As if the first day of fall doesn't already signal the end of summer, how about the beginning of training camp?
The Carolina Hurricanes are spending Thursday taking care of logistical items - physicals, headshots and whatnot - and will skate onto the ice in two groups for the first day of training camp on Friday. Ahead of that, let's empty the notebook with help from Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis.
Traverse City Success
With a perfect 4-0 record, the Carolina Hurricanes lifted the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup as champions of the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich. The Hurricanes bested the Detroit Red Wings 6-4 to claim the team's first tournament title since 2009.
The championship and the way in which the Hurricanes won was a testament to what Francis and his hockey operations staff have begun to build in this organization.
"We've been telling our fans that we're trying to build it from the ground up and that we've got some good pieces in the system. I think the way our guys played in the tournament kind of validated those comments," Francis said. "It wasn't just what we saw in how our guys played, but numerous other scouts, GMs and personnel all said the same thing: that we had a great group of young, talented players. It was very exciting and great to see them win and get that winning attitude in there."
On paper, it was evident that the Hurricanes' prospect squad packed some serious talent. On the ice in such a short tournament, though, it could have been a lot different; one bad bounce, one loss could have derailed a championship berth. Instead, the team came together quickly and established a fast-paced, skilled brand of hockey that overpowered opponents.
"I was very impressed with it. When you look at the lineups, I think we were one of the youngest teams there," Francis said. "I think our coaches, Ulf Samuelsson and Peter Andersson along with Cory (Stillman) and Wes and CuJo, did a real nice job of making sure the group understood what we were trying to do and brought them together quickly. The feedback from those guys was that it was a great group of kids and a lot of character in that room."
The Hurricanes were buoyed by a prolific offense that scored a tournament-high 20 goals, 17 of which were tallied at even-strength (two power-play goals, one empty-net goal). In four tournament games, the Canes only trailed once for a brief time during the second period of their first match against the Rangers.
Video: Highlights from the championship game in Traverse City
"Really we had great team efforts each and every day," Francis said, noting the team had 12 different goal scorers. "That's pretty impressive when you're getting production from a lot of different areas and a lot of different lines."
Making his fourth tournament appearance, a "veteran" by those standards, Sergey Tolchinsky was a leader on offense and wore an "A" on his sweater.
"Some guys, when you ask them to go for the fourth time, they go, 'Why me again?' But we asked him to go and be a leader, and I thought he did not take a shift off in that tournament," Francis said. "He displayed extremely hard compete and skills, and that's very positive for him."
Winning with Nathan
Winning is fun. It's even more fun with our friend Nathan Catling, whose history with the Hurricanes and Joe Vasicek in particular dates back to the late 1990s. Nathan and his family make the trip down from Sault Ste. Marie each year for the Prospects Tournament, and you better believe he's looking forward to the team's preseason game in his hometown in just a few weeks.
Defenseman Haydn Fleury exited the first game of the NHL Prospects Tournament with a lower-body injury after he spun awkwardly into the ice defending a rush in overtime. He was held out of the remainder of the tournament, mostly for precaution.
"All indications are that he should be good to go on Friday," Francis said.
New Guys Behind the Bench
Ulf Samuelsson was tabbed as the new head coach of the Charlotte Checkers in May. In July, he got his first hands-on experience with Hurricanes prospects. The tournament in Traverse City was a chance for him, along with his new assistant coach Peter Andersson, to lead a group of players, some of which they'll coach in Charlotte this season, in game situations.
Video: Listen in on practice in Traverse City
"It never hurts to get to know your personnel. I know Ulfie spent a lot of time this summer watching video on guys, getting to know their games a little bit," Francis said. "I thought it was impressive how hard both coaches worked throughout that tournament. They took nothing for granted, they did their homework and they did their preparation. They coached like they wanted to win and used personnel like they wanted to win, and I think that was great. To have some success should give them some confidence, and the guys who will possibly transition to Charlotte … they should know they have good coaches they're working for."
Peters Checking In
Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters may be in Toronto coaching a seemingly unstoppable Canadian World Cup squad, but that doesn't mean he's not plugged into what's happening with his team in Raleigh.
"He's already been texting me through the Traverse City tournament," Francis said. "His focus is there and helping Team Canada win, but he also understands what the big picture is and will check in with us to make things are going well here."
The World Cup could run as late as Oct. 1, and Peters will rejoin the Canes when Team Canada is finished in the tournament. Until then, the Hurricanes have a capable bunch leading them through the first week or so of training camp.
"He and the coaches have set their practice plans and what they want. That's already in place. We've got experienced guys on our coaching staff that will implement that as we get into it," Francis said. "Bill is the kind of guy who will be checking in at least once a day if not more to make sure things are progressing the way we want them to go."
The Hurricanes' success in Traverse City sets the table for what should be a competition-fueled training camp.
"Hopefully they feel good about their game, where it's at and the success they had. Now this is the next step. I fully expect them to come in here and not take a backseat to the veteran guys. I expect them to come in here, play as hard as they played in Traverse City, push the pace and push our guys," Francis said. "I think this is the deepest we've been since the management team, new coaches and I took over a couple years ago. With that, there are higher expectations, both in regards to competition for jobs and where we think we can go as an organization. It's time for everybody to elevate their game to meet those expectations."