We could basically start the season if we look at fitness. Maybe I’d like to keep working on the execution, but at the fitness level, we would be ready to start tomorrow. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- It’s good to be back.
The Calgary Flames officially returned to action with the first on-ice session of training camp from Joan Snyder Arena at WinSport on Friday.
“It was good. It’s good to get into a game-like atmosphere right away,” forward Brian McGrattan said. “We’ve been skating together for the last couple of weeks and obviously it’s nice to get the intensity up and game stuff because we’ve got games starting in two days. The more we can get in right away the better we’ll be.”
While Team Vernon spent their first on-ice session practicing, Jiri Hudler led Team Nieuwendyk to a 2-1 victory over Team McDonald. McDonald suffered a second consecutive 2-1 loss to Matt Stajan and Team Vernon in the second set of scrimmages that followed.
The speed and intensity of the two exhibition bouts that kicked off camp pleased coach Bob Hartley.
“I really liked our first day,” he said. “I thought that the pace of the two games were great. We got exactly what we wanted. I thought that there was great execution. The first step to have a good camp, to have a good season is you can’t fall behind and it starts with conditioning. Even in the second game, I thought the pace would go down slightly. It went up. That’s a real good sign.
“I know it’s only the first day, but it’s very competitive, some solid action in the three zones. I’m very happy.”
Good conditioning makes for a happy coach.
Great conditioning made for a satisfied Hartley coming out of Thursday’s fitness testing.
“The testing results are unbelievable,” he said. “We could basically start the season if we look at fitness. Maybe I’d like to keep working on the execution, but at the fitness level, we would be ready to start tomorrow.”
Its due in part to the camp Hartley was able to put on a year ago.
Last September, Hartley’s first full camp, the bar was set.
Now, he admitted, the bar has been raised.
“For any coach coming in, the training camp, that’s where you sit the kids at the table for dinner,” Hartley said. “That’s where you can put your print on the team, how you want to play, how you want to create an identity. There are no excuses. It was the same for everyone in the year of the work stoppage, but obviously last year you have days to work. You have quite a few exhibition games. We will have nine exhibition games.
“We will have great practices. There is no reason not to be ready.”
BACKS NOT BACK YET
There is a reason for Mikael Backlund to not be ready, though. He was among a half-dozen names that skipped Calgary’s first on-ice session due to injury.
“I feel good except for my injury,” said Backlund, currently sidelined with an abdominal strain. “Obviously I wanted to be out there with the boys. You train all summer to come into camp and get ready. It’s not fun watching. You want to be out there playing and not by yourself.”
Backlund sustained the injury training in Sweden. He’s not willing to put a timeline on when he’ll be ready to return.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I don’t want to put up a time limit on when I’m back at it and get disappointed. I’m just taking it day-by-day, see it progress and just trying to get better every day.”
There’s no point in pushing Backlund, who set career highs in games (76), goals (18), assists (21) and points (39) in a breakout season a year ago.
Given his important to the team, Hartley is prepared to show plenty of patience with the centre.
“Very careful, because there’s no rush right now,” the coach said. “We’re starting the first week of October. We know what Backs can bring. We also know what he means to this hockey club. He understands our system. He understands our details. He skated for a little bit this morning. It’s not bad, but we just want to make sure we get him to 100 percent.
“There’s no (reason) to get him back into competitive drills at 90 or 95 percent. It wouldn’t be smart on our part. We told him this.”
Backlund isn’t the only player that’s going to be given time to recover.
Sam Bennett (groin), Tyler Wotherspoon (shoulder), Emile Poirier (shoulder), Corey Potter (shoulder) and Trevor Gillies (flu) all skipped the skate and have been listed by the team as day-to-day.
“Potter, we were aware of his surgery,” Hartley said. “Poirier, Wotherspoon, we were all aware of those. Bennett had happened a few days ago. Backs had happened a few days ago still.
“We’re just going to make sure that we monitor this so. We’ll do what’s best for them.”
The Flames return to Winsport for another set of practice and exhibition games getting underway at 10 a.m. MST from Joan Snyder Arena at WinSport.