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Canes Open Training Camp With Renewed Expectations

Five takeaways from the first day of on-ice activity

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

At a quarter to nine on Friday morning, half of the Carolina Hurricanes' training camp roster, designated as Team Pride, filed out of the locker room at PNC Arena.

Newly sharpened skates carved into the fresh sheet of ice. Pucks tickled twine and clacked off the glass. Some light chatter, some laughter. A mammoth, new video board loomed overhead. Then, a whistle, and with that, training camp was officially underway.

Here are five takeaways from the first day of on-ice activity.

1. New Year, New Canes

The Hurricanes' 2018-19 season was a lot of things: special, exhilarating, memorable, unbelievable, unforgettable are a few words that come to mind.

But, each September, a season begins anew. A clean slate. A fresh start. A chance for the Hurricanes to build upon the momentum and the culture they established last season.

"That was the goal, to get back to relevancy. We want to be talked about. We want to be a team that teams are worried about when they come into our building and are afraid to come here," Jordan Staal said. "We've got to show it all over again and do it all over again. That's what good teams do. They do it on a consistent basis every year, every game, every day. That's what we strive to do around here."

Video: Staal: "We need to find ways to fill that void"

With success come expectations, though, to be fair, the Hurricanes' expectation last season was to be the best team in the league. They fell eight wins short of that goal, and now the challenge is to do it all over again - and be even better.

"It feels different. It's a whole new year. What's done is done. You've got to move on, and we've got to find a way to get that much better," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "I definitely feel a little different standing here now versus last year, but it's all about finding those eight extra wins."

2. Year Two for Brind'Amour

In June, I asked Brind'Amour if his second year as the Hurricanes' bench boss would be any easier, given what he learned and experienced in year one.

"I'm not sure it will ever be easy. The only thing that will be easier maybe is on some of the guys that have been here now to know what's expected," he mused. "They know what we expect, so that might be easier, but if there's one thing I've learned from being around this game forever, it's even harder now. It never gets easy. You've got 31 teams. They're all going to be good next year."

Returning players do indeed know what to expect from their head coach.

"I know this is kind of cliché, but Roddy expects everyone to just work as hard as they can," Sebastian Aho said.

Video: Brind'Amour: "I feel different standing here now"

And, they even lend a helping hand on the ice, too.

"The first drill today, I forgot to go to the board to describe it. I just kind of blew the whistle and went, 'Uh oh. I forgot we have a lot of [new] guys,' but they just picked it up. That was good. I messed up, but they covered for me," Brind'Amour explained. "With something like that, it's nice that you have the bulk of the group back. It's the NHL. We're always changing. It's hard to keep your group together. I feel really good that management did everything they could to keep the guys together. That's a positive."

3. New Faces

With a new season, of course, brings new faces.

Defenseman Jake Gardiner, signed to a four-year, $16.2 million contract a week ago, is the newest of those faces.

Video: Gardiner:"It's been easy; these guys have been great"

"We felt Carolina was the best fit. Really warm weather, and a really, really good team," he said. "I want to win a Stanley Cup, and I thought this was my best chance to do it."

Forwards Ryan Dzingel and Erik Haula and goaltender James Reimer are some other noteworthy new additions that help bolster a largely otherwise unchanged lineup that advanced to the Eastern Conference Final just four months ago.

Video: Haula: "Everyone has been great towards me"

"Great guys that will fit in well in the room," Staal said of the newcomers. "I've played against them, and I know they're great players. They will be great additions to the team."

4. Filling a Hole

The stall at the center of the back wall in the Hurricanes' locker room, typically reserved for the captain of the team, sat vacant on Friday and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

On Sept. 2, Justin Williams announced he was taking a break from the NHL; it wasn't a full-fledged declaration of retirement, but, for an indefinite amount of time, Williams is stepping away from hockey.

"I'm sure he's enjoying himself and happy not to grind it out right now," Brind'Amour said. "We've moved on from it. That's the way I'm approaching it. If he comes knocking on the door and says, 'Hey, you know what? I'm going to try it again,' then we'll put him out there. It's not like he's just going to jump into the game. He's going to need time to get going. We'll have lots of time to prepare for that."

As it stands, the Hurricanes have to assume that moment won't come, in which case, they are operating in a post-Williams era, leaving a void both on and off the ice.

"It can't be just one guy who fills Willy's [spot]," Aho said. "He's such a great leader, so it has to be a bunch of different guys who step up. I want to be one of those guys."

Video: Aho: "I want to be a better hockey player"

"A big hole in the leadership area on and off the ice, and a big hole on the ice with his play. Every year you may lose guys, and things change. We'd love to have him back, but right now, we have to move forward and find ways to fill that hole," Staal said. "I know a lot of great leaders in this room and a lot of great players who can step up, take that ice and do a lot of good things with it."

Don't expect to hear news on a new captain, either, at least for a few weeks.

"We'll get through training camp before we make any decisions on that kind of thing," Brind'Amour said. "We've got great leaders in there. He left us in a real good spot in that regard."

5. "I'm Still Here"

After Team Passion left the ice, the media circled around Justin Faulk's locker stall. Brett Pesce, seated to Faulk's left, sought asylum on the other side of the room.

Everyone knew what was coming. Faulk's name has been in the news for a week now, as rumors swirl about his future with the Hurricanes.

"Still got to show up, right? Still part of this team. It happens," he said. "I'm not the first person in the league to ever say their name's thrown out there or have something going on. I'm still here, ready to work, show up and do my thing."

A pause.

Faulk looked around, smiled and clapped his hands.

"All right, well, good talk!" he joked.

Video: Faulk: "I'm still here and ready to work"

The 27-year-old defenseman is entering the final year of a six-year contract extension he signed in March 2014. Faulk has played in 559 regular-season games in the NHL - all with the Hurricanes - and has totaled 258 points (85g, 173a) in that time. He made his first playoff appearance with the club in the spring and recorded eight points (1g, 7a) in 15 games.

"I like it here. I've been here for a long time. Obviously, we all know about the dog days there for a little bit, but last year was fun. We had a good run. The team is getting better," he said. "I'm more than happy to stay here. I haven't asked for a trade or anything like that. I'm happy to stay here. I have no objections to staying here after this year, either. Whatever happens will play itself out, whether it's in the near future or in July or anytime in between. I've got no bad feelings about this place, and I'm more than happy to keep playing here."

Up Next

The Hurricanes are back on the ice Saturday morning, with Team Pride taking the ice at 8:45 a.m. followed by Team Passion at 10:45 a.m. As always (unless otherwise noted, typically due to an arena event), practices are open to the public. And, for those who can't make it, we'll have a live stream available on Twitter.

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