GREENBURGH, N.Y. – It will be a few days before pucks hit the ice at New York Rangers training camp.
The intensity, however, showed up right away.
Life is never easy under demanding coach John Tortorella, and that was clear Friday when camp kicked off. Forget about any grace period or easing into the season. If you didn’t train well or stay fit during the summer, everyone was going to know it during first-day sprints.
With sticks in hand but no pucks, players skated in groups—doing an endurance test of three hard laps six times. Most got through it fine, to the delight of Tortorella, who isn’t outwardly easy to please.
“That’s a shift, a 40-second skate,” he said of the drill. “As you go through these couple of days, you can tell who has done their work. I have made it specific to the group that that lets us know what type of situation you have with the hockey club, what you’re looking to do to make this hockey team or to stay within a position of the hockey club. You can tell pretty quickly the guys that have done their work.
“I can see in this camp already and in the prior camps, the guys have done their work. I don’t end up worrying too much about that.”
That is a good thing, because there will be plenty else for Tortorella to be concerned about. First off is getting Marian Gaborik back on track to his 40-goal form. Playmaking centre Brad Richards has been reunited with his former coach, leaving Dallas for a nine-year, US$60 million deal with the Rangers. He will be in the middle of a line that has Gaborik on the right side and an opening on the left.
Auditions will be held to see who earns the right to be on the left of what could be a potent trio.
Gaborik was one of three players who didn’t take part in Friday’s test. The star forward was en route back to New York from Slovakia, where he attended a memorial for Pavol Demitra, a former NHL all-star among those killed in the Russian plane crash that decimated the Lokomtiv Yaroslavl KHL team.
It has been a particularly sad few months for Gaborik, who was close with Demitra as well as former Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard, who also died during the off-season.
“I’ve talked to Gabby right on through this,” Tortorella said. “It’s been a tough summer for hockey in general. It’s been hard for a lot of people. We have talked right from the get-go when these things have happened and continue to have a conversation. He’ll be OK.”
However, Tortorella acknowledged that the absence of Boogaard was felt as this camp opened.
“He’s a teammate,” he said. “You have your thoughts about it. You mourn, you grieve, but you also eventually have to move along with your life and get about your business also—never forgetting but also trying to conduct yourself each day.”
Once Gaborik returns to action, he will also be subjected to the endurance test his teammates have already put behind them.
Richards didn’t love doing it again now that he is back with Tortorella, his coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning when the club won the Stanley Cup in 2004. Newcomer Mike Rupp, another free-agent acquisition who came to New York after a stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins, was happy to get past it, as well.
“Well, I made it,” said Rupp, who agreed to a three-year, US$4.5 million deal with the Rangers. “It feels good to have it over with. I’ve heard things about it far before I signed a contract with New York. I played with guys who’ve experienced it and it lived up to expectations. It was difficult.
“It’s a way that, you know guys are going to be coming in and they’re going to be accountable, what they do with themselves in the summer, and it’s a great way to start the year with everybody in shape. And I think this is a good indicator that guys have been training hard.”
The struggles with the test weren’t limited to the new arrivals. Recently installed Rangers captain Ryan Callahan felt the effects, too.
“It’s a hard test no matter how much you prepare for it, or how good a shape you’re in,” Callahan said. “You know coming in what to expect, I guess, in your second or third year, but the test doesn’t get easier.”
Forward Artem Anisimov and defenceman Michael Sauer didn’t make it onto the ice because of medical issues. Anisimov was sent for an MRI on a knee after something was detected during his physical. Sauer was bothered by tendinitis in his right knee, and was sidelined for precautionary reasons Friday, Tortorella said.
Neither injury appears to be a major problem, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a bit worrisome—Sauer’s in particular.
“Whenever anybody is out and it’s been lingering a little bit, it’s a concern,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think it’s anything serious, but we just want to get that tendinitis and we just want to get him skating again.
“It is a concern because he has missed a day.”