It was a cold, rainy morning outside the doors of the RBC Center, but that didn’t dampen the spirits inside the building.
With informal offseason workouts and physical testing day behind them, the 56 players invited to the Carolina Hurricanes training camp this year took to the ice in three groups for the first official skate of the new season.
Though they are all technically teammates, competition and energy was already clearly running high. With two or three forward spots and one or two defensive spots available, in addition to all the eyes of the coaching staff and front office, players want to stand out beginning on day one.
“It’s not just training camp for these guys – this is their time to have an NHL career,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “I’m looking for some driving intensity.”
Here is a breakdown of each of this morning’s sessions.First Session – Team Red
Team Red took the ice promptly at 8:30 a.m. Though it was early on a Saturday, the session was vocal and energetic.
It was also long, as it ran nearly 90 minutes – as the other two practices did, as well. Skating drills ended the practice, and even after that, defenseman Jay Harrison
“It’s like the first day of school, back with your old chums,” he said. “That heart starts beating a little harder than it has all summer no matter how hard you trained.”
This morning’s practice marked Justin Faulk
’s first time on RBC Center ice. After playing a key role the Charlotte Checker’s deep push into the playoffs, Faulk could possibly make the Hurricanes roster this season.
In the skating drills, Faulk – known more for his size – demonstrated that he has a good amount of speed to his game. He, of course, played a physical game in the corners and was able to hold his own against some of the veterans on the squad. It will be interesting to see how he progresses throughout camp.
Also possibly fighting for a roster spot will be forward Jiri Tlusty
. The 23-year-old had offseason shoulder surgery, but that hasn’t slowed him down. He said he feels 100 percent after rehabbing over the summer.
“I was doing everything I could, and over time I got more confident in my shoulder,” he said. “I tried not to think about it. I focused on my workout to get in the best shape possible because it’s always a battle to get a spot on the team.”
Notes from the first session: Derek Joslin
did not skate because of an illness … Originally slated to skate with Team Black, Faulk took Joslin’s place in the lineup of Team Red for the day.
Second Session – Team White
The second session, which got underway shortly after 10:30 a.m., was supposed to feature goaltender Cam Ward
. However, he was held out of action today due to upper body stiffness.
“This is a minor thing,” Maurice said. “I’m not putting him on the ice until I know he’s 100 percent ready. There’s one time a year that we don’t need Cam Ward
, and that’s the first four days of camp.”
Fellow Finns Jussi Jokinen
and Joni Pitkanen
– who also both re-signed with the Canes for three years in the offseason – were a part of the second session.
And both could not be happier to be back with the team.
“I think we have a really good team and a great organization,” Pitkanen said. “And my family likes it here, so it was an easy decision.”
Jokinen echoed Pitkanen’s sentiments and noted that he thinks he’s played the best hockey of his career in Raleigh.
“We have some great players in their prime here – Staal, Pitkanen, Ward and Ruutu,” Jokinen said. “And the young guys – Sutter, Skinner, McBain – are a year older. And then we brought in some veterans from free agency, so I feel that we have a chance.”Eric Staal
was a vocal leader on the ice during the practice, and it’s evident that he’s ready to put last season behind him.
Staal said the Canes are a better team this year because they are a year older, stronger and wiser. He added that they need to be a playoff team early on so that it doesn’t come down to Game 82 once again.
“You fight all year long to finish two points short. It’s difficult to swallow,” he said. “You start thinking of the last games or games anywhere that you could have picked up two points. But you need to forget about it, refresh and look forward to a new season.”
Notes from the second session: Assistant equipment manager Jorge Alves sat in for Cam Ward
, which ended up being a pretty solid workout, as he participated in all of this drills.Third Session – Team Black
The third and final session of the day was the most physical and perhaps had the most intrigue, thanks to newly signed Ryan Murphy
skating with Team Black.
First impressions of Murphy seemed in line with what his scouting report – he has a ton of speed but a small frame, which was exposed even more when he was paired up with Bryan Allen
At 6-foot-5, 226 pounds, Allen towered over the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Murphy. But Murphy was able to hold his own, using his stickhandling skills and speed to his advantage.
“It was a lot of fun,” Murphy said of being paired with Allen. “I was a bit nervous – I didn’t know what to say to him at first. He introduced himself, and then from there it was all tips and pointers.”
“Allen is a real good veteran and guy, and he’s kind of taken Murphy under his wing,” Maurice said.
Maurice said that while Murphy’s size is an obvious concern in matching up with the elite players in the NHL, it’s not a chief concern of his.
“This guy is a special kind of player,” Maurice said. “He’s eventually going to put on more mass, but I’m not in a hurry for that to happen. He has to keep his uniqueness on the ice more than we have to put weight on him.”
Signing a three-year, entry-level contract with the Canes yesterday was a relief and a moment to remember for Murphy.
“It’s a big accomplishment for me, and I’m happy,” he said. “My goal is to make it into the NHL one day, and this is the first step.”Jeff Skinner
was in a much similar situation to Murphy last year – an 18-year-old first-round draft pick from the Kitchner Rangers with questions of if he’d make the team. Skinner, who turned out to be the rookie of the year, was impressed with what he saw from Murphy.
“He looked good out there. I didn’t see him too much, because I was just trying to breathe,” he added, laughing. “He’s already one of the top skaters out there, and he’s only 18.”
Another new Cane Matheiu Roy wasn’t afraid to throw his body around, as he sent a couple of players into the boards during the 90-minute practice. He also took off Brian Boucher
’s new Hurricanes mask with a wrist shot that caught the goaltender up high.
Maurice said the physicality of this last session was due to not only having a young, competitive bunch, but also the ice wearing down after two groups had already skated.
“When the ice gets bad, the puck bobbles, head drops and the hit becomes the best option,” he said.
Notes from the third session: The skating drills seemed to last longer, but maybe that’s just because we had seen them twice already … Boucher got beat with a five-hole goal he was clearly displeased with, but came back with a pad-stack save on the next rush.What to Look for Moving Forward
The Red-White game tomorrow will certainly provide a friendlier, more informal atmosphere, but training camp will continue to heat up in the days ahead as the young players battle for the precious few roster spots available.
“The overall theme – whether it is defense or offense – is trying to find places on the ice that we can be more aggressive,” Maurice said.
And if today’s intensity is any indicator, we are in for a high-octane training camp.