Training Camp day one has come to a close, and I’m left with a lot of conflicting emotions and ideas, and a lot to think about as we approach the start of a new hockey season. Last season was, of course, an incredible disappointment and very painful to watch at times. There’s plenty of unknowns heading into this season, lots of things we as fans can worry about, get angry about, and full on dread. Or we can choose to find the fun, enjoy the sport and team we love, and look for the bright spots and positivity (no matter how hard it may be to find sometimes). I do not claim it’s going to be easy, but I’m deciding right now that I’m going to focus on the fun and try my best to enjoy the sport and team I love. With that in mind, it’s my goal to share with you more of the fun, lighthearted, and even comical things that happen in camp. We’ll talk about important and serious things as well, but I think we could all use some more fun and happiness in our lives.
I also have a document where I keep the rosters and teams in a little easier to visualize way. Just don’t read anything into the “lines” for this year. I only pulled players onto the correct teams, and didn’t worry about organizing lines in the most likely way.
My very first thought (of substance) upon arriving at Centre Ice this morning was, dear lord Anthony Mantha is huge. Now, the Wings tweeted the following pictures out a couple of days ago, and I commented that he’s so much bigger than last year, and that last year he was so much bigger than the previous year.
But good lord does Mantha look big this year, it’s hard not to stare in awe. He’s on the training camp roster listed at 6’5” 221# and I believe every inch and pound of it. For reference, Anthony Mantha is now taller and bigger than Jonathan Ericsson. Usually when players come into camp or the prospect tournament, and they say they’ve gained a few pounds of grew a few inches, you look at them and think “ok, I can believe that I guess” but two year in a row now, Mantha has blown me away with how much bigger he is. I desperately wanted to get a picture of him standing next to Ericsson and some other players to give a visual, but I swear to god, every time they were near each other, Ericsson hunched down or bent over. I think it was intentional and I’m taking it personally.
Exhibit A: They were both standing up straight just a few seconds before this, then Ericsson bent over and Mantha followed suit. It’s like they knew!
But seriously, Danny DeKeyser joked today about how his teammates tease him for constantly eating to try and gain some weight, or not lose weight as it were, and maybe the problem is that Anthony Mantha has been stealing DDK’s calories.
Aside from awe at how big Mantha is now, here are a few other takeaways of note.
Dylan Larkin broke his stick during practice taking one timers, and he quickly took the two pieces over to the glass next to the stands and hoisted them over to a young fan. The little girl was very excited and Larkin was all smiles seeing her reaction. That alone made my day, it’s a small gesture and many players do it, and it brought so much joy to Larkin that it was one of those human moments that I was proud to witness.
Niklas Kronwall wasn’t on the ice, but Jeff Blashill said he’s healthy and feeling great, and that he’s limiting Kronner’s ice time in order to keep him that way. Sure it makes sense for a guy whose knees are failing, but it’s also comical to hear that reasoning said out loud.
Dennis Cholowski is on the “A” team, team Delvecchio, which is filled with mostly NHL players who were with the Red Wings last season. It’s an interesting move to put Cholowski on that team instead of Filip Hronek, Vili Saarijarvi, or Joe Hicketts, who are all closer to being NHL ready. There’s been a lot of talk, discussion, and arguing (arguing on the internet, shocking I know) about where Cholowski should play this year, if he could make the Red Wings out of camp, and what his potential is. As things stand right now he’ll be returning to juniors with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, after one year in college. What I saw from him in his first day of training camp, was that he’s clearly not ready for the NHL yet. He was noticeably outmatched by the NHL’ers, and Frans Nielsen schooled him in the one-on-one drills. All that really did is reinforce what I already knew, that Cholowski is a 19 year old kid who’s returning to junior hockey this year because he needs more development time. There’s nothing Earth shattering there, just a confirmation that he’s on the path he should be. This experience in training camp will be great for him, even if it only shows him what he’s aiming for.
