As soon as I arrived at practice today, I saw Hejduk and McLeod out on the ice. It was just them, one net and a handful of pucks. The first ten minutes or so, they were just skating around, working on turns and stride. It was clear right away that the Duke is feeling much better while Highlander is still sore. Hejduk was pushing his skating to full throttle, not hesitating at all on turns, fully using his edges, and had a jump in his step. McLeod, on the other hand, had a limp to his stride. He would start out skating either slowly or by favoring one leg.
Then Hejduk started playing around with the puck, stick handling and ripping some wrist shots. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: that guy has a helluva shot. He kept wristing one up to the top right corner of the net...from just ahead of the goal line...on the right side. He did it a few times and hit the exact same spot each time. He and McLeod started doing a drill that entailed receiving a pass at the circles and shooting, then circling back to receive a pass at the blue line and shooting, then the center line and then the defensive zone circles. McLeod went at about half speed through the drill; Hejduk did it full speed.
During the time they were out there, Hejduk stopped to talk to a friend who was watching from the glass. I heard him ask Duke how he was feeling. Hejduk replied, "Great! I’m feeling great. It’s (inaudible) normal." Now whether he said it IS back to normal or it is ALMOST back to normal, I’ve no idea. But from watching him today, my money is on him playing tomorrow. However, I don’t see McLeod coming back until after the Christmas break.
Exit Hejduk and the Highlander. Enter Red’s brother, the Zamboni Master.
Galiardi and Dupuis hit the ice first, even before Red’s bro was done cutting the ice. I think he was a little miffed about that, too. The rest of the boys started filing in after that and were just skating around and putting some pucks on net and chatting. O’Reilly did some stick handling with a puck and then would pick it up on the blade of his stick, toss it about 15 or so feet in the air and then catch it on the blade again. It was pretty amazing to watch.
The general atmosphere was positive. I didn’t feel that heavy weight of a bad game the night before like I have at other practices. There was some joking and plenty of smiles, but it was pretty quiet otherwise. Though I don’t think they were super down on themselves for the loss last night, it was very evident they were ready to work.
The players jumped into a couple of quick drills. On one side of the ice, they were working on one-timers with Sly. On the other, they were practicing set up passes in the offensive zone with Kono. At one point, so many players hit the post on their one-timers that I thought it was part of the drill. Alas, it was not. The guys on the other end got totally schooled by Kono when one of them coughed the puck up, and the other couldn’t corral it. Three players tried to get the puck from him. Did not happen, not even close. Kono laughed very heartily about that...as did I.
At about the 20 minute mark, Sacco called the boys over to take a knee. He didn’t look angry, and no smoke was coming from his nostrils. Still, he was speaking very emphatically and with a serious undertone. You could tell he meant business for the day, but that it wasn’t going to be a beat down. Clearly, he was going to focus on what they need to fix rather than yelling at them for what they did wrong. Good call, if you ask me. One loss to a great club after a six-game winning streak isn’t anything to freak out about.
Thus, rather than a bag skate, they did their typical warm up: snake between the blue lines, first few laps forward, then backward, and then pushing the speed through the neutral zone. Everyone pretty much put in the same effort, but what I found humorous was how much more easily the defensemen transitioned from skating forward to backward than did the forwards. I have seen that in rec leagues; I guess I never expected it to happen at the pro level, too.
After the warm up, the team split up, and Sacco sent them to the four corners to prepare for their next drill. While they were doing it, I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of chatter between the players who were waiting for their turn. The whole team seemed very focused, which produced a nice energy in the building.
The drill itself was working on moving the puck out of the defensive zone and into an offensive chance. D-man 1 would pass the puck to D-man 2 who would pass it to a forward exiting the zone. Forward 1 & 2 would do a give and go down the ice and get a shot on net. Meanwhile, the same thing would be coming back the other way, so by the time the forwards got there, the D-men could defend against the oncoming offensive. I started watching the defense pairings, really to see how Holos, O’Byrne and Hunwick were doing. Something interesting was happening, though, which stole my attention. Of the pairings, the only one that stayed pretty much intact throughout the entire drill was Wilson and Shattenkirk. All of the other defenseman switched off on their pairs. Liles-Holos; Foote-O’Byrne; Hunwick-Foote; O-Byrne-Liles; Hunwick-Holos; Hunwick-O’Byrne. Are we going to see new defensive parings tomorrow night? Or is this just an indication that Sacco’s going with 7 D again, and he is going to leave Shatty and Mack Truck together while rotating the remaining guys? Time will tell.
The guys took another knee at this point, so Sacco could describe the next drill. He was using the board and drawing up plays, it looked like. When the drill started, it pretty much confirmed that. The boys were involved in a mini-scrimmage. 5v5 in one zone inside the blue line. Objective? Get control of the puck. There was a lot of work in the corners and scrambling in front and behind the net; the offensive squad worked to keep the puck in the zone (the blueliners were actually doing a pretty good job, especially Shattenkirk - of course), but as soon as the defending squad was able to carry the puck out of the zone (shooting it out not allowed), the play was whistled dead and the team raced to the other end of the ice to switch roles. Fantastic drill and something they obviously needed to work on.
Unfortunately, I had to leave at that point. Duty called. It was great to get out there, though, and I’m feeling encouraged about tomorrow night’s game.
- I love the sound of skates on ice, especially when the rink is silent but for that. The grinding sound of the blade on the ice when a player is working his edges is heaven.
- I want a white practice jersey. Those things are SHARP.
- As I was taking the notes about O’Reilly and his puck juggling, a puck slammed into the boards right in front of me with a boom that echoed throughout the building. Scared the crap out of me. When I looked up, I saw that it was Mauldin. I watched for a bit, hoping to see him do it again, but he didn’t. No one else was shooting at the boards either. Weird. So I went back to watching and taking notes and BOOOM! Right in front of me again with a shot. Only this time, it was O’Byrne. Watched again for him to do it another time, but like Mauldin, no go. I started wondering if it was because I was sitting right at the blue line, and players often use that as a target. But they - nor anyone else - never did it a second time. I kind of shook my head, thinking, "Hockey players are so odd," when BOOOM! Freaking Holos this time. Perhaps my boobs looked extra good today or something.
- Adam Foote really does have a terrible shot.
- Watching Kono, Sly and Deader out there with the team...I just love it. I love the fact that they are former players of the team and guys that everyone - coaches, teammates, fans - really liked. What a solid coaching staff we have, folks.
- Teenage girls trying to get boys’ attention is a funny spectacle...until their antics get me kicked out of my comfy spot in between the two seating sections and directly at center ice. Stupid girls.
- Boys on skates are hot.