It’s not October yet, but hockey season is essentially underway, as the first day of Carolina Hurricanes training camp is in the books.
Two groups of skaters took to the PNC Arena ice on Thursday for 90-minute sessions, chalk full of intensity and battle, the underlying theme of camp.
“I thought [the energy] was really good, and that was the message from last night’s dinner: we want this to be a competitive camp, and we want guys to earn their spots,” said Canes head coach Kirk Muller, who finds himself at the helm of his first full training camp 105 games into his NHL head coaching career. “As a group, collectively, we want guys to push the buttons and learn to be a more competitive team to play against. I think both groups did a great job today.”
Group A: Team Eric
The first group hit the ice promptly at 9 a.m., and just a few drills into the session, bodies were banging in the corners and in front of the net thanks to a two-on-two scenario that emphasized net-front presence with guys constantly pushing, shoving, bumping and jockeying for position.
Eric Staal, who was giving his knee the first real test since suffering a third-degree MCL sprain at the World Championship in May, said he felt 100 percent.
“Guys were hitting me pretty good,” he said with a smile. “It felt good to hit and battle”
“Eric seemed confident this morning, and mentally, he looks like he’s ready to go,” Muller said.
On a particular rush during those two-on-two drills, Alex Semin skated into the zone, spun and dished a behind-the-back pass to Staal, who rung a shot off the post.
They’ve still got it.
“I felt like my chemistry with Alex and Jiri was still there,” Staal said. “It was a good day.”
Following a brief intermission past the midway point of the skate, the intensity ramped up with full-ice drills. Muller’s instructions were simple: hustle hard down the ice, and “bust to the bench,” as he barked.
“This is Kirk’s staff first training camp, so I’m trying to lead by example as far as what they want,” Staal said. “I think they’re going to go through training camp instilling a competitive spirit, a competitive attitude and an accountability to push each other to be better.”
The first session wrapped with one-on-one battle drills in the center faceoff ring, an intimate setting that resembled a Fight Club of sorts. And I just broke the first rule.
“Everyone’s going the first day of camp,” said defenseman Justin Faulk. “Everyone was in a pretty good mood and excited to get out there. I thought it was a pretty good pace for the first day.”
Notes from the first session: Khudobin on what it’s like joining a new team: “You’re changing teams, but the job is still the same: stopping the puck.” He said that in his six season in North America, he hasn’t a Russian teammate. Not being in the same room as Semin, he said it feels great to “talk a little bit in my own language.”
Team Eric (Group A) forward lines: Tlusty-E. Staal-Semin, Bowman-Nash-Dwyer, Terry-Welsh-Blanchard, Boychuk-Rask/Bro. Sutter-J. Staal
Team Eric (Group A) defensive pairings: Sekera-Faulk, Jordan-Bellemore, Lowe-Corrente, Levi-Biega
Team Eric (Group A) goaltenders: Khudobin, Peters
Group B: Team Jordan
Shortly after the stroke of noon, the second group hit the ice for the same set of drills as the first experienced. The skate was just as energetic and battle-driven as the first, if not a bit more vocal thanks to Kevin Westgarth and newcomer Mike Komisarek.
After injuring his shoulder in July during Prospects Development Camp, fifth-overall draft pick Elias Lindholm seemed to respond well to the physicality thrown his way on the first day of training camp.
Perhaps figuring into that is the fact that he got a couple games (and assists) under his belt in Traverse City at the end of the tournament.
“I haven’t played since March, so I think it was good for me [to play in Traverse City],” Lindholm said.
Though it’s still rather early to prognosticate how lines will shake out come opening night on Oct. 4, Lindholm skated on a line with Jeff Skinner and 36-year-old camp invitee Radek Dvorak.
“We figured we’d put them (Lindholm and Skinner) together now and see if there’s chemistry,” Muller said. “Today wasn’t much of a practice for those types of things, but as it goes along, we’ll see if the chemistry connects.”
After the 2012-13 season ended, Ruutu underwent a planned second surgery on his hip. He said after today’s skate that he felt good. Muller agreed.
“Ruutu was looking as strong, fresh and healthy that I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Notes from the second session: Nathan Gerbe did not skate today, and Muller said it will probably be a couple of days until he gets back on the ice due to personal reasons … Sergey Tolchinsky, who ripped through Traverse City with a tournament-best five goals and eight points, left the skate early. Muller said he got dinged up a bit at the tournament and pulled him off today as a precaution. Tolchinsky is day-to-day.
Team Jordan (Group B) forward lines: Ruutu-J. Staal-Dalpe, Skinner-Lindholm-Dvorak, McGinn-Bre. Sutter-Westgarth, Palushaj-Woods-Tolchinsky
Team Jordan (Group B) defensive pairings: Gleason-Komisarek, Harrison-Murphy, Carrick-Rissanen, Flood-Schmitz
Team Jordan (Group B) goaltenders: Ward, Murphy
What to Expect Moving Forward
Camp shifts to Raleigh Center Ice on Friday for a short scrimmage sandwiched between two practice sessions. Combined with the already-elevated intensity, the small ice at the team’s practice facility should make for a fun second day of camp.
“It’s going to be a competitive camp and an opportunity for guys to seize jobs That’s exciting, and that’s what you want,” Staal said. “You want to push each other and drive that competitive level up. That’s what we’re after.”