7.5 rating.

"He's getting out of the way, which is important, because I don't want to see him get hurt," Housley said. "It's interesting because even the (players) are all over him when he makes a call. He's got tough skin, but he's done a great job for us."

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Nick Schmaltz got a taste of playoff hockey during his rookie season with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Ironically, the Nashville Predators were the opponent.

"It was a pretty cool experience," he said. "That was the year Nashville made that big run (to the Stanley Cup Final). We were the No. 1 seed coming out of the West, and we were expecting to do big things in the playoffs. I didn't really know what to expect. Six days later, we were swept and we were done."

Despite the ouster, Schmaltz is grateful for the experience.

"It was definitely valuable," he said.

Schmaltz led the Coyotes this season with 45 points, but knows producing in the playoffs comes with an added challenge. 

"You just learn how hard it is to score and to create offense in the playoffs," he said. "Everyone's playing such a tight-knit defense. Every little play matters, whether it's chipping a puck in, or taking a hit to make a play. It all adds up. I think that was the biggest thing (I learned). 

Playing smart, too, is of the utmost importance.

"That little mistake that you didn't think was that big of a deal -- the other team can come down and score and win that game then, boom, they have that momentum and they're rolling, they never look back. I think it's just the little details, staying dialed in, and making sure you're not taking too many shifts off."

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John MacLean has won a Stanley Cup as a player and as a coach. That accomplishment is unique.

He won in 1995 as a player and in 2003 as a coach, both times with the New Jersey Devils.

"The one big difference between a coach and a player winning the Stanley Cup is that as a player you lose a lot of weight, but as a coach you put on a lot of weight. Pat Burns used to say (as a coach) it's 10 pounds a round.

"So, by the end of the year, you've got a little bit more weight on you than when you started. Players, they fade away because they're playing so much. And I think that's the biggest thing."

MacLean knows the ins and outs of the playoffs.

"You try to prepare as much as possible for these guys to play, but you don't want to prepare them too much so that they're paralyzed. You want them to go out there and enjoy it, but they have to experience it. We, as coaches, we have to stay calm because it's going to be chaotic, there are going to be times that the emotion and the momentum always plays a big role in the playoffs, so you just have to stay on an even keel. That's something you try to communicate to the players."

MacLean's '95 Devils went on a 20-game run to win it all. He finished third on the team in playoff scoring with 18 points. His '03 squad went on a 24-game marathon.

But it's always a 'one-game-at-a-time' approach, he noted. 

"Whatever happens in the first game, you look at it and then you move on," he said. "You can't do anything about it. So, then you go on to the next game. That's what I liked as a player, was that -- okay, you lose, but it doesn't matter if you lose 3-2 or 6-2, you still lost, you're still down one game, you can't do anything about that. So, it's always about the next game. If you win the first game, then it's still about the next game -- how do we win the next game? The Nashville series, nothing's over until you win or lose that third game. So, your mindset always has to be about that it's the next game. You're always just staying in the moment, that's the biggest thing." 

MacLean believed the young players on the Devils' '95 roster got the team over the hump -- along with those who rounded out the bottom-six.

"I think that '95 team, and similar to what we have with this (Coyotes) team, is that we had a lot of good young guys coming in. We had a veteran group. Yeah, we had a couple good lines up front. But it's always the third and fourth lines that make the difference in the playoffs and the young guys with their excitement and enthusiasm to play the game. That's what we're looking for.

"We have a lot of young guys that can create something out of nothing. They come out of the pile with the puck and they can finish a game off. (Clayton Keller) can stickhandle in a phone booth and score a goal, which would be huge for us. In that environment, if they can harness that excitement about playing the game and keeping it under control, we have some difference-makers on our team that could give us the possibility to advance here. That's what I'm looking forward to, seeing how they can perform and be the difference in us going forward."

Lead Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes // Second Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes // Third Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes // Fourth Photo Credit: Robin Alam - Icon Sportswire via Getty Images // Fifth Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes // Sixth Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett Studios - Getty Images // Seventh Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes // Footer Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes

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