RALEIGH, N.C. – Day two of Carolina Hurricanes training camp was a hockey enthusiast’s dream to take in and included fast skating, tape-to-tape passing, loud calls for the puck, big checks and punches thrown.
For the approximately 100-plus spectators, media and team personnel on hand who huddled into the cozy confines of Raleigh Center Ice, the team’s practice facility, they couldn’t have asked for a more lively combination of practice and game-like intensity to witness on a Friday morning.
With the ice getting shredded by 48 bodies less a few – Sergey Tolchinsky (lower body), Nathan Gerbe (personal reasons), Ron Hainsey (arriving Saturday) – pounding on it with Ginsu-knife- sharpened blades for just under three hours, there was much to take in as the speed and tempo was high from the time everyone stepped onto the smooth surface at 9 a.m.
Behind the scenes, the dressing room which is outfitted for one team had doubled in occupancy as additional stalls were brought in and provided half the space for everyone to move around in.
At some point, all of these guys, new and returning, young and old, were going to get to know each other really well and collide, knowingly or not.
In actuality, the heads-up nature of navigating through the dressing room was probably a great warm-up for what transpired on the ice as head coach Kirk Muller held a scrimmage in-between practice sessions pitting Team Eric Staal (White) and Team Jordan Staal (Red) against one another.
“Very pleased,” Muller said while describing his thoughts on the day from start to finish.
“The competitive level was great. Like we said from the dinner the other night, we said that there was jobs available and want them to go out and compete. The season starts yesterday and not Oct. 4th.”
The smile on Muller’s face was indicative of seeing the results of his message getting across to the players that they would really have to work to take the steps necessary to eventually earn a spot on this year’s team.
“I was quite happy because I think a lot of guys got the message, but there were a few guys surprised with the pace today that need to get caught up and be aware,” Muller continued.
“‘Cause there’s a lot of guys that got the message and were battlin’ today.”
Muller said he’d attended camps as player where the players were told ‘hey, there’s no fighting – just play,’ but that’s not a place where the Hurricanes are at right now.
“Hey, you know what, that’s great if you’re play’s at a certain level, but for me and the staff, we just said we didn’t make the playoffs last year, we’ve gotta’ be a more competitive group.”
Competitive is what Muller and everyone got as the scrimmage that took place started hot and got hotter.
The game was highlighted with only a few goals scored as Zac Dalpe scored first on a pass from Jordan Staal to put Red ahead before Drayson Bowman’s solo effort eventually netted the equalizer to end it all in a draw.
Scoring aside, the highlights of the camp’s first scrimmage included many significant hits and two fights between incoming free agents and Hurricanes system players.
Nicolas Blanchard, Jared Staal and Brendan Woods, who had all played with Carolina’s AHL affiliate club, the Charlotte Checkers at some point last season, all kept their feet moving and finished checks on many plays.
As a result, both Blanchard and Woods ended up tussling with two new free agent defensemen in Mike Komisarek and Matt Corrente respectively.
Both scraps came about as the pace of play was hitting a peak and the resultant melees helped to diffuse some of the tension accordingly.
After a play ended around the crease, Komisarek and Blanchard pushed each other a few times until they both dropped the gloves and threw about five punches a piece, the veteran D-man solidly connecting on one while Blanchard glanced a good blow off Komisarek’s helmet.
“Trying to get a spot on the forward line,” Blanchard said afterwards.
“Trying to be physical, that’s my game. I wasn’t looking for a fight today. I was just looking to play hard every shift. Things happen, you know. Komi’s playing hard every shift too, so after a battle in front of the net, we took care of ourselves and after the fight was over, I told him ‘good job’ and kept playing hard and tried to win the game.”
Shortly after Komisarek and Blanchard were broken apart, play continued until the second matchup of the day took place between Corrente and Woods as a result of a hard hit that Woods put on forward Jiri Tlusty about a minute earlier.
Woods used his sizeable 6-foot-three-inch frame and put all of his 215 pounds behind a check that pinched forward Jiri Tlusty along the boards while putting him in the air enough to see him land hard and parallel to the ice.
As Tlusty rose to his skates, he was noticeably shaken from the hit, not able to skate easily to the bench, so play was stopped to allow him to step off the ice and to head to the dressing room to get checked out.
“It’s usually a reaction to the situation that’s going on in the game,” Corrente said of his tussle with Woods.
I thought it was a questionable hit on Tlusty. I hope he’s okay, but he (Woods) was on the ice and he was there, so I just let him know that he can’t be doing that.”
Muller later indicated that he thought Tlusty seemed fine and would be ready to go on Saturday.
“I think everyone was really eager to get in there and start competing and battling and getting into that game environment and game situation,” Komisarek said.
“The scrimmage definitely brought out that intensity. It was a good second day.”