As promised, I made the trip downtown today for the final day of the Jackets' development camp, and the "McConnell Cup" tournament. (And then I went to a series of cookouts, which is why this post is...ah...about 7 hours late.)
First off, I salute you, my fellow Jackets fans. The Army of the Ohio was out in force, packing the Ice Haus on a July 4th morning. Anyone who says this isn't a hockey town should have seen the practice rink filled near to full today for a prospect camp! It's clear that the fans are still engaged with this team, and still have faith in the young talent that they're putting together.
And to their credit, that talent gave the crowd quite a show today. A few thoughts, pictures, and more below the jump.
Despite reports that the camp session would open with the tournament, the coaches directing the camp this morning (Hinote, Wright, and Berry, with Collins and Rook occasionally taking players aside) began with a series of drills to get everyone's feet moving. Already, the changes in the program were obvious in the Arniel era. Where previous camp drills under Ken Hitchcock tended to focus on defensive moves, breakouts, and D trying to contain forwards entering or leaving zones, this morning was a lot of work between d and forwards moving the puck up ice quickly, making passes, and controlling the puck as players moved between zones. I would expect quite a bit more of this going into training camp in September - I'm sure the team will continue defensive drills, but I suspect that the focus will clearly shift to more speed and puck possession, and I don't think it's a coincidence those were the last drills run before playing scrimmages.
(Ryan Johansen & Matt Calvert in one of the aforementioned passing drills)
Another interesting change was that new Strength & Conditioning coach Kevin Collins was actively using the remote heart monitors that we heard about a few days ago in both drills and the scrimmage games. They're serious about tracking information on the players at all times during practices. This week is also the first time I can honestly remember seeing the strength & conditioning coach on the ice during prospect camp.
During the final instructions for the scrimmage games, Coach Berry repeated "NO. FIGHTING!" several times loud enough to be clearly heard all the way into the back rows of the stands. There was a focus on competition and playing hard, but it was clear that sticks were to be kept under control and players were to keep their tempers...even then, I won't say that players didn't listen to him, but there were certainly a few hard checks, thrown elbows, and a couple pushing matches on the ice during the scrimmage games. These guys wanted to win, and they didn't want to back down to anyone.
John Moore had several impressive shifts in the drills and scrimmages, but I think his game was hurt a bit by having to play in zones that were about 1/4 the size of normal. On several occasions, a powerful shot that would normally generate a rebound opportunity suddenly generated a rush back up the shortened ice surface for the opposing team. On the other hand, he also showed some great skating and made some excellent passes, and he scored a couple of goals with shots that seemed to leap from his stick directly into the net. He's visibly bigger from last year.
Keep an ear out for the name Oliver Gabriel. Gabriel was a camp invite from the Portland Winterhawks - the same team Ryan Johansen was drafted from in the WHL. Gabriel had a couple of really nice goals during the scrimmages for Team Collins, but also was willing to get into the crease and make several nice defensive plays, including one slide across the crease to block a full power slapshot from Teddy Ruth when goalie Chris Rawlings was caught out of position.
Trent Vogelhuber seemed to be in high spirits during drills and games, and frequently went over to talk to some of the other players after plays. I can't say his play stood out to me, good or bad, but I really liked seeing him engage with everyone on the ice. He's had too many of these camps where he had to remain on the bench or just do conditioning skates. Glad to see he could get out and have some fun.
Mathieu Corbeil is BIG. You read about him being 6'6", but you don't quite realize how much space that takes away until you see him playing. I took a friend who's a recent hockey convert, and he was really impressed by Corbeil's ability to fill the net with his body and deny shots.
The format of the round robin for the McConnell Cup tournament, with two games held on the ice at a time, was fantastic for fans, but pure frustration to try to follow with a critical eye. My attention was drawn back and forth by plays constantly, and I threw any hope of coherent notes out the window.
The playing surface for each game was basically the offensive or defensive zone of the rink, from boards to blue line, with the middle of the ice used as the "benches" for each team. Not many penalties were called, but the few that were blatant enough to get a whistle were awarded penalty shots rather than trying to keep a player off the ice for the short games.
Best play of the scrimmage round was Matt Calvert performing a behind the back pass to himself which he coverted into a goal. Pretty much anyone watching that half of the ice took a moment to go "Whoa!" and applaud that bit of insane stick handling. It was basically an NBA jam sort of move, and I wish I'd had a video camera with me.
