RALEIGH, N.C. – It was the end of the week, but that didn’t mean that the handfuls of Carolina Hurricanes players participating in an informal skate session at Raleigh Center Ice weren’t going to leave it all out on the ice.
A good-sized group has already ventured back to the area to skate regularly together at this time of the offseason, and made for more interesting watching amongst the dozen or so people in attendance on Friday.
Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Cam Ward, Jay Harrison, Tim Gleason, Pat Dwyer, Kevin Westgarth, Zach Boychuk, Ryan Murphy, Zac Dalpe, Nicolas Blanchard, as well as a few other pros including former ‘Canes forward Jon Matsumoto (Florida), goalkeeper Jeff Zatkoff (Pittsburgh), and even the retired Bates Battaglia were all part of the bunch who made the ice tech work harder to smooth the ice afterwards.
It was the highest intensity skate seen to date that included passing and shooting drills, a highly-contested scrimmage, and concluded with multiple end-to-end stride skates that had all players slightly hunched over in between sets.
“You try to improve yourself,” Tlusty said afterwards.
“This year’s a new challenge. I had a good season last season, and I am going to try to be better than I was last year.”
The improvement that Tlusty feels he needs to make is to become more consistent in his output and focus throughout a game.
“It’s always playing on the high level every single game, every single shift,” he continued.
“You never can go lower, that’s the big key. We can always learn, and that’s what I’m trying to do this year. It’s 82 games – it’s not 48 – and it’s gonna’ be a longer season so you need to be on pace every single game, on a high-level game.”
As many of players have been skating, at a minimum, a few times a week since early June and working out in the weight room, the offseason has also provided for time to recover from injuries as well.
“The summer was pretty good in terms of health,” defenseman Jay Harrison said.
“Going into the summer, there’s always a phase of getting healthier and then towards getting better. There wasn’t a huge period needed to recover from last year, so it allowed me to progress at a pretty good pace. Going into my 30s and being one of the older guys on this team, training doesn’t serve the same function as it used to. You gotta’ limit the risks in the weight room to ensure that there aren’t any setbacks. With that being said, I feel quite good and on track.”
Though Harrison’s offseason training may have focused on some different areas compared to the team’s younger players, the speed and enthusiasm he played with during the team’s scrimmage on that day was on pace with his younger counterparts like Murphy and Dalpe.
Working out in Waterloo, Ontario, Dalpe has been on the ice regularly with a group he’s skated with for years while putting in a lot of time in the weight room and putting on some more weight.
“In the past I’ve come in at 190 to 191 (pounds), I’m at 195 right now,” Dalpe said.
“I’ve just been training and worked on some power skating stuff to push it (intensity) up a little bit. You gotta’ believe in what you do and I feel like I know what I can bring. It’s been good and I’m excited that I’m down here early. I’m ready to make the team.”
With many familiar and new faces getting ready to begin training camp in mid-September, the high compete level that each player is focusing to work at will definitely provide for a highly motivated group headed into the upcoming NHL season.
“I think if it wasn’t a competitive camp every year, I think we’d be in trouble,” Dalpe said.
“It’s gonna’ be competitive for every guy. The big guys that are here, the key players are here to play their role, but it’s still competitive. We all are competitive players and we all want to play. We want to play full-time and I want to play for the team. It should be interesting for sure.”
Harrison highlighted the benefits that a highly contested camp will provide for a team like the Hurricanes that now possesses the personnel, potential, and best chance it’s had in a quite a while to embark on a winning season.
“That’s an important element of any training camp for any team at any level,” Harrison said.
“The fact that we have so many able bodies, guys who are competitive for positions is going to raise that level. I think that’s going to raise that intensity. That competition is going to drive our camaraderie. It’s going to drive our goals higher and I think it’s going to bring us together as a team, and make us a tighter-knit group because of the battles that we’ll share at this time of year.”
The intensity of play will continue to rise as the current group of players continues to work out at RCI and with the expectation that more of the team’s regulars will show up soon.
If they don’t, they’ll have a lot of catching up to do as it seems that according to those in attendance now, this is definitely a different season to prepare for than others in the recent past.
One in which they will all have to earn their spots, or lose them accordingly to much hungrier and better prepared teammates.