As Lightning rookie camp kicks off, tampabaylightning.com will talk to players to get their first-hand account of a moment from the 2017-18 season, an update on their summer or how the first couple days of training have gone.
Cal Foote was Tampa Bay's First Round draft pick in 2017 and, following a successful debut with the Syracuse Crunch at the end of the 2017-18 season, proved why he's considered one of the organization's premier prospects. The 6-foot-4 right-hand shot defenseman scored a goal in his pro debut, played the final six games of the regular season with Syracuse and helped the Crunch reach the second round of the AHL playoffs with continued solid play.
As told to tampabaylightning.com beat writer Bryan Burns, Foote discusses what that first professional game was like and his thoughts on year two in the Lightning organization following potentially the most important offseason of his burgeoning career.
"After I finished my junior career with Kelowna, I was brought up to Syracuse to finish out the rest of the season with the Crunch. To be honest, I was expecting a pretty big jump, and it was. It's quite a step up playing against 16- to 20-year-old kids in junior to going up against men with a lot more speed and strength. But the transition for me was made easier by the staff in Syracuse and my teammates. The guys were amazing to me. Every time you go to a new team, there are always adjustments, not only in the locker room but on the ice with the systems and the structure of play the coaches want. It took a little bit of time to be able to understand that and to be able to adjust to how the coaches wanted us to play. It was different because the Crunch were already most of the way finished with their season and getting ready to head into the playoffs. But the guys in the locker room made it a lot easier than I thought it would be.
Video: Rookies look to make impression ahead of Camp
(Syracuse head coach Benoit Groulx) has a little quiz he gives guys periodically throughout the season. The first time I took it, I didn't know anything. It opened my eyes. I studied a lot, so the next time I took the quiz, I would be ready. I think any time you're with a new coach, they want different things. To be able to learn what they want and how they want you to play as quick as possible is your best bet for getting on the ice. I wanted to go into Syracuse and learn as much as I could and play the best I could. And the second time I took the quiz, I got everything right.
My first pro game with Syracuse certainly felt different than any other game I'd ever played. Not only was it a brand new team, brand new teammates and structure of play, but it was also a whole new level. You dream your whole life of playing professional hockey, and that was the first step was that first game. There were a lot of nerves for me, but they were healthy nerves and I wasn't scared or intimidated or anything I was anxious to go out there and try to play my best. The three veteran defensemen there - Mat Bodie, Jamie McBain and Reid McNeill - were a big help to me when I first came in. They've played a lot of professional games, and they were great helping me get acclimated. Syracuse's defensive coach Ken Klee was awesome too. He helped me quite a bit leading up to that first game. My dad [former NHL defenseman Adam Foote] was there for me too obviously. His advice to me has always centered around moving my feet and being able to be quick and explosive and make sure I'm always engaged and ready to go.
I was lucky enough to score a goal on my first shot during that debut game with Syracuse. We were on the road in Binghamton. That was pretty special. It was a great play by (Alexander) Volkov. He entered the zone on the left side and went behind the net and passed the puck up to me at the right point. I got some good wood on it, and it found a way through. There were a few guys in front providing a screen, so it was a lucky shot that found its way.
Every game with Syracuse, I felt more and more involved. I was fortunate enough to be able to play the six regular season games I was there for and every game in the playoffs. I felt part of the team. It was definitely cool to join a team that was making a push. The first round of the playoffs was great and I think there's a lot of things we can learn from losing to the eventual Calder Cup champions in the second round.
This offseason, I went back home to Denver and spent most of my time in Colorado. I took about two weeks off from everything hockey related, which is normal for me. Then it's right back into training. I take around three or four weeks off with no skating, and once development camp comes around, I start back up with skating. July and August was a lot of skating for me. I train with a few junior guys, a few NCAA guys, a couple players from opposing organizations in the AHL. It felt like a quick turnaround, but I think when you're on the ice and you're working as much as you can for the next season, it's the best possible option. My main focus this offseason was working on my explosiveness and gaining overall strength. And playing faster hockey. Not much vacation this summer for me, unfortunately, but I got to go to where I played junior in Kelowna for over a week. That was pretty cool to go back up there and see some familiar faces and some old teammates and spend time with them up there.
This is my second rookie camp with the Lightning, and it helps knowing what's going to go on every day. The first two days on the ice were awesome. The intensity was great with high pace and high tempo. It's been awesome to play with high pace, but that's what we're going to need to do in main camp and in preseason games. It's been a great first couple of days. We travel down to Estero this weekend to play in the Prospects Showcase against Washington and Nashville. I think it's important for me in these games to just play the way I know I can play. I don't want to force plays or do too much or play too fancy. I think if I can focus on my defensive play and try to get up on the rush and add to the offense as much as I can, I think I'll be doing what I need to do."