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NHL training camps open

by Shawn P. Roarke

As training camp for the 2007-08 NHL season formally begins, Anaheim Ducks General Manager Brian Burke believes that his club can successfully defend their Stanley Cup title.
Hope, they say, springs eternal. That is never more apparent than on the first day of training camp, which for the NHL has arrived.

Most of the NHL’s 30 teams formally began the 2007-08 season with the opening of camps Wednesday morning. Ten more teams open training camp tomorrow. Both the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, began camp last week in preparation for their season-opening trip to London to play a pair of regular-season games to open the season on Sept. 29.

All across North America, NHL vets are arriving from their short summer vacations to join promising rookies – already hard at work usually – to once again begin the quest to claim the Stanley Cup, a journey that the Ducks so adeptly navigated last season.

No matter the past, or the predictions for the future, each of these players laces his skates for the first time with a clean sheet of ice before him, able and willing to dream the dreams of champions.

Darryl Sydor is entering his 16th NHL season, but his first with the Pittsburgh Penguins after signing as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Last season, the Penguins made the playoffs for the first time in five years. But they were swept aside easily in the first round by the Ottawa Senators.

Sydor believes the Stanley Cup is a legitimate goal for his new team. And he should know, having won the cherished trophy with both the Dallas Stars (1999) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (2004).

“That’s our goal and I think it is realistic,” Sydor said.

He is not alone in holding that belief.

The Ducks believe they can defend their hard-earned title and have been hard at work since Sept. 10, preparing for their trip to London. As the last team left standing last season and one of the first two to report this year, the Ducks have enjoyed one of the shortest breaks in NHL history. Yet, they aren’t complaining about the short break, or anything else for that matter.

“Well, if anyone on this call hears me complain about anything, they should throw something heavy at me,” Ducks GM Brian Burke laughed last week during a conference call with reporters. “It's what we aspire to, to wake up in the morning dreaming of winning that trophy, and you go to bed at night dreaming of ways to win it. No complaints here.”

As we have said, the Ducks have much company in Stanley Cup dreamland.

The Senators, knocked off in the Stanley Cup Final, believe they are better. The Buffalo Sabres, bounced in the Eastern Conference Final, hope this can be their year despite suffering major free-agent losses during the summer. New Jersey has won three Cups in the past dozen years, but none since 2003. The Devils hope they can end that mini-drought with new coach Brent Sutter calling the shots. The New York Rangers, meanwhile, added heavily to their playing roster to make a run at hardware this season, bringing in both Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.

Out West, San Jose, Vancouver, Dallas, Detroit and Calgary all believe they have credible shots at taking the crown. Detroit won the West during the regular season and returns all the major pieces from that team. San Jose finished just three points behind Anaheim during the regular season last year. Dallas was also three points in arrears. Minnesota also topped the 100-point plateau. Calgary, meanwhile, has a taskmaster in Mike Keenan, whom they hope will change their fortunes after a disappointing season.

Even in those cities where the dreams of holding aloft the Stanley Cup this season are mere flights of fancy, at present moment, enthusiasm still bubbles over this week.

Chicago is in the midst of an ambitious rebuilding program and the Blackhawks’ camp will be loaded with emerging stars like Jonathan Toews, Jack Skille and Patrick Kane, the top overall pick this past June, suggesting that a brighter future – and playoff success – is right around the corner.

“Well, we're anticipating we'll be in the playoff hunt,” said Chicago GM Dale Tallon. “We like the mixture of young players we have.”

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli hired head coach Claude Julien to turn around a Bruins team that has missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
St. Louis is also rebuilding with youth and has much to savor as it moves forward. The Blues will have stud defenseman Erik Johnson in camp this year after he decided to forego the remaining three years of his college eligibility, and also welcomes a trio of first-round choices from this year’s draft.

In the East, the Boston Bruins hope to reverse a troubling trend that has seen them miss the playoffs in each of the past two seasons and fail to advance past the first round since 1999. They begin what they hope will be a renaissance season under the direction of Claude Julien, who was hired during the summer after his successful run with the Devils ended shockingly in the last week of the regular season.

”We're aiming for more cohesiveness as a unit this year and by getting that it will make us a tougher team to play against,” said Julien. “This will be a much better team than most people expect.”

The Islanders also expect to be better than the team that just squeezed into the playoffs last season and were then bounced out by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round.

In a unique twist, the club decided to open its camp with a trip to Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, the previous coaching outpost of Ted Nolan before he joined the Islanders last fall. They will practice and scrimmage in Moncton for a week before playing games in North Bay, Ontario – playing the Atlanta Thrashers -- and St. John’s Newfoundland, against the Boston Bruins. They will also play a game against Montreal in Moncton before breaking the off-site part of their camp.

It is an interesting start to what the Islanders hope will be an interesting season, one that ends in mid-June with the Stanley Cup hanging in the balance.

“The Islanders are obviously a great organization,” said Andy Sutton, who signed with Islanders as a free-agent this summer. “I’ve turned the corner and it’s time to start competing for the Stanley Cup.”

Wednesday, Sutton was joined by hundreds of other NHL players in that very demanding and noble quest for sport’s most difficult championship.

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