NHL training camps. The first tangible sign that hockey is right around the corner. With help from THN’s 30 NHL team correspondents, here’s an anecdote from a past training camp or a storyline heading into this year’s camp, for each club. We start with the Eastern Conference. On Monday, Sept. 11 we’ll look at the west.
At last season’s training camp, enforcer Francis Lessard, upset at a hard hit from defenseman Andy Sutton during a scrimmage, delivered a vicious cross-check along the boards to right winger Jordan LaVallee, drafted only weeks earlier in the fourth round. LaVallee, who had a previous neck injury, suffered a concussion and did not return to play with his junior team, the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL), until December. However, LaVallee did average a point per game after returning to the eventual Memorial Cup champions. This season he will be in camp under contract while Lessard is gone from the franchise.
Â– John Manasso, Atlanta correspondent
While free agent additions Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard will have the biggest impact on the Bruins this season, all eyes will be on 2006 first-rounder Phil Kessel. The Bruins sound like they’re going to give the young forward every opportunity to make the team. If he does, he’ll land on a scoring line, probably with Savard and Glen Murray.
Â– Mike Loftus, Boston correspondent
Tim Connolly has another concussion Â– this latest one was sustained during Buffalo’s playoff run Â– and will miss at least part of camp and might not be ready for start of regular season. The Sabres deny it, but his career might be in jeopardy. Will he come back and be the same incredible playmaker he was last season? The Sabres gave him three-year, $8.7-million contract in the hopes he will. Connolly has been unavailable to the media since locker-cleanout day. Â“He’s not working out yet, so it’s kind of still in line with what the specialists thought it would be, from a timing standpoint,Â” said Sabres coach Darcy Regier. Â“He’s still in the range of where he was not expected to be working out yet. But he’s moving in the right direction, I think.Â”
Â– Tim Graham, Buffalo correspondent
When Cam Ward arrived at training camp in the fall of 2003, he knew he was just there to fill out the roster before he headed back to his junior team in Red Deer (WHL). The Hurricanes said before camp that Kevin Weekes and Arturs Irbe would get all the pre-season playing time, so Ward was merely a spectator. Right up until he was thrown into the nets for a 10:30 a.m. start in Atlanta in front of 15,000 screaming school kids not much younger than the 19-year-old Ward, who played well in a 3-1 loss, stopping 19 of 22 shots in a game that also featured 18-year-old center Eric Staal and 19-year-old defenseman Danny Richmond. Â“Our three best guys on the ice can’t buy beer,Â” said then-Canes coach Paul Maurice. Ward and Staal, obviously, were buying the champagne 2-1/2 years later when they won the Cup as Conn Smythe winner and the NHL’s leading playoff scorer.
Â– Luke DeCock, Carolina correspondent
It wasn’t long ago the Southeast Division was known for its top goaltenders, particularly Nikolai Khabibulin in Tampa Bay, Roberto Luongo in Florida and up-and-coming Kari Lehtonen in Atlanta. Now, Khabibulin and Luongo are gone and four of the division’s five teams are virtually starting over.
Â– Brian Biggane, Florida correspondent
Canadiens captain Saku Koivu is the center of attention in camp as Montreal watches his return from the serious eye injury he sustained in the playoffs last year. Just days before camp, Koivu said his peripheral vision was still cloudy, and he hadn’t been on skates or participated in any contact sports all summer. If the Koivu storyline concludes quickly, there’s always Guy Carbonneau’s debut as an NHL head coach.
Â– Herb Zurkowsky, Montreal correspondent
For all of their salary cap problems, the Devils know money matters little as long as Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur remain healthy. Because if you don’t have your healthÂ…
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
This is new coach Ted Nolan’s first NHL training camp since 1996; he won the Jack Adams award as coach of the year that season.
Â– Peter Botte, N.Y. Islanders correspondent
NEW YORK RANGERS
At the first day of camp in 1999, fourth overall draft pick Pavel Brendl could barely make it through the drills. The team said he was ill, but it quickly became apparent he had reported out of shape. GM Neil Smith, who had traded Dan Cloutier, Niklas Sundstrom and a first- and third-rounder to Tampa Bay to move up in the draft to select Brendl, was asked for his impression. Â“It’s a good thing the organization isn’t depending on him for this year,Â” said Smith of the winger who had led the WHL with 73 goals the previous season. Â“It’s only the 10 years after this.Â”
Â– Larry Brooks, N.Y. Rangers correspondent
A few years ago, the Senators played an exhibition game in Grand Rapids, Mich., with the final cuts coming the next day. A couple of rookies were strolling through the lobby and noticed fellow freshman Jason Spezza had his per diem in his hands. One of the rookies said: Â“You got per diem.Â” Right at that moment, those players knew they weren’t flying home with the Senators and that they’d be staying in Grand Rapids for the year.
Â– Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa correspondent
Peter Forsberg is hurt and out until January, but Keith Primeau might make it back from his Lindros-esque concussion hell. No, waitÂ…Forsberg is fine and ready for the season opener, but Primeau is done. Actually, make that, Forsberg is probably OK and good to go, and Primeau might be all right, too. Or not. Stay tuned.
When the Penguins showed up in Johnstown, Pa., for training camp in 1982, they were greeted with a slight problem. No ice. A combination of warm weather and machine malfunction at the Johnstown War Memorial Arena Â– site of filming for the movie Slap Shot Â– put camp plans on hold. Â“Half the guys headed back to Pittsburgh and half the guys headed to the golf course,Â” recalled center Greg Malone, later the team’s head scout. Â“Practices were cancelled for two days.Â” Said winger Paul Gardner: Â“It was pretty comical. It was also beautiful outside, so we just kind of walked the streets for a few days. That was different.Â”
Â– Joe Starkey, Pittsburgh correspondent
Lightning training camps are all about conditioning, and it’s tough, especially on those who have not followed the off-season workout program the team provides each player. Players have been known to throw up after a morning devoted to hard skating. And players who come from other organizations call it the toughest camp they have ever experienced; it has been nicknamed Â‘Camp Torturella’ to honor its architect, coach John Tortorella.
Â– Damian Cristodero, Tampa Bay correspondent
The Leafs had just arrived in Sweden for their 2003 training camp in Stockholm and coach-GM Pat Quinn was sitting down for his first press conference when he found a bottle opener lying in front of him on the podium. Â“I have one of theseÂ…now where’s the beer?Â” Quinn asked.
Â– Mike Zeisberger, Toronto correspondent
The Capitals hope they have another special Alex this season in Alexander Semin, the Russian center who played 52 games as rookie in 2003-04, but returned to Russia last year when Washington tried to send him down to the AHL. That sparked transatlantic allegations and a court battle, but the end result is to Washington’s liking: Semin and Ovechkin, with Caps logos on their jerseys.