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FEATURE | Camp expectations

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers

It’s a new day, but more importantly, it’s a new camp.

With a new batch of prospects comes new attitudes, and according to Oilers Senior Director of Player Development Rick Carriere, there is no shortage of eagerness or willingness to work hard.

“I’ve seen a really positive group of kids come through,” he said. “They worked hard in the fitness testing, it wasn’t easy. Some players are really — this is new to them — they haven’t been through the regimen that our fitness people put them through but they came out of that all smiles and excitement.”

Carriere said that the added bonus this year is having Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan and Assistant Coaches Jay Woodcroft, Ian Herbers and Jim Johnson in the coaching-staff mix.

“I think that as much as it is an introduction for these players to the organization, it’s also an important introduction for the coaches to the players,” Woodcroft explained.

“These are the players that are going to be coming down the pipeline for us, so it’s important for us to get to know these players as, first of all, human beings. To get to know them as people, to understand what makes them tick, to have a comfort level, to share teaching points, and I think one of the ways you can do that is by getting involved right off the bat. When our coaching staff came in last year this was an emphasis for us, to make sure that we’re instilling these details right from day one in Orientation Camp.”

By holding camp in Jasper, the goal is to create an intimate setting among players and the 11-man coaching staff. In addition to some team-building, there is plenty of hard work to put in, and the prospects learned that quickly when they had their first on-ice sessions on their second day of camp.

“It was really fast-paced and we got right at it right away,” said Oilers defensive prospect Ethan Bear. “I haven’t had a skate like that in a while. So it really felt good to get a feel of what the guys are like, it was really good.”

The Oilers bench boss isn’t one to sit in the shadows and watch. McLellan’s booming voice could be heard across the rink as he addressed each group of prospects.

“You embrace that,” said Bear. “You really listen to what he has to say. He’s a smart guy and he describes things well so I know everyone is really paying attention, making sure we’re on detail. When he pulls us aside he really wants what he expects and we give that to him and are working really hard. Most guys are really dedicated so that’s huge.”

Divided into two teams — Team Gretzky and Team Messier — of 18, Team Gretzky hit the rink first for their on-ice session on day two of camp.

From left: Jay Woodcroft, Rick Carriere and Bakersfield Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming. Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club.

Here, the prospects got their first insight into what the coaches may be looking for from them for the remainder of the week.

“I think it’s important that in the drill they’re executing with intensity and with purpose and we’re not looking for a lot of tempo and flow in the practice,” Carriere said. “The practices can be slowed down, it’s all about teaching and development. But when they’re actually in the drill we like to see more of a game pace, and they’ve been able to carry that quite well right now.”

Ten of the 11 coaches took to the ice with each group, while McLellan was close by, watching intently. His sharp interjections were jarring but well received by the prospects, as they gathered around him, listened closely and soaked in his direction.

“When [Todd] sees things [on the ice] he’s really good at coming down and giving a lesson on it,” said Carriere. “Talking about the why and the purpose behind doing a certain tactic a certain way.

“If I’m a player, you just soak that stuff up. You’re getting some pretty good advice from some very well established coaches in the National Hockey League.”

But Orientation Camp is more than just developing and working on the physical and mental aspects of the game. Though they remain key parts of the week, Carriere said he hopes the players really embrace the full-bodied experience that the camp has to offer.

“We want them to sort of mix a little bit,” he said. “We have players from college, from junior, from the Czech Republic, from Sweden, from Finland, we want these kids to enjoy their experience here, but when they leave here to [also] have met somebody they would never have had a chance to meet before and get to know them a little bit better and get to know the coaches a little bit better. That’s sort of what we’re trying to push upon them.”

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