– As the new head coach of the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers, Mark Morris will head the Carolina Hurricanes’ squad at the annual NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
Morris first skated onto the ice with the team on Thursday afternoon, a little more than 24 hours before the first game – a quick turnaround, so the team practice was about establishing the basics.
“The focus was trying to get our compete level up and give us a little bit of structure so that when we come into the game tomorrow, we have a semblance of order,” Morris said. “It’s a little chaotic, but at the same time, these guys are full of enthusiasm right now, and this is a great opportunity for everybody to show their wares and have a chance to be evaluated.”
Though the ultimate goal of a competitive tournament is to emerge victorious, this week provides a number of benefits. For the coaching staff and front office, it’s an additional teaching and evaluation tool, one that set in a more competitive environment than an intra-squad development camp and simulates real-game situations.
“We want to work on our execution and compete level. I think you can fill in the detail as the game moves along and as you get more accustomed to the new kids and how the Hurricanes want to play, myself included. I’m getting a grasp of it,” Morris said. “I have a lot of experience to lean on, but at the same time, I’m trying to do things the way Bill wants them done. I’m all ears. He’s a great coach, and he’s got a lot of super ideas.”
For the players, the tournament represents a worthy and final tune-up before training camp.
“It definitely helps out everybody to get that extra step going into camp,” said forward Brock McGinn, who is making his third appearance in Traverse City.
“It’s a really good tune-up,” defenseman Haydn Fleury said. “It gets you into game-shape and gets you ready for main camp because you hop right into the games. We play four games in five nights. It’s a grind.”
In such a short and condensed tournament having everything meld together quickly is imperative for success.
“Getting on a first-name basis is one of the things any coach wants to be able to do, and I’m just feeling my way around,” Morris said. “You really have to get it going quickly. If you can build relationships quickly, it’s going to help with our success.”
Helping to build those relationships on and off the ice will be four players each making their third showings in this annual tournament: McGinn, defensemen Trevor Carrick and Tyler Ganly and forward Sergey Tolchinsky.
“It’s hard to teach experience. It’s a great thing to have. I’m sure they’ll be sharing what they’ve learned in past tournaments,” Morris said. “We’re counting on it. Communication is a big thing.”
“Playing in this tournament a couple of times definitely helps. It’s that extra experience,” McGinn said. “I can just help out the younger guys coming in and make them feel comfortable.”
Even for a second-year player like Fleury, having a year of experience under his belt makes the transition into the tournament a little bit easier.
“Last year, I got here and wasn’t too sure what to expect. I’ll know what to expect this time around and won’t be so shocked by the first shift and the intensity this tournament brings,” he said. “I feel a lot more confident coming in this year.”
The Canes, who won the tournament in 2009 and are looking to improve on their fourth-place finish last year, join the Chicago Blackhawks (a new addition to the tournament), Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings in the Gordie Howe Division, opposite the defending tournament champion Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues in the Ted Lindsay Division.
Carolina opens its three-game round-robin slate on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Detroit. The Canes then face Dallas at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and Chicago at 6:30 p.m. on Monday. The tournament will be capped on Tuesday as the teams cross divisions to play their standings’ equal; the two first-place teams will face off for the championship at 7 p.m.
“Everybody is going out there and having fun. We all want to win,” McGinn said. “We have a good group of guys right now. Everybody’s meshing really well, and we’re excited to go out and start playing.”
CarolinaHurricanes.com will have complete coverage from Traverse City as the tournament progresses. For all of the latest updates and information, you can follow @MSmithCanes and @NHLCanes on Twitter. We’ll also dust off @Canes_Gameday for live game updates beginning with Friday’s match-up against Detroit.
2015-16 PROSPECTS TOURNAMENT
|DATE ||VISITOR ||HOME ||TIME (ET) |
|FRI SEP 11, 2014 ||RED WINGS ||HURRICANES ||7:30 PM |
|SAT SEP 12, 2014 ||HURRICANES ||STARS ||3:30 PM |
|MON SEP 14, 2014 ||BLACKHAWKS ||HURRICANES ||6:30 PM |
|TUE SEP 15, 2014 ||TBD ||TBD ||TBD |
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