Photo: Doug Brumley
Predators forward Steve Sullivan puts a puck past goaltender Scott Reid during Team White's Saturday morning practice session.
The intensity picked up on Saturday at Predators training camp, as Team Blue and Team White skated to a 2-2 tie in a spirited 60-minute scrimmage at Centennial Sportsplex. Day 3's on-ice session kicked off at 9:00 a.m. as the teams were put through their paces on separate sheets of ice. Then, as on Friday, the two sides faced off against each other at 10:00 a.m. as a crowd of several hundred fans injected additional electricity into the rink. Predators head coach Barry Trotz, who said Friday he was expecting more lively action on subsequent days, saw that Saturday.
"I think the more you knock the summer hockey out of it, the more you're going to see structure, the more you're going to see intensity, the more you're going to see better plays," Trotz said of the progression from Friday to Saturday. "The plays are done at higher tempo, higher speed and then you've got people defending a lot harder than you would in summer-hockey mode. There were some good things. I liked what we saw today."
Rosters for the two sides had been shuffled a bit overnight. Forward Steve Sullivan, for example, defected to the White club and was matched with Jason Arnott and Martin Erat to form that squad's top line. Danish winger Kim Staal saw his first action, joining Team White after receiving medical clearance Friday. Forward Ramzi Abid practiced Saturday but sat out the scrimmage after slightly injuring his knee Friday, and 2006 draft pick Viktor Sjodin was sidelined while awaiting the arrival of a knee brace. Forwards David Legwand and Paul Kariya skated apart from the group for the second day in a row and could still possibly return as early as Tuesday, according to Trotz.
As evidenced by the scrimmage's low score, defensemen once again made their mark. Trotz credited the blueliners with handling pressure well in their own zone and astutely jumping up into the play at the other end of the ice. After a successful penalty shot by Steve Sullivan and a tally by Patrick Leahy made it 1-1 after two periods, defenseman Greg Zanon capped his nifty stick-handling play down the slot by beating goalie Jesse Deckert high to the glove side. Team White's one-goal margin lasted less than five minutes, though, as 6'6", 245-pound defenseman Nolan Yonkman unleashed a point shot that tipped oddly off goaltender Tomas Vokoun's stick before trickling into the net. Clearly frustrated, Vokoun looked to the ceiling after letting the puck in. A failed penalty shot attempt by Erat against Deckert and an even scrap between 6'5" Alex Henry and 5'9" Jordin Tootoo energized the crowd before the game drew to a close.
At one point the match featured a little too much drama for Predators coaches, staff and fans. On the first shift after besting goaltender Chris Mason with his second-period penalty shot goal, Sullivan was injured and skated gingerly from the offensive zone toward his bench. Sullivan was attended to by trainers but never left the bench. Fears that he had aggravated the sports hernia injury that he has been rehabbing this summer were quieted when he stepped back onto the ice with his linemates a few minutes later. Concerns were further allayed in the game's final minutes when the winger set up shop in the offensive zone and put on a characteristic stick-handling clinic filled with quick cuts and clever curls.
Photo: Doug Brumley
Defenseman T.J. Reynolds pauses to catch his breath during a drill at Saturday's practice.
Forward Scottie Upshall contributed his second standout performance in as many days. Upshall, who was among those who switched teams for Day 3, was paired with Team Blue forwards Vernon Fiddler and J.P. Dumont Saturday. So far in camp, Upshall has had an uncanny knack for being near the puck. "I feel like I'm skating well and strong," Upshall said. "I'm shooting the puck well. I'm just playing well with the guys that are on my line."
Another line that impressed on Saturday was Team Blue's hard-hitting trio of Jerred Smithson, Darcy Hordichuk and Brandon Segal. Those three players managed to keep the smaller defensive pairing of Marek Zidlicky and Kimmo Timonen hemmed in its own zone for a good stretch at the end of the scoreless opening period. In the third stanza, Segal downed Zidlicky with a hard neutral-zone hit then delivered a stern check on forward John Vigilante later in the same shift. "I've played with [Smithson] since juniors," Segal said Saturday. "I know how he plays and he knows how I play. [Hordichuk] is a grinder guy and he works hard, getting in the corners. The chemistry out there was pretty good. We got things going, banging bodies and getting pucks to the net."
The intensity will continue to build on Sunday, as a portion of the 50 camp invitees will travel to Columbus, Ohio to face the Blue Jackets in a 5:00 p.m. exhibition game. The traveling players will practice at 9:00 a.m. at Centennial Sportsplex, followed by the non-traveling players at 10:00 a.m. A scrimmage between players in the latter group will take place at 10:45 a.m. All on-ice training camp sessions at Centennial Sportsplex are free and open to the public.