It was refreshing and encouraging to see the players come in refreshed and having some fun. They were chirping and teasing each other, stick tapping, and it reminded me how important it is for the players (and coaches) to have fun and enjoy themselves. It’s that attitude for players and fans that get us through the tough times. Xavier Ouellet must have lost a bet or something, because when the players left David’s rink to head over to West rink, all of the players were carrying only the stick they were using... Except Ouellet, who had about a dozen or more sticks to carry.
During his interview today, David Booth reiterated the importance of fun and enjoying hockey that ring true for everyone. After playing in the KHL for the last two seasons, he’s trying to return to the NHL and is in training camp on a tryout basis.
“That’s why I said it’s about coming back home and having fun. I think you lose the sense of fun of hockey when you’re over there [in Europe]. I had no North Americans on my team last year so you lost that camaraderie around. The coaches didn’t speak English, not many of the players did either, no one in the city did, so it’s really just you and your wife… Hockey’s meant to be fun, that’s why we play it as kids, so coming back here that’s what I want to do.”
Maybe he should be talking to Athanasiou about what it’s really like to play in Russia as a North American, English speaking player.
Speaking of David Booth, it was unexpected that he’s in camp, especially since the Red Wings don’t have roster spots or cap room to sign more players. Booth explained that he’s fully aware of the situation and understands that he’s not likely to earn a contract with the Wings.
“I understand that [the Wings don’t have a lot of openings], coming here, it’s better to take a chance than not take a chance. I’ve had a good career, I’ve played over 500 games, I’ve been to Russia, and so I want to give it one more change. I think a good way to do that is coming home and really just having fun. Through the course of a career you have ups and downs and kind of lose the fun. But coming here and having fun and being a kid again and going out there... and skating with those guys is still kind of really cool, and it’s cool to be here.”
While I don’t think he will earn a contract, nor should he, it was fun to hear his perspective and hear a player be so open and vocal about the importance of having fun, and also how easy it can be to lose the fun.
After all practices had wrapped up, Coach Jeff Blashill addressed why he chose to structure the camp teams in such distinct NHL, AHL, and “other guy” (my words, not his) teams.
“I loved it today to be honest with you. I had a chance for Zetterberg’s unit, you know the unit we finished with, I flipped out Abby and Sheahan in terms of a net front guy, but they got 40 minutes of specialty teams together as a group. Specialty teams are critical, they were a big factor in us not being good enough last year on our power play. We need to hit the ground running and I thought this gave us a chance, especially with those specialty teams, to hit the ground running.”
Blashill also spoke about the special teams lines for the “A” team, and if they’re what he envisions them being once the season starts.
“I told the guys in camp yesterday, first of all this is a day by day business, but where it stands today, give or take a player or two, kind of where I think the roster stands today. That doesn’t mean that doesn’t change tomorrow and it certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t change by the end of exhibition season. I want to make sure that with the group I think we’re going to have together as a hockey team when we play against Minnesota in game one, we’ve had lots of time on the ice together. This was a way for us to be able to really work those special team units as units. It wasn’t totally, but as much as we can.”
Here’s how he had special teams broken down in practice.
Tomas Tatar - Henrik Zetterberg - Gustav Nyquist
Ryan Sproul - Justin Abdelkader (net front)
Tyler Bertuzzi - Darren Helm - P-A Parenteau
Anthony Mantha - Trevor Daly
Riley Sheahan - Luke Glendening
Jonathan Ericsson - Nick Jensen
Frans Nielsen - Dylan Larkin
Danny DeKeyser - Xavier Ouellet
Ben Street - Luke Witkowski
Dennis Cholowski - Mike Green
However, after another break for video coaching, they came back to practice special teams and this time Neilsen, Larkin, and Ericsson were on the PP units, and Bertuzzi, Abdelkader, and Helm were on the PK units. I interpret this as Blashill planning to use those players on both PP and PK, depending on the situation and who’s available.
Dylan Larkin also spoke to us about the team breakdown, his goals for the season, playing center (for real this time maybe), and much more.
It was extremely refreshing to see the players back on the ice and having fun. What will tomorrow hold? We’ll find out! Stay tuned for more 2017 Training Camp Coverage.