BY MURRAY PAM
OTTAWA – It’s the end of June; hot and humid. So what to do on a summer day like this? Take in the Ottawa Senators’ Development Camp, of course.
The weeklong camp, organized by Randy Lee, the Senators’ director of player development, consists of four to five hours per day of off- and on-ice training. The goal of the camp is to allow the Sens’ organizational staff to assess the level of conditioning of the players and to design specific off-season training programs for them.
Players are put through a battery of medical and mental tests and receive advice on how to deal with the “hungry” media. And speaking of “hungry,” a healthy cooking and eating class is also taught.
Nutrition is important and learning to eat healthy away from home can be hard. The Senators take pride in being one of the best-conditioned teams in the league and this message is conveyed to their youngsters from Day 1.
The players who attended the camp include current Sens Cody Bass, Nick Foligno and Brian Lee. Potential backup goaltender Brian Elliott was also in camp. Other players from Binghamton included Ilya Zubov, Alexander Nikulin, Derek Smith, Shawn Weller, Mattias Karlsson and Tomas Kudelka. For Karlsson and Kudelka, this camp is especially important, as both had sub-par seasons and spent part of this year playing for Elmira in the East Coast League.
Six of the Senators’ seven selections from the 2008 Entry Draft were in attendance, including No. 1 pick Erik Karlsson, Andre Petersson and Patrick Wiercioch. Ottawa’s first pick in ‘07 Jim O’Brien, who played this season for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western League, participated in his first development camp. O’Brien missed last summer’s camp due to shoulder surgery.
Several undrafted players and college free agents were also invited. Goalies Justin Pagliero of Niagara University and Quebec Remparts all-star goalie Kevin Desfosses were among the invitees.
After a two-hour workout in the gym at ScotiaBank Place, the 30 players hiked a couple of minutes down the road to the Bell Sensplex, where they were separated into three groups.
On one surface, instructors from the Toronto-based SK8ON Hockey School put the young Sens through the paces while working on their puckhandling skills. Head instructor Marcin Snita taught players innovative drills, most of which included stickhandling with rubber balls instead of pucks.
On another surface, an hour of power skating drills was on the agenda. Power skating coach Marc Power, Guelph Gryphon head coach Shawn Camp and Binghamton head coach Cory Clouston led the contingent. Players were put through several agility drills, most of which dealt with balancing and pushing off on one leg. One drill that proved challenging for most players was a game of catch, with a twist. Players had to toss a basketball back and forth, while having only one skate on the ice.
Karlsson, the Senators’ latest first round pick, thought the experience was “very inspiring.” His first development camp gave him a glimpse of what it takes to be a big leaguer.
“Hockey schools in Sweden are not exactly like this,” Karlsson said. “Actually I have never done anything quite like it.”
Ottawa’s second round selection, Patrick Wiercioch, will take what he learned to the University of Wisconsin in the fall.
“The staff try to give you hints on what to work on in the summer,” he said. “They try to make everything that you do here something that you can do on your own.”
Wiercioch had the opportunity to speak with current Sens Bass and Foligno. Their advice to Wiercioch was to “keep working, keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, unless you have a valid question, of course.”
The third group – the goalies – was treated to an hour and a half of drills. Elliott, Pagliero and Desfosses were given one-on-one tutelage by Senators goalie coach Eli Wilson.
This was Elliott’s first opportunity to give his injured right knee a real test. Elliott ended this season on a sour note with an MCL sprain.
“There was a lot of stress placed on the knee,” Elliott said. “Especially with being on the ice three hours and in the weight room for two hours a day. It held up pretty well all week.”
Although Elliott would like to start the season in Ottawa, GM Bryan Murray feels he would be better served by playing “30 games in a row in Bingo.” Elliott’s goal is to “make the hockey club.” However, he knows the only thing he has control over is to be ready when the club beckons.
After two hours of on-ice drills the players were still not finished. They were given a half-hour vision session. This test consisted of viewing a series of flashing lights that contained numerical sequences. Players then had to repeat the sequences out loud. This was done to test their peripheral vision and teaches them to see the ice and recognize their teammates.
Finally it was back to ScotiaBank Place where they ended their day with a relaxing massage.
Murray Pam has covered the Senators since 2006 and currently follows the club for THN.com. He is a regular contributor to thehockeynews.tv’s From The Scrum and for THN magazine. His background has included performing play-by-play and color for the Ottawa 67’s and co-producing a weekly sports show at CKCU-FM. You can read his THN.com Senators Blog HERE.