Hockey at the RBC Center is back, and with it are Saturday morning shifts at work. I'm sure it will catch up to me later in the season, for now it's just nice to be back after a long summer. I'll be here for all three practices, and I'll update this space with notes and observations as I go along.
8:40 a.m. - Group A takes the ice first this morning. I was right about the forward lines in yesterday's entry - Drayson Bowman opens camp skating with Eric Staal and Ray Whitney. Not bad, huh? Brandon Sutter is centering a line with Chad LaRose and Ryan Bayda on the wings. Those combinations make the most sense for now, but I wouldn't be surprised if they rotate that around a bit and give those other guys a chance to play on the first line.
9:00 a.m. - Forgot to mention something we aren't used to seeing around here - Coach Glen Wesley! He's not technically a member of the coaching staff of course, but it's pretty much all hands on deck when it comes to running training camp. Coach Laviolette and new Albany GM / Head Coach Jeff Daniels are running the Group A practice.
9:45 a.m. - Bowman had no idea he'd be skating with Staal and Whitney until today, and is obviously excited about it.
“It’s unbelievable actually," he said. "It’s a lot of fun.You look up to those guys a lot and it’s obviously what I wanted to do.It was a lot of fun to skate with them.”
He's not counting on it just yet, but doing well on the top line in camp can't hurt his chances of sticking around for awhile when everything's said and done.
”I think that’s everybody’s goal here is to stick for the year," he said. "I’m not sure what they have in mind, but I’ll just do the best I can, and that’s all you can do, really – just come out, put your best foot forward in every practice and hope something happens.”
”Our captain didn't have good hands, so that was unfortunate," he said with a laugh. "Overall it wasn’t a big deal, they put it right back together."
11:00 a.m. - The second group is on the ice, and Jeff O'Neill is playing center on a line with Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu - a line that looks very good thus far. You see more skills than you do conditioning in the drills, but O'Neill definitely still has those. Samsonov looks to be picking up right where he left off last year as well.
Obviously the center spot on that line is Brind'Amour's when he comes back, but if the team does want to try O'Neill at center, Brandon Sutter might have more competition than originally thought.
12 p.m. - After coming off the ice, O'Neill was pleased with this first practice.
”It felt really good," he said. "It was a different experience for me. I’m obviously not a guy with a secure position here, really anything can happen. It’s kind of good to keep your mental focus and be under the gun a little bit.”
After being out of pro hockey all of last season, he credits his wife for helping him renew his desire to get back to the NHL. So far, that track has him as one of the best candidates to fill Justin Williams' open spot on the team's roster.
”I was a young single guy and there were a lot of single guys on this team," said O'Neill of his last stint with the Canes. "It was a lot of fun to be a part of, but I’m a married man now and we’re expecting a family. I’m at a good point in my life. I couldn’t be happier with where I am in life, and if it wasn’t for my wife I probably wouldn’t be here right now. She really motivated me and got me on the right track, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Coach Laviolette acknowledged that O'Neill was a player who the team will watch closely throughout camp.
"When you take Justin Williams out of the lineup, you take 18 to 20 minutes out and a lot of different roles on our team," said Laviolette. "It’s an unfortunate thing that it happened, but somebody has to step up and take over those minutes. It is an opportunity for Jeff O’Neill, it’s an opportunity for guys like Chad LaRose to jump up a line, or young guys coming in or playing in the minors like Bowman. I think that there’s different opportunities available to occupy those minutes.”
Laviolette also said he wasn't too concerned about Rod Brind'Amour, who is recovering from knee surgery.
"We’re certainly not going to rush him back or try to get him out on the ice too early," he said. "Sometimes I think with Rod it’s more trying to slow him down. He’ll just be approached day-by-day, and when he feels good and the doctors feel good about getting him back on the ice, that’s when he’ll join us. I would assume that it will be sometime during camp.”
1:45 p.m. - The line of Matt Cullen, Scott Walker and Patrick Eaves highlighted the forward group from the Group C skate. Cullen, who actually increased his conditioning program over the summer rather than having to take it easy, says he's felt fine for a long time.
”I skated a lot more than I usually do," he said. "I started skating maybe three or four times a week in June just to kind of get the cobwebs out and just make sure I got a lot of ice time because obviously I didn’t skate a lot last year. I feel good.”
Besides feeling good, Cullen said there's also a lot to like about this year's team.
”Pretty much everybody but Walker," he said of his linemate, jokingly of course.
That's it for today - hope to see you all out at the Caniac Carnival tomorrow. The Red/White game follows at 3 p.m.