first put skate blade on ice around 8:30 Friday morning. At the bench, mask on, he rested his stick and peered around the glass.
“Here we go!” he bellowed.
And with that, Carolina Hurricanes training camp was underway in the 2015-16 season.
In the Canes’ first day on the ice, the 57 camp attendees practiced in three groups, two of which scrimmaged one another. The pace was swift and the spirits, high.
“I got up at 6 a.m. and was anxious to get to the rink and get things going,” said goaltender Cam Ward, who was sporting a new high-and-tight haircut, a look dubbed “GQ” by defenseman James Wisniewski. “The first practice was high-tempo and fast-paced. Guys were flying out there. It was a lot of fun.”
“Today was a fun day. It’s exciting to be back, first and foremost playing again and being around your teammates,” said forward Kris Versteeg, the newest Hurricane. “I’ve played against a lot of these guys for a number of years, so it’s exciting now to be on their side.”
A quick glance at the calendar reveals that, in just three days, the Canes will play their first preseason game. Circumstance begets high-energy from the first whistle of camp.
“We want it (the pace) to be real quick. We want it to be through the roof,” head coach Bill Peters said. “It happens quick. As a staff, we’d love one or two more days (before a preseason game) but I know, as players, they want to play. So, let’s play.”
It’s not just the impending beginning of the exhibition season that has legs moving, bodies flying and pucks skittering at a rapid clip.
“Nowadays, everyone comes into camp in top shape and ready to go,” forward Jeff Skinner said. “As soon as camp starts, everyone is going full speed.”
“You don’t want to ease into camp and feel things out; you want to be ready right from day one. Guys have to be responsible to be prepared and be ready,” Ward said. “You saw a lot of us here early, preparing, getting on the ice. Come day one of training camp, you’re ready to go. It begins now. You don’t want to wait until the last exhibition game. The time is now.”
Over the course of the next 19 days, the Hurricanes will pare down their group of 57 to a more manageable 23, at most. From now until then is a chance for players to find their role.
“There are expectations for different guys and roles to be filled,” forward Jordan Staal said. “It’s always going to be a challenge in camp for myself to push everyone to be their best every day.”
“You always want to be better every season,” said forward Elias Lindholm, who signed a two-year extension at the end of August. “I worked out real hard this summer. I have high expectations for myself, and I want to help this team make the playoffs.”
Camp is also a chance for players to prove themselves and earn one of the coveted spots on the Hurricanes’ Oct. 8 roster. Will any of the 20 players who competed for the Hurricanes at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., claim a roster spot? Will fifth-overall draft pick Noah Hanifin make the cut?
“It’s fast. You can tell,” Hanifin, 18, said of his first day on the ice. “The way these guys play, everything they do is strong. They move the puck fast, and they’re strong on the puck. It’s an adjustment, but I love playing at that level.”
“I’ve been in their shoes. I started playing in the NHL, I think, when I was 21, so I know what it takes,” said defenseman James Wisniewski, acquired by the Canes in June, about being a mentor for younger defensemen. “For these guys, I know it’s nerve-wracking coming in. They want to make the team, and there are some spots open.”
Insofar as training camp signifies a new beginning, last year’s camp was even more so, considering it was year one under Coach Peters and his staff. This year, there is a certain expectation for those returning.
“The vets have done a good job making sure the guys know what to expect in their informal skates leading up to camp,” Peters said. “I think we’re much further ahead than last year at this time, and we want to build on the success that we had last year in January and February. I thought we were a real good team in those two months, and we’ve got to get back to that.”
A new beginning, though, training camp remains. Like the turn of the calendar to a New Year, a new season and its accompanying training camp inspires new goals and a refreshed sense of purpose – and it all starts with day one.
“These last few summers have been real long. We were talking about it yesterday in the team meeting that we’d love to have a shorter summer upcoming,” Ward said. “The goal is to get back to the playoffs. That’s what we’ll be striving for, and it starts today.”
“Every year you come in, put in a good summer of training and a lot of work off the ice and you’re excited to get things going, come together as a team and be successful,” Skinner said. “It starts here in camp trying to get better today, building off that the next day and taking it into the season.”
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email