Friday, September 24, 2010

Post-9/24 AM practice thoughts

With the Dark Blue Toddler in tow, I headed down to Nationwide Arena to witness my first-ever Columbus Blue Jackets practice with the little guy...only my second practice ever, I believe.  I'm much more of a TV/internet fan of the club than an in-person fan, largely due to familial and work/family constraints, so it's interesting to see the machinations of the Columbus Blue Jackets system on full display with no filters applied beyond the glass that separates us from the ice.  I'd love to do it more often...hope to do so in the future.

Attending a practice in person only reemphasizes how much I have to learn about the game I enjoy so much.  With drills running almost constantly at both ends of the ice, and occasional specialty drills at center ice, there's so much going on that you really don't have a means to drink all the water coming out of the visual fire hydrant.  So you drink in what you can, pray you didn't miss anything big, and enjoy the experience.  Or at least I did, while not chasing my son up and down the stairs.

I only caught the on-ice practice for the last 45 minutes of the team that will play tonight, with barely enough of the balance of the squad to count as seeing them in-person.  Chasing the Toddler around the arena means that no photos will accompany this post.

Howson has assembled a tall roster, but I don't know as any are taller than Tommy Sestito.  Just saying...

Word is that a big round of cuts are coming on Sunday.  I daresay that the younger/AHLer Blue Jackets were starting to feel it.  Sure, they must've been tired, but I also saw a few strained faces today.  It should come as no surprise that the guys who stayed late after practice to work on their games were Tomas Kubalik, Dalton Prout, Jonathon Sigalet and Chad Kolarik.  All four of these guys probably don't have a shot at the CBJ roster coming out of camp, so you start to wonder if they hung around just to enjoy their time on the big-time arena ice.  I have a feeling that the experience is pretty magical to them, and they're likely to head back to the minors/juniors in not too long.

The few fans in attendance (maybe 10 all told) were positioned between sections 113-116, facing the benches, while the CBJ staff and media types were on the other side of the ice.  It was an interesting collection over there, with few other than Fox Sports Ohio's John Michael paying close attention.

You can't call the squad I saw the "B" team because they had 2009-2010 first liners Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius, as well as recovering top defenseman Rusty Klesla, out there on the ice among other vets.

Interestingly, the most crisp of the veterans on my side of the ice was Chris Clark.  While the young prospects were looking a tad stressed, Clark looked focussed.  I didn't see him talk to too many players while drills were going on, but he was definitely dialed in.  (I noted that Ethan Moreau was on the other end...kinda wished I could see him and his interactions with his new teammates.  The notion of "instant locker room sandpaper" is intriguing.)

Kristian Huselius has an uncanny knack of hitting the bar.  A lot.

From a young player perspective, Chad Kolarik stuck out to me.  He was hustling on his drills, and his shots hit the back of the net on a pretty frequent basis.

Jonathon Sigalet was also working hard.  I believe I saw him on a footwork drill and, as opposed to the teammate with whom he swapped spots, he had the footwork down cold but lacked the puck control while in motion that I presume defensemen need to scoop up pucks that are coming their way and dish them off in short order.  Sigalet's 24 years old - hitting that "step up or move aside" point in his career - and needs to bear down in Springfield if he has any hopes of making the CBJ roster on a long-term basis.

Here's Dalton Prout doing the same drill at center ice, video courtesy of En4cer45:

(Sigalet did notice the Toddler and me up in the stands after practice, though, and shot a practice puck up into our row.  Luckily, there were some other fans in the stands to tell me that - as I was chasing the little man at the time!  TheDark Blue Toddler loves his puck, proudly parading around the house with it an declaring "Hockey!  Hockey!")

From a hockey perspective, the other "player" who caught my eye was new assistant coach Dan Hinote.  I now know that Hinote was a forward in his recently-concluded playing career, but he was more than holding his own out there as a faux-defenseman.  And he had a grin from ear to ear going throughout the whole practice.  I bet he's just loving training camp, now that he knows his job isn't in jeopardy.

In between the first group and second group, DBT and I wandered a little.  (More like he wandered and I followed, actually.)  Wouldn't you know, coming straight at us on the concourse was strength coach Kevin Collins and the entire second group doing pre-practice stretching exercises.  A strange feeling, seeing Nash, Voracek, Brassard, Filatov, Boll and - yes, my MVP - Tyutin in t-shirts and shorts doing their dry-land routine.  With no imposing uniforms and no obscuring helmets, one really gets a feel for how - ummm - normal the players are.  (And how much hair gel they use.)  Oh, that Ryan Johansen?  He's really tall, too.

Lastly, I caught about 30 seconds of Steve Mason and [?] MacChesney getting started with their solo practice with goaltending consultant Dave Rook and Brad Larsen, the new assistant in Springfield.  Sadly, the Dark Blue Toddler was cold and/or his once-receding illness was flaring up, and he started screeching to the point that it was distracting Mase.  So we had to bail lest the very kind ushers toss us out.  (Open offer to the CBJ: My son comes cheap, and he'll put any NHL goalie on edge after about 45 minutes.  Good for 3-4 goals a game, I'm guessing!)

Anyhoo, the morning turned out to be a very pleasant experience and a great way to expose my son to his first live hockey.  The most profound takeaway today was the almost palpable sense of desperation from the marginal young players to do something, show something to the coaches to keep them around for a little more time - while not doing something stupid and showboating.  Lots of tension from the young lads, and that's something that I can appreciate on a human level.  You can't help but root for these guys.  (Especially Jonathan Sigalet.  He blasted a puck to my son, for crying out loud...)

Hope to get back to the rink soon.  A rather fun experience, all told.  Can't wait for the real season to start!

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