I attended practice at the MasterCard Center for Hockey Excellence, watching a loose group of players reveling in the 4-1 win over their provincial arch rivals. It all began with a loose skate, just a warm-up involving firing some pucks off the boards along the way.
After a few laps the players convened in the middle, while coach Ron Wilson shot pucks playfully into the crowd. Â There were happy faces, smiles and light hearted spirit when beginning a full length of the ice scrimmage for 10 minutes with two pucks, and little contact. Keith Acton and Luca Caputi play wrestled along the boards while the winger also took a two-hander from Wilson. The head coach then proceeded to put his stick through Christian Hansonâ€™s legs as the 6-4 rookie skated away. Lifeâ€™s good after a win. Even the drills, although technically sound, werenâ€™t as tight as perhaps after an ugly win.
Caputi in particular showed some good edgework skating along the boards. Not so much speed as small quick movements, an underrated skill considering all work along the boards down low. He also looked sculpted under it all. Phil Kessel took a half-slapper into the crowd in front of the goal to the jeers, and a few elbows. Even Tomas Kaberle was vocal and enthusiastic.
After Tyler Bozak led the stretching in the middle, drills began shortly after.
The squads were split and the pucks sat at each corner of the blueline. The drill had a defenseman stationary in the middle of a blue line receiving a pass from someone coming off a corner blueline, and passing it back for shot on net. The next variation makes two passes to the stationary defensemen before shot on goal. A second winger was added and the pass went to the blueline and off to the other winger going on a two on nothing for a shot on goal. They make two variations to the simple drill; one with the pass going to the original winger from the defenseman close, and one where the pass was made closer to the opposition. The next drill activated the defenseman to make it a two-on-one drill. All that ended with a skate around for a couple of laps.
A breakout drill began from the top of the face-off circle in a quick transition with all five skaters going the other way. The last part of the practice had the goaltenderâ€™s on one end to having drills on their specific game well cutout was used on the other and to on various exercises of to bring the puck from in close, and passes originating from below the hash marks to the point and back, with a player taking a shot on goal through the cut out.
I took particular interest in watching Carl Gunnarson today. When the drills were done, he was practicing accepting passes with Rob Zettler. The main theme was accepting a pass while taking the blade back so slightly as to catch the puck, not leave the stick rigid and let it bounce off the blade. Zettler had him do this stationary and then in small motions with his skates simulating movement. Heâ€™s come a long way fairly quickly, and deserves some special mention.