WINNIPEG - In preparation for their professional initiation - the annual Young Stars Classic in Penticton, British Columbia - the Winnipeg Jets prospects took the ice before taking the skies, tuning their skills for tomorrow's opening game against the Calgary Flames.
Finally. After more than five long, arduous months in the sun, it's time to head inside.
Welcome to hockey season.
"It felt really good to get back on the ice and get back into our daily routine," said 2015 first-round selection Kyle Connor, who's attending his first camp after a year in college. "I hear it's great competition out there [in Penticton], so it should be a great experience to help prepare me for main camp as well."
Video: PRACTICE | Kyle Connor
Connor will open the tournament on the top line alongside Jimmy Lodge and fellow first-rounder Jack Roslovic, who was taken eight spots below him (25th) in the 2015 Draft.
Roslovic has also left college and will play with either the Jets, Manitoba Moose or the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League this year. He, too, is attending his first camp and is excited to get going after a long summer off.
"I can bring a lot of speed, a lot of skill and playmaking abilities," Roslovic said.
"I think that's what the Jets are about. A real hard-nosed, north-south style."
The Columbus native, who played with the Midget AAA Blue Jackets growing up, spent the 2015-16 campaign with the Miami (of Ohio) University RedHawks. There, he put together a strong season, recording 10 goals and 26 points, finishing second in team scoring in 36 regular-season games.
Video: PRACTICE | Jack Roslovic
Connor, meanwhile, lit the world on fire with the NCAA's University of Michigan Wolverines. The freshman sensation finished the season on a 27-game point streak, scoring 35 goals and 71 points in just 38 games overall to tie Jack Eichel for the for second-highest total by a freshman since Paul Kariya in the 1992-93 season. As a result, he was a unanimous All-Freshman Team selection and First Team All-Star, joining linemates Tyler Motte and JT Compher, and was later named the College Hockey Player of the Year by USA Hockey.
"There are a lot of great players in this organization," Connor said. "It's going to be really tough (competition), but that's good. … I just need to play my game and show what they saw in me when I was lucky enough to be drafted by them."
Moose Head Coach Pascal Vincent had the rest of the forwards and defencemen working in the following formation:
Brendan Lemieux - Chase De Leo - Jiri Fronk
Michael Spacek - Jansen Harkins - Brandon Denham
Axel Blomqvist - Matteo Gennaro - Jordy Stallard
Matt Murphy - Luke Green
Tyson Wilson - Jan Kostalek
Logan Stanley - Nelson Nogier
Jamie Phillips and Mikhail Berdin are the goaltenders.
"Today was pretty much my first contact in a while, since the end of the year with the Moose. It felt good. You build all this muscle and this power [over the off-season] and you never really get to use it until you're out there battling," Lemieux said.
"This weekend's going to be out first real physical test and we're looking forward to it."
Video: PRACTICE | Brendan Lemieux
Lemieux played five games with the Moose after he and the Windsor Spitfires were eliminated from the OHL playoffs last year. In 34 regular-season games with them, he tallied 23 goals and 48 points after a trade from Barrie.
Now, he's ready for his next challenge - the professional ranks.
"A lot of nerves played into last year," he said of his first camp, one year ago. "I'm an emotional guy and I run pretty high. When I went into last year's camp I think I was a little overly emotional and my head was spinning a bit. This year I'm a lot more calm, I've got a place here in Winnipeg and I know I'm going to be here all year, so it's nice to have that peace of mind. And then of course, getting the chance to play pro hockey - and if my put my best foot forward, calm my nerves, I know I'm going to have a good chance to play with the big club and that's exciting."
In the more immediate future, he's looking to come away with three big wins this weekend against Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton.
"Anytime we go to play, we go to win. And that's what we plan on doing."