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'Canes open camp, look to rediscover Stanley Cup swagger of '06

"We're back, and it's, 'Game on,"' winger Justin Williams said Friday.

Ever since team captain Rod Brind'Amour scored the final goal of an otherwise sour season last April, Carolina has had plenty of time to come to terms with its unwanted place in history. The 2006-07 Hurricanes were just the third team in the NHL's modern era to go from Cup champs to playoff no-shows.

"We don't want to be peaking yet, but it's in the backs of our minds that it's all business here," Brind'Amour said.

Missing the playoffs generated a summer's worth of fuel for everyone in the organization - from players who fed off the frustration during off-season workouts to front-office executives who re-signed several key players facing some form of free agency and re-acquired third-line centre Matt Cullen, a key member of the team that won the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

"The biggest change is that there's kind of a renewed hunger in here," said Cullen, who played last season with the New York Rangers. "You can tell guys are very well-prepared and focused for this season. Last year was a disappointment, so you can feel kind of a renewed dedication to getting back to where we were."

The Hurricanes started training camp by naming centre Eric Staal and winger Ray Whitney as alternate captains for road games. Stillman and defenceman Glen Wesley will remain the alternate captains at home. All know the Hurricanes won't become Cup contenders again after just one practice.

"It takes a little time to get that speed up, the thinking, hands," Brind'Amour said. "The conditioning might be there, because you've worked at it, but it's a little bit different when you're moving at high speeds to move the puck and do the little things. That's what takes a little time."

The Hurricanes who reported to camp Friday make for a healthier team than a year ago, when the quick turnaround that always accompanies a deep playoff run took a toll. Several key players - including forward Cory Stillman and defenceman Frantisek Kaberle - missed the start of laat year's camp while recovering from various surgeries.

This season, Carolina starts camp without any serious, lingering injury concerns.

"That's the good thing about not having a very good season - we've had a lot of time to rest, both physically and mentally," Brind'Amour said. "No excuses coming into this season whatsoever."


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