The doors swung open at Honda Center early Saturday morning, not only providing an entrance to the arena for more than 1,200 fans, but signaling the return of Ducks hockey.
The first day of training camp had a different feel to it than in years past. Being at Anaheim’s home arena was among the changes, as the club had previously held the event at its practice facility, The Rinks-Anaheim Ice. The Ducks also scrapped scrimmages from the first two days of the program, opting instead for more practice and instruction from the coaching staff.
|“It’s awesome," Selanne said. "The fans are great here and it’s good to see them back. It’s good to be back.” |
“We thought it was best to do as much teaching as possible, get to know some of these players a little bit differently and progress that way versus what we’ve done historically,” said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle, who split the 47 players on the training camp roster into two morning sessions of approximately 90 minutes on the ice.
In making those small tweaks, the Ducks are hoping it translates into more success at the beginning of the season. The team has had to battle through sluggish Octobers each of the past four years. “There have been a few years where we haven’t had a good start,” Teemu Selanne
said. “It’s worth it to try something new. Getting into the system right away is going to help us a lot.”
Unchanged was the mutual admiration shown between the Ducks and their fans. Applause greeted the players as they began their sessions, with the loudest ovations going to the newly signed Selanne and goaltender Jonas Hiller
, who is coming back from a bout with vertigo symptoms last season.
“It was nice to see that we had over 1,000 people here today,” Carlyle said. “I thought the players responded. It was a nice show of affection, both from our players toward our fans and our fans toward our players.”
Added Selanne, “It’s awesome. The fans are great here and it’s good to see them back. It’s good to be back.”
Much to the delight of everyone in attendance, Selanne decided against retirement once again, announcing his return earlier in the week. This time though, the decision was not based on if he wanted to continue. It was whether his surgically repaired left knee could withstand the rigors of another NHL season.
|“I’m feeling a lot better than the last time I skated here before the end of the season,” Hiller said. “I feel comfortable with where I am at now." |
After getting arthroscopic surgery in late June, the Finnish Flash rehabbed his way all the way back into training camp for a 19th season. “I’m excited to be on the ice and pain-free,” he said. “The first couple of days of training camp are always the hardest. You have to be smart. But this is the time to start pushing harder and harder.”
Hiller is also trying to rebound with the Ducks, but from a much different scenario. He was unable to play in most of Anaheim’s games after the All-Star break because of vertigo symptoms. The goaltender met with a bevy of specialists and was never able to figure out the source of the problem.
He finally started feeling better in the summer months and gradually more comfortable back on the ice. In his native Switzerland, he took part in former Ducks goalie coach Francois Allaire’s goalie camp and skated with SC Bern. Those helped prepare Hiller for the start of training camp and after day one, he reported feeling well.
“I’m feeling a lot better than the last time I skated here before the end of the season,” Hiller said. “I feel comfortable with where I am at now. Sometimes you still think if everything is right. But those are more the exceptions. It used to be every second, I was checking if everything was right. Now I’m pretty much more focused on the play and stopping pucks.”
The Ducks opened camp relatively healthy. Defenseman Kurtis Foster, acquired in an offseason trade with Edmonton, was unable to participate on the ice because of knee inflammation. Matt Kennedy
, Toni Lydman
and Matt Beleskey
each donned red jerseys while skating and were not permitted for contact. The latter two of those players are coming back from shoulder surgery. Lubomir Visnovsky
battled through two injured shoulders toward the end of last season, but the affable defenseman is back to being healthy. He has had more than hockey on his plate recently though, following the tragic plane crash of the KHL hockey team Lokomotiv. Among those who passed away were former Ducks defenseman Ruslan Salei and Visnovsky’s best friend/fellow Slovak, longtime NHLer Pavol Demitra.
“It’s a big loss and very tough,” said Visnovsky, who arrived back in town late Friday after attending a memorial for Demitra in Slovakia. “I know his family, his kids. His wife is very strong. Before I left, I told her, ‘Anything you need, I will help you anytime.’ The last time I played with him at the World Championships, he was our captain. I have great memories with him.”
|“The shoulders are much better,” Visnovsky said. "Right now, I feel much better than two months ago. I don’t have problems playing hockey. It feels better and better every day now.” |
Getting little sleep, Visnovsky reported to camp at 7 a.m. for a physical before suiting up alongside his teammates. He said his shoulders have been checked out and he will able to lead the Ducks defense once again.
“The shoulders are much better,” he said. “After the season was a tough time for me. I got lots of treatment. I played three games at the World Championships. The last game, I played only a half game because somebody hit me. Right now, I feel much better than two months ago. I don’t have problems playing hockey. It feels better and better every day now.”
With many key components of last year’s playoff team back and now healthy, only a handful of precious openings are available on the roster. The next week of training camp will be a critical time for hopefuls to set themselves apart and join the likes of Selanne, Hiller and Visnovsky on the opening night roster.
“Every player who is in our organization that we deemed has earned the opportunity for training camp, they are here,” Carlyle said. “We feel there are people in this camp who are going to surprise and make our hockey club. There are jobs open.
“It’s a very strenuous day, specifically the early days of training camp. We have to do as much evaluating in that timeframe as possible. As I told the players, first we evaluate their heart, their mind and then their conditioning level. That is what we try to look in the first couple of days.”