It wasn’t a full-fledged exhibition game, but it will have to do.
In lieu of eight preseason games, which were originally scheduled for late September and early October, the Carolina Hurricanes held a red-white intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday at Raleigh Center Ice. In a compressed, week-long training camp it’s the best the team can do to simulate game-action in advance of the fast-approaching regular season.
As head coach Kirk Muller said after practice on Monday, today’s scrimmage was squeezing eight exhibition games into one.
“To get into playing condition, the only way to do it is through exhibition games and scrimmages,” he said today. “Getting the contact and the speed of the game and having guys playing against you, that’s the only way to do it.”
So, the Canes divvied up their recently expanded group of 28 players into two teams and played three, 18-minute periods before finishing with a casual shootout. Team Red topped Team White 5-2, but that wasn’t of chief concern.
“It was good to get up to game-speed,” Jeff Skinner said. “There are some things we’re going to go over systems-wise, but I think the pace was good, and that’s really what we were looking for. I think the first two practices were fast, but when there are 10 bodies and two goalies on the ice, there are more battles in the corners and more stops and starts.”
“Honestly, the pace, tempo and the energy of the guys was better than we were expecting, so that’s a nice sign,” Muller said. “We were happy with the intensity and physical part of it.”
Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman, two young prospects vying for roster spots, each netted a goal in the scrimmage, as they both got a look on the top line with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, who also scored.
“The reason for today was to check out some different scenarios and young guys,” Muller said. “If you’re going to bring them in, give them an opportunity to look good and do well, and they did.”
Roster decisions will likely come sooner than later, according to Muller. With the Charlotte Checkers slated to play a pair of games Wednesday and Thursday, it’s probable the Canes will assign a few players before Wednesday morning’s team practice.
Recalled just yesterday along with Brett Sutter and Riley Nash, Zac Dalpe doesn’t want to make the three-hour trip back to Charlotte.
Dalpe didn’t get the initial call on Saturday to report to training camp, despite recording four goals, two assists and a plus-6 rating in his three games prior. He responded by extending his point streak to five games, notching two assists on Saturday and scoring a goal on Sunday, as the Checkers prolonged their five-game winning streak.
“It just kind of makes you play a little harder, and obviously we had a pretty good weekend. There was no bitter feeling after that,” Dalpe said. “It’s not like we got smoked because guys were pouting.”
Dalpe credits Checkers head coach Jeff Daniels for keeping the team focused on the game Saturday night, whether than worrying about who got called up or why they didn’t get called up, something they haven’t had to mentally battle all season.
“He said there were basically three groups in the room: there’s a group that was kind of mad they didn’t get called up; there was a group that were borderline guys in the American League that could step up and get more ice time; and there was a group that was from the East Coast (ECHL) that could prove they could play in the league,” Dalpe recalled. “He said, ‘One team. One purpose. Two points.’ And the boys were pretty jacked up.”
Though Dalpe didn’t score in the scrimmage, he did share ice with linemates Jordan Staal and Skinner, giving him a chance, albeit brief, to show the coaching staff and front office that he’s ready to make the jump.
“My dad goes to work at 4:30 in the morning. I don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “I’m still happy I’m playing hockey, but at the same I want to play in the NHL, and I feel like I can prove that here.”
Though evaluating a handful of players in one day’s scrimmage isn’t ideal, it’s what the Canes and every other team in the NHL are facing.
Decisions are ahead.
“We wanted them to push us to make tough decisions, and they probably will,” Muller said.