The Checkers’ 2011-12 training camp is ‘built’ by Timberstone Homes
There’s still some uncertainty as to which players will make up this year’s Checkers team, but for those already in town, it was time to get back to work.
A relatively small group of 17 players (view roster here) hit the ice for the start of camp Monday at Extreme Ice Center in a session designed for conditioning more than anything else. Such practices will be the norm for the very early stages of camp, as several players remain with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes awaiting a final few rounds of cuts.
“Just show up and work,” said Daniels. “We didn’t really touch on systems that much since they’ve been off for a few days, so we just wanted to get the legs back under them again and get them up and down the ice and get some contact going.“
Though the team will lose at least one of its offensive threats from last season to the NHL (Zac Dalpe is currently the most likely candidate), the crowded forward situation in Carolina means that most will return. Top point scorer Zach Boychuk, leading goal scorer Chris Terry and points-per-game leader Jerome Samson all have a decent to good shot of coming back, as do Drayson Bowman, who spent a good chunk of time in the NHL last season, and the fast-improving Riley Nash.
Such continuity should only help as the team looks to build on last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Final.
“No matter who makes the big club, whatever trickles down will give us some offense,” said Daniels.
With the team's top-end players yet to arrive, some of what will form the team’s new leadership core took part in the opening skate. The departures of Bryan Rodney, Nick Dodge and Zack Fitzgerald had left a void in that regard, with Nicolas Blanchard the only returning player to have worn a letter on his jersey last season.
Daniels indicated that Blanchard, a sixth-round draft choice by the Hurricanes in 2005, would be again counted upon for his leadership.
“He’s worn a letter the last couple of years for me and will again because he sets the tone every day with the way he shows up," said Daniels. "He’s low-maintenance, does the drills hard and does them right, and that’s one thing that stuck out in Carolina. The coaches always say that he works hard and leaves it all on the ice, so he’s a good example for the young guys.”
The other name mentioned by Daniels from the current group was Brett Bellemore, a 23-year-old defenseman beginning his third full AHL season. Bellemore and 21-year-old Michal Jordan were the only defensemen present on opening day that spent the majority of last season with the Checkers.
Until more such players arrive, the early days of camp will be used by the coaching staff to further familiarize itself with the group of incoming players at every position, including rookies Justin Shugg and Rasmus Rissanen, who concluded successful junior careers last season. Daniels knows those player and others from rookie tournaments in Traverse City, Michigan, and from Hurricanes’ camp, but said that most of that was limited to observation.
“Now we we’re a little more hands on with them, get a feel for what they can do on the ice and get to know them a little better,” he said.
With more players on the way, those on the fringes of the current group know they won’t have much time to impress.
“The message was that now that they got sent down they can’t relax,” said Daniels. “We might have a small group right now, but by the end of the week we’ll probably have a full group and unfortunately there will be decisions to be made on who stays and who moves on. They’ve got to take this seriously all week.”
• Though it will be one of the strongest and most stable areas of this year’s team, neither Mike Murphy nor Justin Peters were in attendance for the opening skate. One of the two will likely be assigned in the coming days as the other backs up Hurricanes goalie Brian Boucher for the team’s Wednesday trip to Winnipeg.
• Players at camp not under NHL contracts included goaltender John Muse, defensemen Ryan Donald and Chris Murray, and forwards Matt Beca and Mike McKenzie. Additionally, defenseman Evan Stephens and forward Scott Pitt, who recently completed college careers at Dartmouth and Mercyhurst, respectively, attended on a tryout basis. Each player made his pro debut with ECHL Florida towards the end of last season.
• Camp will continue until the regular-season opener on Oct. 7 and will include preseason games against Lake Erie on Friday and Saturday at the Extreme Ice Center. Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster or at the Extreme Ice Center.
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