Slowly but surely, the Canes are getting acclimated to their new surroundings.
On the second day in St. Petersburg, the team headed to the Jubilee practice facility not far from the hotel. In the history-filled building (see Mike Sundheim’s blog for more details), the players hit the ice for their first extensive workout since Friday’s exhibition vs. Atlanta.
Click here for a photo gallery from Sunday’s practice and sightseeing tour.
Admittedly, the start was a little rough given travel and jet lag issues.
“It was a little sluggish at first as the legs got going again, but all things considered it was pretty good,” said Erik Cole. “There have been moments in training camp where I probably felt worse.”
“I thought they worked through it, and by the end of practice I was comfortable,” said coach Paul Maurice. “Usually after the first four drills everyone is fresh and ready to go, but we had some guys bent over and they were feeling it. Our goal by the end of practice was for everyone to at least feel good, and I think we got to that.”
Besides the obvious conditioning aspects, the practice was also used to give the players a better feel for the larger international ice surface that will be used against SKA St. Petersburg on Monday. While they don’t want to become too accustomed to the bigger rink as the first two games of the regular season in Helsinki will be on NHL-sized ice, it will affect their normally-aggressive style of play for the time being.
”We normally run a two-man forecheck, and you don’t run a two-man forecheck on Olympic ice,” said Maurice. “We have aggressive, pinching defensemen, and you just don’t. It’s a lot more of a puck-possession game.”
Having to alter the team’s system to that degree doesn’t make the SKA game the most ideal last-minute preparation for the real thing, but Maurice said that the atmosphere should help balance that out.
”From the questions I’ve been asked (by Russian media), I feel like this is a big deal,” said Maurice. “This is my first time in a Russian arena and I really don’t know, but I would think there will be a lot of energy.”
That should indeed be the case, with the more-intimate-than-the-RBC-Center venue at the Ice Palace expected to hold 12,300 very partisan supporters. Judging by the media and fan interest, the game certainly seems like a big deal.
“It will be a wild atmosphere, I’m sure,” said Chad LaRose
Although SKA is off to what they consider a slow start in the Russian league (they have won six of their 11 games, two by way of shootout), they boast several ex-NHL players including Alexei Yashin, Evgeni Nabokov, Maxim Afinogenov, Sergei Brylin and Dennis Grebeshkov. Although not a household name in the U.S., leading scorer Mattias Weinhandl (13 points) had 182 NHL games to his credit with the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild.
”We know almost half of their team,” said Maurice. “When you watch Yashin and he’s interested and he’s going, he’s as good as any player in the NHL.”
That should help the Canes with some individual tendencies, but they have not spent a ton of time breaking down film.
“I know maybe a handful of players that I’ve actually played against in the NHL, but realistically I couldn’t tell you one thing about their systems or anything like that,” said Cole.
Win or lose, this game will be intriguing to say the least. For those able to tune in at 11 a.m. eastern time on Monday, we will have live streaming video (with Russian commentary – enjoy!) available here. I’ll make that link prominent around game time. I may also do a live chat depending on internet strength at the arena.
Wrapping up some loose ends from Sunday’s practice, the forward lines had a different look to them, which can be seen fully here. Maurice said that Cam Ward will get the start in goal but has the option to sit out the second half depending on how he feels.
Be sure to check out the photo gallery from practice and the sightseeing tour of St. Petersburg that followed. We have a team dinner in a few hours and that’s it for tonight, but I should be able to check in tomorrow after the morning skate.