When it comes to training camp this season, Paul Maurice isn’t wasting any time.
That was head coach’s main goal when it came to dividing the groups between NHL and AHL, as the first practice of the year had a mid-season feel to it. Thanks in part to the informal practices at the RecZone during the summer, the coaching staff is very pleased with the overall fitness level of the team. That led to less skating drills and more systems work as the team aims to start this regular season as strongly as they finished the last one.
”We had an NHL team on the ice for the first practice, and the pace showed it,” said Maurice. “Our number one focus is that we want to play the hockey that we did in the second half of the season for a year.”
The upcoming second practice, which will feature the bulk of Albany’s roster and include the team’s batch of exciting prospects, will have the same basic structure but could be slowed somewhat due to the learning curve of the young players.
”The kids will go out and go through the exact same program, but we feel that this way we can stop it and slow it down to give us more time to explain some of the more subtle things that we’re doing,” said Maurice. “We just didn’t want to do that through the whole training camp.”
That’s not to say that the Group B players won’t be given their chance to shine. The entire coaching staff was in attendance in Traverse City for the prospects’ tournament win
and is very aware of what the youngsters can bring to the table.
”They tested out very well in their fitness scores and they performed very well at the prospects camp. That’s step number one,” said Maurice. “Number two is being able to handle the practice pace at the pace at the NHL level, and number three is being able to beat or take someone’s job in the exhibition series.
”It’s a tall order, as it should be, and that’s the way that your team gets better,” he continued. “We believe we have good young players who will push the veterans that we have here to either get more games this year or force the team to make room for them next year because they’re ready to play.” It seemed as though there may be one temporary opening on defense after Joni Pitkanen’s knee surgery, but that window may close before the regular season begins on October 2. Maurice expects the team’s defensive workhorse to be ready by then.
”Usually you don’t like to predict when an injury will be cleared, but we are expecting him to be up and ready at 100 percent by the start of the season,” said Maurice, who cited the Finnish blueliner’s improved fitness level as a contributing factor to that prognosis.
Jussi Jokinen also reported to camp with a minor injury, as a finger problem kept him from handling pucks at Sunday’s practice.
”He’s in good shape, but I’m going to hold him out of holding the puck as long as I possibly can,” said Maurice of last season’s playoff dynamo. “I would think that in a week he’s going to be back shooting the puck and he’s going to play in exhibition games.”
More to come after today’s Group B skate. All eyes will be set squarely on Zach Boychuk, who is doing everything in his power to earn a roster spot after a stellar tournament in
Michigan. Given the way he turned heads at last season’s camp with a bum wrist, expectations are high in ’09.