Tampa Bay Lightning training camp, Day 1
While this is one of the most anticipated days of the year for hockey fans because the season is just around the corner, it’s a day that lacks a little excitement from a fan’s perspective (unless you like to watch hockey players skate in circles, no pucks in sight). “Structure” is the buzzword at John Tortorella’s training camp, and after seven years it runs like a well-oiled machine. Players arrive on schedule, doctors and nurses poke and prod on schedule, players hit the ice on schedule, equipment managers sharpen skates on schedule, and the scouts in attendance are first in line for the lunch buffet – right on schedule.
Observations from Day 1, which consists of physicals, a three-lap skating test and the obligatory photos/media interaction: It’s interesting to observe the different attitudes sprinkled throughout the locker room. The players definitely come in different categories, such as “happy-go-lucky” (Shane O’Brien, Andre Roy, Brad Lukowich are examples) and “intense and focused” (Vaclav Prospal, Brad Richards, Karl Stewart). Then there’s the newcomers looking for their place to fit in and trying to stay out of the way (Mike Lundin, David Schneider, Mathieu Darche, etc.).
The three-lap test is brutal, with players skating three laps around the rink as fast as possible six times each. The rest period in between is short and unforgiving, and there’s nowhere to hide if you didn’t work hard during the summer. As former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk pointed out while he watched from above, the test definitely favors those with a smooth stride.
“I needed a runway to make that turn around the net but Marty [St. Louis] makes it look effortless.” Andreychuk said after posing for his media guide photo as “Lightning Community Representative.” Andreychuk also said he enjoyed having Tortorella as a guest on the Lightning Hockey Night radio show Wednesday, because he finally had the chance to grill the coach about “Camp Torturella.”
“He told me he doesn’t even look at the players’ times from the skating tests,” Andreychuk said. “He said he learns all he needs to know about who worked hard during the summer by watching the players’ faces during the tests.”
If I had to choose a few standouts from the skating, Doug Janik, Prospal and Stewart come to mind. Janik had the gathered media buzzing about his performance, and Stewart seemed effortless and ready to go longer. Stewart also left other players behind during the body fat percentage tests. (Less than 5%, Karl? Are you kidding me? Don’t be afraid to eat a chicken wing now and then!).
After the laps the players headed upstairs for the obligatory headshots/paperwork/media interaction. The group charged with creating the video aspects of the Lightning’s new scoreboard – Tampa Digital Studios – took over most of the area with their huge green screen contraption for video headshots. These guys aren’t messing around.
Each player was paraded to five different stops (Sun Sports, media guide photos, etc) wearing the new Lightning RBK jerseys, and I’m of the opinion that the “modernized” logo looks better every day. I know some longtime fans probably didn’t want a change, but now that it’s happened I think it was a great move.
Missing from the festivities were Steve Stirling and Darren Rumble, who had to head to Virginia as they prepare for their first season behind the bench in Norfolk. Both have good reason to be pumped about the Lightning’s new affiliate and the prospects for success this season. With the likes of Darche, Lundin, Norm Milley, Matt Smaby, Bryce Lampman, Dan Jancevski, Jay Leach and Kyle Wanvig on the ice today, along with returning AHL All-Star Karri Ramo, they have good reasons to be confident.
Tonight the boys switch from skates to sneakers for the traditional 3-mile run at a local track (look for some results here tomorrow). There was some trash talking going on, so it should be interesting.