Although it’s the first glimpse of the professional level for most, you could forgive the participants at this year’s rookie conditioning camp for feeling just a twinge of dread.
As a program designed to show the Hurricanes’ youngest prospects what it takes to be successful at the NHL level, six players currently in the team’s system and four invitees are put through the rigorous physical paces by trainers Pete Friesen and Jason Bailey.
After a long, grueling day spent by running stairs and lifting weights, it’s only at the very end that they finally get to take the ice and display the skills that got them this far.
“At the end of the day it’s good to go to sleep,” said Phillipe Paradis, the Hurricanes’ first-round pick last month.
This year’s camp is actually the second tour of duty for forward Zac Dalpe and goaltender Mike Murphy – the veterans of the group - who also attended last year’s session shortly after being drafted by Carolina in 2008.
“Me and Murph are letting the guys know the day-to-day basics a little bit, but they still seem to blow by us in the fitness testing,” said Dalpe with a laugh.
Call them gluttons for punishment (especially Dalpe, who has paid his own way each year in order to retain his college eligibility at Ohio State), but the camp has helped both players make important strides in their conditioning.
“Pete [Friesen] is amazing,” said Murphy, 20, who has added eight pounds this summer. “He’s really helped me to put on some weight, because that’s an area I need to improve on by getting bigger and stronger.”
“I think strength is the biggest word that I’ve had thrown at me, and I’ve agreed with it,” said Dalpe, 19, who has put on a staggering 15 pounds since his college season ended in late March. “Being a guy that developed a little bit later and has a late birthday I’ve needed to get my strength up. I’m getting there, but I’m not there yet.”
Adding some size will be among the biggest challenge for both players, who have each done extremely well since their draft year. Murphy managed to top his 2007-08 performance as the Ontario Hockey League’s Goaltender of the Year with an even better showing last year, capturing that award yet again and also being named the best netminder in the entire Canadian Hockey League, which includes the Western and Quebec leagues.
“I wanted to come back with another strong year,” said Murphy. “I wanted to prove that it wasn’t a fluke year in getting the OHL Goaltender of the Year award the year before.”
Murphy feels that working with the Hurricanes’ coaching staff at last summer’s camps were part of what helped him take that extra step.
“Tom Barrasso has given me little tips here and there that are great,” he said. “I walked away last year he said that I kind of reminded him of how [Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre] Fleury played in his early years in the NHL. He told me to play better positionally and more technical, and I think that I did that.
“That’s part of the reason that I put up better numbers this year, and it allowed me to get to those second and third rebounds,” he continued. “I have a lot of trust in Tom Barrasso, and I’m lucky I came to an organization with him and [former goaltender] Jim Rutherford. Whenever they think I’m ready they’ll put me in.”
It was also a good season for Dalpe, who played a bigger role as a freshman than most anticipated on a young Buckeye team that improved dramatically from one year prior, scoring 13 goals to rank third among CCHA rookies.
With his strong, smooth skating stride, quick shot and a nifty one-on-one move that drew "oohs" and "aahs" from spectators, Dalpe was the clear standout at Thursday’s on-ice session.
“I wasn’t really expecting to play as much as I did, but you’re surrounded by good players that make you look good,” he said. “People didn’t expect us to do as well as we did, so it was good to prove them wrong. We opened up some eyes around the league, and I think we’ll continue to do that next year.”