Just before 7 a.m., as the village of Vail was waking to a clear sky and morning chill, the Panthers officially kicked off their 14th training camp with drills on the ice, workouts off the ice, and a genuine feeling of enthusiasm.
“It’s always nice to get started,” said captain Olli Jokinen, who led the first group onto the ice at 7 a.m., at Dobson Arena, a 29-year-old building with a pine ceiling that has hosted several NHL teams and concerts by Ray Charles and The Fray. “It’s been a long summer, so we’re happy to get started. I think everyone is excited.”
|Dominique Taylor (Vail Daily) |
The 42 players brought to Vail by GM and coach Jacques Martin were split into two groups. The first group was led by Jokinen, Ruslan Salei, Tomas Vokoun, Jozef Stumpel, Branislav Mezei and Cory Murphy while the second group included Stephen Weiss
, Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester and David Booth.
Martin watched from the stands with special assistant Joe Nieuwendyk while each group skated 90 minutes under the on-ice direction of assistant coaches Guy Charron, Mike Kitchen and Pierre Groulx. The players then took part in a one-hour workout under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Andy O’Brien.
“There’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm around the team,” Martin said after watching the practices. “I think it’s a real positive. The fitness results this year have been the best since I joined the organization. I think it shows the commitment of players during the off-season as far as training and as far as being conscious of wanting to improve on some of their skill level whether it was strength or power or quickness.”
While Charron raced the players through numerous drills on the ice, O’Brien worked the players off the ice in an indoor basketball court.
“Our off-ice workouts are about an hour long and we try to keep it really intense,” O’Brien said. “We split the group into two. Right now what we’re doing is half of the group is doing some bike sprints, high level intensity, and the other group is doing foot drills, speed work and lower body core strength work.
“It’s an opportunity to push the guys and develop a standard of intensity that we want them to work with, not only through training camp but carry it over into the season. And, hopefully, it will make them feel really fresh and really fit when they start the season.”
One player feeling fresh was 30-year-old ‘rookie’ defenseman Cory Murphy, acquired as a free agent after playing the previous six seasons in Finland and Sweden after never being drafted.
“It’s exciting,” Murphy said. “The first day is exciting anywhere, but to be here with this team is really exciting. It’s a good group and it’s a lot of fun.”
The Panthers, who were welcomed at owner Alan Cohen’s home Friday evening for dinner, will skate Saturday morning at Dobson Arena before boarding a plane that will carry them to Calgary, where they’ll play their first preseason game Sunday evening against the Flames. It will be the first of three games in three consecutive days stretching from Calgary to Edmonton to Saskatoon. After a day off, the Panthers will play Sept. 20 against the Blackhawks in Chicago before heading back to South Florida.
The Panthers first preseason game at home will be Sept. 25 at noon against the Blackhawks.CLICK HERE
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