On the eve of the official start to training camp (photos and physicals are tomorrow) there were mixed emotions in the Hurricanes’ locker room following Thursday morning’s informal skate.
On one hand, the players are all excited to start the new season and return to the playoffs. On the other, they’re still adjusting to the fact that Justin Williams won’t be around for the next four to six months.
Williams had been participating in the informal skates himself, but ruptured his Achilles tendon during an off-ice workout yesterday and will undergo surgery today. He hasn’t played a full NHL game since December 18.
”For a guy like Williams, for that to happen to him is just so tough and awful,” said Chad LaRose. “It was unexpected, and what are you going to do about it? He’s going to be down for a while, and now it’s just how other guys in the room have to pick it up for his loss.”
Defenseman Tim Gleason was there when it happened, but didn’t realize the severity of it until much later.
”It was like a strain at first so I didn’t think much of it, and then I heard later that it was what it was,” Gleason said. “It’s a bummer. There’s no words to say to him, I’m sure he’s just broken. But life goes on. If he can get back fast fine, if not then we’ll deal with it.
“We have guys in this dressing room that are willing to work hard and that’s part of this organization – they’re strong in every position. I’m sure anybody that’s willing to grab that opportunity to play, I’m sure they’ll do a great job.”
That was true last season as several River Rats, such as Keith Aucoin, Ryan Bayda and Tim Conboy all exceeded expectations and helped soften the blow. There’s no question Williams is an extremely difficult player to replace, but several players will go into training camp with the opportunity to do just that.
The Canes think Patrick Eaves, fully recovered from last year’s shoulder problems has a chance to have a very good season, and he’s one player that could see an increased role on the team. Eaves and Williams are often compared to one another due to their gritty two-way play.
”A healthy Patrick Eaves is a real bonus for our team,” said GM Jim Rutherford prior to Williams' injury. “He has real good hockey sense, he plays a real aggressive game. He’s already scored over 20 goals in this league in one season and we would expect him to get back to that level. The biggest thing for him with the style he plays is staying healthy. I’ve seen him now, and he looks great.”
Outside of the current roster, the opportunity has much improved for prospect Drayson Bowman, tryout Jeff O’Neill and new signing Matt Murley.
Some notes from today’s skate:
- Speaking of Murley, I only caught a small part of Thursday’s scrimmage, but he had me trying to dig up a roster to try and figure out who number 21 was. From what I saw, he showed good puckhandling skills and positioning. According to Murley as he came off the ice, he’s been on the winning scrimmage team three days in a row.
- A few more languages in the Hurricanes locker room now than there used to be. Some of the existing European players have found friends, as Frank Kaberle and Josef Melichar were conversing in Czech, while Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen spoke Finnish. Pitkanen and Ruutu know each other from playing on the Finnish national team.
- In addition to Ruutu, Pitkanen also knows Williams and Dennis Seidenberg from their time in Philadelphia together.
”I heard yesterday what happened and it was very disappointing,” said Pitkanen of Williams. “I know how good a player he is, but I think we have a lot of good players here. With him coming back we’ll be stronger.”
Besides playing together with the Flyers, Pitkanen and Seidenberg also played together on the team’s AHL affiliate, winning a Calder Cup together during the lockout year.
- More on Pitkanen – he’s long been an admirer of the Hurricanes’ style of play, which suits him perfectly as an offensive-minded player.
”When I played with the Flyers we always played against the Hurricanes, and I know there’s a lot of good skaters and high-skilled players,” he said. “I’m very excited to play with these guys.”
- Gleason is aware of his increased role on the blueline, and welcomes it with open arms.
”I believe they want more responsibility from me, which I’m willing to accept for sure and I’m excited about it,” he said. “Playing time, if I can get up to 20-some minutes, that’s awesome. That’s what I want and that’s what I’m working for. It’s a job to be taken and I definitely want it."