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 started with the Eastern Conference last week (click HERE to read the article) and finish off today with the west.
An enduring training camp memory will probably always be Sept. 11, 2001. The day of the terrorist attacks, I watched television incredulously and wondered whether I should even go to the practice rink. Upon arriving there and watching the club’s on-ice workouts, I heard then-Ducks coach Bryan Murray say, Â“Hockey doesn’t seem very important, does it?Â” Later, former Anaheim goaltender Steve Shields responded to a post-practice question by saying, Â“What does it matter? We’re at war.Â”
Â– Dan Wood, Anaheim correspondent
Perhaps the biggest story in Calgary’s training camp is how few jobs are up for grabs. Physical forward Eric Nystrom might make the grade with an impressive camp; otherwise, don’t expect too many new faces on the Flames.
The Hawks plan to give center Dave Bolland and wingers Michael Blunden, Bryan Bickell and Troy Brouwer every opportunity to win jobs in camp. Bolland is coming off a 130-point season at London (OHL) while Blunden scored 46 goals with Erie before finishing the season at Norfolk in the American League where he had one goal and six points in 11 games. Â“We’re optimistic about these guys,Â” said GM Dale Tallon. Â“With these news rules, the young guys have a chance to shine. With the old rules it would be more difficult because they’d have to fight through the veteran ploys, the grabbing and clutching, and they’d have to expend more energy. Now the young guys have a chance to play under the new rules.Â”
Â– Tim Sassone, Chicago correspondent
Left winger Wojtek Wolski should be a contender for the Calder Trophy this season. The former Brampton (OHL) star had a taste of NHL existence last season and flashed his considerable talent at times.
Â– Adrian Dater, Colorado correspondent
At the first day of training camp last summer, the practice rink in Nationwide Arena was packed with Blue Jackets management and fans, all expecting it to be the year the Blue Jackets finally make sense and make the playoffs. Ten minutes into practice, left winger Rick Nash gets tangled up with prospect Derek Reinhart as they went into a corner after the puck. The two go down and slam feet-first into the boards. Reinhart gets up, no problem. Nash doesn’t move. The place gets eerily quiet, and management Â– notably GM Doug MacLean Â– makes a beeline down to ice surface for a chat with the trainer. Nash is helped off with a high-ankle sprain. He misses six weeks and was not right the entire season. The Jackets missed the playoffsÂ… again.
Â– Aaron Portzline, Columbus correspondent
The Stars held their training camp in Vail, Colo., for several years and one of the most memorable moments came in an intense scrimmage in 1996. Grinding center Bob Bassen was working the puck hard in the corner when defenseman Grant Ledyard took exception to Bassen’s crosschecks. Ledyard threw down his gloves and yelled, Â“You wanna go?Â” loud enough for the entire arena to hear. About a second later, Bassen dropped Ledyard with one punch that fractured Ledyard’s cheekbone. Then-Stars GM Bob Gainey on Bassen: Â“There is no gray in Bobbie Bassen, only black and white.Â” And Bassen, on being a devout Christian and yet vicious fighter: Â“There have been several warriors who fought for God throughout history. I don’t think it’s that strange.Â”
Â– Mike Heika, Dallas correspondent
An abnormal reading on Jiri Fischer’s electrocardiogram prompted the Red Wings to send the 22-year-old defenseman home for further testing during the middle of training camp in Traverse City, Mich., in 2002. Three days later, Fischer was back on the ice for practice in Detroit. Tests revealed his heart was slightly thicker than most, but doctors assured him it would have no affect on his career or his lifestyle. Â“There’s a little abnormality there but no big deal, nothing that will stop me from playing,Â” Fischer said. Â“I feel just as fine as ever. It’s good to know it’s not anything dangerous. I don’t think it’s going to get any worse. It’s nothing that will bother me in the future.Â” Three years later, on Nov. 21, 2005, Fischer had a seizure and went into cardiac arrest on the bench during a game against Nashville at Joe Louis Arena. A swift response by medical personnel saved his life, but his hockey career is likely over.
Â– Ansar Khan, Detroit correspondent
It was only training camp, but somebody forgot to tell ultra-competitive left winger Ryan Smyth and defenseman Jason Smith. They got into a wild fistfight two days into camp in 2002. Smith took exception after Smyth whacked him on the thumb during scrimmage. As Smith approached Smyth, Smyth slugged Smith in the mouth, opening an ugly cut on his upper lip. Teammates broke it up before SmithÂ– who’s nasty when he’s in a good mood Â– killed the first line winger. After getting cleaned up in the training room Smith returned to the scrimmage, still boiling mad. Coaches were smart enough not to put them on the ice at the same time, but Smith was threatening and cursing out Smyth over the boards. After the game, Smith went in for stitches and Smyth changed and ducked out the rink to avoid a dressing room scene. The next day, all was forgiven.
Â– Rob Tychkowski, Edmonton correspondent
They might be two of the hottest rookies in the NHL this season. Or they might spend the entire year in anonymity in the AHL. Meet Anze Kopitar and Patrick O’Sullivan, a pair of forwards expected to score a pile of goals in Los Angeles over the next decade or so.
Â– Rich Hammond, Los Angeles correspondent
Surely, this must be the most confident camp in Minnesota’s abbreviated NHL history, after an off-season that saw signings such as Pavol Demitra, Mark Parrish and Kim Johnsson. One less-than-Wild prediction would be to suggest the incoming players will help Marian Gaborik score 50 goals this season. A Wild prediction says he scores 60.
The Predators signed Stu Â‘The Grim Reaper’ Grimson prior to the 2001-02 season and it was a given that the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder would be the team’s new enforcer. But a 24-year-old rookie defenseman named Marc Moro thought differently, which is why he squared off with Grimson during a training camp scrimmage. One Grimson shot to the face bloodied Moro’s nose and settled any dominance issues between the teammates. Moro’s nickname was Â‘Mad Dog’, but it was clear Grimson was the Predators’ alpha male.
Â– John Glennon, Nashville correspondent
Phoenix hopes the NHL’s best comeback player comes down to a battle between two Coyotes: Jeremy Roenick, who had only nine goals last season, and Owen Nolan, who’s getting ready for his first NHL action since March of 2004.
Â– David Vest, Phoenix correspondent
The Blues decided to have their 2001 training camp in Alaska, which was fine until the events of 9/11 left them feeling very stranded and alone up there.
Â– Tom Timmermann, St. Louis correspondent
The Sharks have two No. 1 goalies, and only one crease. Vesa Toskala took over the starting spot from Evgeni Nabokov late last season and kept it throughout the playoffs. Plus, there’s Nolan Schaefer down on the farm, and he’s also proven to be NHL backup-ready, at the very least.
Â– Ross McKeon, San Jose correspondent
Being a smaller player, former Canucks center Cliff Ronning never felt secure at training camp, so he always tried to win the Â“scoring championshipÂ” during camp scrimmages. One year, the coaches forgot to post the stats in the hotel lobby, so Ronning, ever so helpful, recited the goal and assist total for all the significant players. He finished second that year, behind someone named Pavel Bure.
Â– Elliott Pap, Vancouver correspondent