Team Wright started poorly with several losses - Camp Invitee goaltender Chris Rawlings was a bit shaky early - but they settled down and turned on their jets, and it became clear that Tyler Wright built his team for speed. Ryan Johansen frequently lead dashes across the ice, peppering goaltenders with shots or quick give and go plays that tore up defenders who were often caught out of position. They clearly got more comfortable as the round robin went on.
Team Wright, despite their speed, needed a rubber match against Team Hinote to advance into the semi-final games, but delivered admirably.
With their victory, the rink was reconfigured, going from a half rink to a 2/3 rink, with one goal in the conventional crease, and the other positioned at the far blue line. Both teams put their "benches" just past the end of the "zone", with skaters coming in and out from the blue line on changes.
Next, Team Collins would face off against Team Berry. Both teams had a good bit of skill, and Petr Straka and Matt Calvert both showing a good bit of skill play, but it was Gustaf Wesslau who stood out for Team Berry - his rebound control, even on the short surface, was quite good, and he made a couple of very nice saves, including a highlight reel stop on a breakaway by Oliver Gabriel. After a flurry of back and forth goals around the end of the first period, Wesslau would slam the door shut after changing ends of the ice, and lead Team Berry into the final.
Team Rook and Team Wright faced off for the other semi-final match, and though Team Rook made a good game of it, Ouellette seemed to have difficulty dealing with the speedy attack from Team Wright, while Allen York kept cool and held up his end of the ice. Despite going in as the #1 seed after winning all four of their round robin matches, Team Rook made a relatively quiet exit, setting up Team Wright and Team Berry for the final.
Both Team Wright and Team Berry featured skill, speed, and grit. Some of those thrown elbows I mentioned? Those were from Ryan Johansen on Matt Calvert as they fought around the boards during this game. That pushing and shoving? Trent Vogelhuber and Teddy Ruth along the blue line after a goal. Both teams would score two goals in regulation, and we were off to a "sudden death" shootout.
Matt Calvert would shoot for Team Berry, and scored five hole on York.
Johansen would shoot for Team Wright, and Wesslau would make a nice blocker save, sealing the win.
After a brief celebration around the crease, Michael Kantor would skate over to coach Berry and ask "Hey, where's the cup?" Apparently he was the de-facto captain, as he would take the cup from the equipment staff once it was brought out, and proceeded to hoist it up and take a victory lap to the cheers and applause of the crowd.
After each of the Team Berry skaters took their lap with the cup (yes, that's a Turkey on top. No, I don't have any idea why), they slid into center ice and posed for the crowd as if setting up a Stanley Cup photo, and Tyler Wright obliged as the crowd took pictures from the stand, setting up his stick and a glove as a "camera" while they posed.
Good to see they're taking this as seriously as it deserves. :)
Following the end of the tournament, the players took part in one final set of shootouts, with the five invited goalies trading off in the nets periodically, and each player taking a circuit around the ice, getting the puck at center ice, shooting in one end, going back to center ice, shooting at the other end, and returning to the bench until all had finished, and they returned to the locker room.
If I had to take anything serious from this camp, I have to say that I got the impression that all of the players and coaches were having fun. It's been a long week, this was a great opportunity to let off some steam, and everyone seemed to have a good time. For more pictures from the camp, feel free to check out my Flickr set here.
Edit: Thanks to the magic of Twitter, here are two more excellent sets of photos from this year's camp from local photographers Michael Haynes and Gary Hise, both of whom are much better hands with a camera than I am.
A few tidbits to round out your July 4th weekend.
- D-man Cody Goloubef missed the final day of camp with an ankle injury, but should be OK to play in the fall. Nothing broken, according to the Dispatch.
- Another camp invitee who had a good day was Center Tyler Murovich. He's signed on an AHL deal with Springfield after playing with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. He played in 5 games with Syracuse after finishing his OHL career and had 2 G, 4 A and a +1 rating.
- Reports tonight say that rumored head coaching candidate Bob Boughner, the head coach of the Windsor Spitfires, will be named as the final assistant head coach for the Jackets on Monday. The story was broken by the blog It's Always Sunny in Detroit over Twitter, picked up by Dark Blue Jacket, and finally confirmed by the Dispatch. This is a huge hire for the Jackets, and a big surprise - after winning back to back Memorial Cups as head coach of the Spits, Boughner could have easily sat back and continued to dominate the OHL, but this move gives the Jackets a staff with a ton of NHL experience (an average of 500 NHL games each between Arniel, Berry, Boughner, and Hinote), and a great deal of experience developing younger players and getting the best out of them.