Steven Stamkos joked after Thursday’s practice, betting that a few of his new teammates probably couldn’t wait to board the team plane that left this afternoon for the season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night in Raleigh.
Yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning are anxious to begin anew, but that was hardly the sentiment the Lightning forward was echoing as he sat in his locker stall just before noon. Instead, Stamkos was referring to head coach Guy Boucher’s tough disciplinary tactics that made for a hard practice and subsequent desire to escape from the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. At one point, Stamkos said, “things got a little animated.”
“I think more than anything he just wanted to make sure we’re prepared for tomorrow night and that we continue to pay close attention to the small details that have made us successful in the past,” Stamkos said.
For Stamkos and others who were around last season to enjoy a lengthy playoff run that fell one game shy of the Stanley Cup Finals, the display was textbook. As for the new guys, Stamkos said it was probably best they got to see that side of their coach early on.
The idea is for Boucher’s self-prescribed “relentless” style of hockey to become the normal standard at which the team plays on a daily basis. That even includes practice, leaving the game itself to habit. Furthermore, the grueling workouts serve as another way to shed what Boucher calls the “traces of summer” when players often retreat away from their typical, intense workout regiments.
Still, at Thursday’s practice, players needed no hints, as many said the pace of the sessions over the past few days had increased significantly leading up to Friday’s opener against the Hurricanes at the RBC Center.
“A lot of the time, I’m never happy with practice,” Boucher said, “because I think we can always do more.
“I always say we have to be better tomorrow than we were today, and the next day, we have to be better than the day before,” Boucher added. “I believe it’s a process, and I’m all about accelerating that process. I don’t wait for things to happen, so it’s my job to make sure we have the right frame of mind when we take the ice every night.”
Boucher’s goal is to convey a mutual understanding within the locker room that expectations are high, and with each passing day, they’re only going to increase. Since the intense practices mimic game-like execution, the system can either prove beneficial if players respond appropriately, or could serve as an unfriendly reminder of just what not to do. Boucher hopes that all of the lessons taken from practice will translate on game nights into playing the fast-paced, but disciplined style he seeks.
If last season was any indication, it is clear the players have invested a strong belief in what their head coach is preaching.
Thursday’s practice was up-tempo, yet veteran wing Martin St. Louis was there instructing his younger teammates on what to do and where to go in certain situations. Brett Connolly could be seen asking Stamkos similar questions. To reassure himself that his own message isn’t falling on deaf ears, Boucher will mix things up by throwing in a pop quiz every now and then.
“Are we good enough?” Boucher asked at the conclusion of practice.
“No,” a player shouted from the huddle at center ice.
Boucher’s response was then accompanied by a violent and repetitive smack of his stick on the ice.
“You are good enough,” he shouted. “Now go out there and show it.”
LINE PAIRINGS: Line combinations for Friday’s season opener at Carolina are expected to be as follows: Martin St. Louis-Steven Stamkos-Steve Downie; Ryan Malone-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell; Ryan Shannon-Dominic Moore-Brett Connolly; Blair Jones-Nate Thompson-Adam Hall. The defensive pairings will consist of Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer, Brett Clark and Matt Gilroy and Marc-Andre Bergeron and Pavel Kubina. Forwards Tom Pyatt and Mattias Ritola are expected to be scratched. Dwayne Roloson will start in goal.
MOORE OPTIMISTIC: An MRI performed earlier in the week on Dominic Moore’s back revealed no serious damage. The Lightning center is scheduled to play beginning with Friday’s opener at the RBC Center.
WATCH PARTY: The team will host a watch party for Friday’s game at Brick House Tavern, located at 1102 N. Dale Mabry Hwy. The party starts at 7 p.m. The Lightning Girls and Thunderbug will be in attendance.