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Opening of training camps a time to celebrate

by Adam Kimelman /
Packed houses, blaring whistles and happy hockey players, coaches, managers and fans marked the opening of training camps throughout the NHL this past weekend.

"It's a great time of year," Philadelphia Flyers President Peter Luukko said Friday. "It's the beginning of the season, and there's nothing better than training camp, because training camp is hope."

All 30 teams started over the weekend with the same hope -- to be the last one standing.

Last spring that team was the Chicago Blackhawks, who started their first season in 49 years as Stanley Cup champions on Saturday by holding their opening practice at a sold-out United Center. Every ticket for the workout was sold as part of the club's third annual Blackhawks Training Camp Festival.

"That was by far the coolest practice I've ever had in my whole life," rookie forward Jack Skille said. "Usually you've got to manufacture that motivation some days to get in there and practice like that, but today was just easy."

"Today's the beginning of a new season and that's what's great. Every camp opens and last year is over with -- whether it's a good year or a bad year. It's nice to put it behind us and go from here."
-- Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney

The practice was part of a day-long hockey celebration in the Windy City that featured a 5K run, street hockey tournaments and a special guest in the spotlight on the ice -- the Stanley Cup.

It wasn't the usual start to training camp.

"That's what makes being part of this organization so special now," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Not only is it such a great city, but the support we get from the city and our fans especially, who come in for something like this and fill a building … I don't think too many teams can say that."

While the Philadelphia Flyers didn't get the huge turnout the Blackhawks did, they also played before a packed house of about 2,000 fans at their suburban New Jersey practice site. The passionate Philly faithful were more stoked than usual to see the defending Eastern Conference champions back on the ice, stuffing to capacity both of the facility's ice pads Saturday and Sunday.

"Awesome. Just awesome," coach Peter Laviolette said Saturday. "It was packed. It was great. There's a good buzz right now. We need to get on the ball here and get some work done so we're ready for when the season starts. They're ready for the season to start. The fans certainly are ready."

In Pittsburgh, fans and players alike got to check out the Penguins' new home, Consol Energy Center. The club held free practices over the weekend at the new building, which sits across the street from their original home, Mellon Arena.

"I think all the guys are excited to start playing in the new building," defenseman Kris Letang said. "It's just amazing what they've done with this thing. I can't wait to get started."

In Montreal, goaltender Carey Price began training camp as the unquestioned starter following the offseason trade of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak. Price has been inconsistent in his time in net and felt the wrath of the passionate Montreal fan base, but he's certainly got the support of his teammates.

"I think (Halak) did really well, he was magic for us," forward Maxim Lapierre said, "but I think the team was good, too. We scored big goals when it was time to score big goals, and we know that Carey Price will do the same thing for us this year."

Big things are expected from Price, just as they are with Roberto Luongo in Vancouver. No longer the Canucks' captain, Luongo vowed to be the same leader with or without the title.

"I'm the same guy. I'm not going to change the way I was whether I'm captain or not," he said. "I'm going to be vocal when I feel I need to be and I'm just going to go about my business the same way. At the end of the day, really, it's just a letter and a title and it doesn't really change much for me."

On Long Island, another goaltender was going through his own training camp issues. Rick DiPietro told that he's feeling as well as he has in years due to persistent hip and knee injuries that have limited him to just 13 games the last two seasons. But he was on the ice for workouts Saturday and Sunday before taking Monday off.

"It's good to have a normal routine back," DiPietro told "The last couple of years have been tough, but I've learned a lot of pretty important lessons. You take the positive out of all of that and move forward. I'm pretty optimistic and excited about the start of the season."

In Edmonton, they're also excited to start the season, because it means the players finally can put last season's 30th-place finish in their rear-view mirror.

"Somebody said it's nice to put last year behind," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "Today is kind of the day. It's done with. It really doesn't have to be mentioned."

Yes, this weekend was a time to put all the good and bad from the 2009-10 season in the history books, and start writing a new story.

"Today's the beginning of a new season and that's what's great," Whitney said. "Every camp opens and last year is over with -- whether it's a good year or a bad year. It's nice to put it behind us and go from here."

Contact Adam Kimelman at
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