Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Observation from practice

For the first time in way too long, the Dark Blue Toddler and I ventured down this morning to Nationwide Arena to check in on the Columbus Blue Jackets' open practice in anticipation of tomorrow's tilt with the streaking (7-1-2 in their last 10 - Yow!) Los Angeles Kings.

When reached for comment about practice,
the Dark Blue Toddler stopped on the stairs to say,
"Up! Up! UP! Down! Down! DOWN! Hockey! Boom!"
The visit was punctuated by a pre-practice breakfast with DBT at the Arena District's Sunny Street Cafe on Nationwide Boulevard, where we redeemed a Groupon and he gnawed on perhaps the largest "dinosaur" pancake that I've ever seen.  (They apprently pour the batter into a 8-inch long dinosaur mold, kinda like a cookie cutter for pancakes.)  Of course, the DBT is the discriminating type, so he ate my home fries instead.  At least I got coffee.  And Sunny Street is a great way to kick off your CBJ practice morning.  Nice folks, fast service.

As for practice, I got pretty much what I've come to expect with the little man.  DBT runs the stairs and the rows nonstop (only stopping to tell me what row letter I've parked in to monitor him while he tears around sections 114 and 115), and I get about 15 minutes of actual observation during a one-hour practice.

Most notable from practice was who was NOT out there: Steve Mason.  We now know that Mase has bronchitis and a "minor" pulled groin (how such a muscle pull can be "minor" is beyond me).  With that, and no goalie callup from Springfield, we were treated to the CBJ equipment manager in net.  I think I got a taste of what the diminutive Darren Pang would have looked like between the pipes for the Blue Jackets.  Actually, the guy did OK considering they weren't pushing him too hard out there.

The drills were pretty standard.  There were two lines of special teams in play, and I daresay that the penalty killers looked a tad sharper than the power players.  The other significant drill was the fast-break outlet pass drill that I recall from the fall.  Yeah, Arniel's still working on that - which is telling.  Interesting from that drill was that the forwards were occasionally making the outlet passes, something I don't recall from prior practices.  Whatever it takes to get the puck up the ice, I suppose.

The final drill - if you want to call it that - was the blue line to blue line speed drill where the entire team (including assistant coaches, a cool gesture) skates a few laps and then collapses back to center ice for cool-down stretching.  DBT was pretty much uninterested with the special teams and breakout drills (the stairs were much more enticing), but the entire team speeding around in circles had him totally stopped in his tracks.  And smiling.

The on-ice attitude of the players and coaches was decidedly positive and loose.  You can tell that this team has won a lot more than they've lost recently (8-3-2 since January 14).  Confidence is a funny thing with this young-ish team, sometimes hard to find when the chips are down, but a pleasure to witness when it's present.

The element of practice that left perhaps the biggest impression was the (voluntary?) post-practice ice time and drills.  Assistants Dan Hinote and Brad Berry stayed out on the ice and worked with maybe 8-10 players.  The players who hung out afterwards were largely 3rd-4th liners and youngsters - Murray, Moreau, Mackenzie, Clitsome, Moore, Russell and Brassard immediately come to mind.  From my sporadic drop-ins during practice in training camp and the regular season, I cannot recall as many players continuing their workout after practice officially ended.  This speaks volumes to me about the cultural shift that's taken place with this team.  The younger guys are pushing the vets, the marginal roster players are desperate to improve and show off a little for the coaches - and the whole team improves as a result.  I detected a healthy desire out of this team that I haven't seen so much before.  Much less passive, much more engaged.

Perhaps the best demonstration of that desire came from Matt Calvert, who also worked out after practice. After the other forwards hit the locker room, after the reporters went downstairs to get their obligatory quotes and comments, Calvert was out there, taking countless feeder pucks from Hinote in the slot and driving them into the back of the net.  Pass, shoot, goal.  Pass, shoot, goal.  I couldn't help but admire Calvert's determination to improve.  The repetition made me recall Indiana basketball deity Larry Bird, who was legendary for putting in two hours of free throw practice in every day before school as a child.  It's pretty clear to me that Calvert's success may be in part related to his skill, but largely related to his work ethic and drive.  Give me more of this type of kid, and I'll show you a special hockey club.

Good stuff today.  Let's hope that the good vibes translate into a determined team tomorrow night - the CBJ still have less than a 10% chance to make the playoffs (darned 3-point games!), and the Kings are most certainly no slouches.

1 comment:

  1. I was at practice too (we got to talk for a bit about DBT and my nephew). DBT's favorite row seemed to have been H since I recall him yelling that letter out the most. Hopefully you two can make it out for more practices.

    I was also impressed by the number of players who stayed afterwards for drills. Some other names to mention are Boll, Voracek, and Huselius.

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