BUILDING AN IDENTITYWhile the makeup of the roster will certainly undergo a multitude of changes between now and opening night, the coaching staff is taking the first few days of camp as an opportunity to imprint an identity on their squad.
For Head Coach Geordie Kinnear, the blueprint is straight forward.
“We want to play a very smart and a very fast game,” said Kinnear.
With two noticeably high-energy skates in the books, it’s obvious that the players one the ice have absorbed that standard.
“The work has impressed me with this group of guys,” said Assistant Coach Dan Bylsma. “Whether it’s forwards or defensemen, they’ve come to work in these first two days. That’s the type of team we’re going to have to be - a hard-working and hustling team that’s relentless. The guys to a man have been doing that out here.”
“They want a quick, fast pace to our game,” said forward Henry Bowlby. “They want us to stay connected and work for our teammates, whether that’s up the ice or backchecking.”
Listed at 6-foot-2, Bowlby is part of a training camp roster that noticeably features more than a few tall frames, leading into another aspect of Kinnear’s plan.
“I’ve been here before and this building suits that gritty, hard-working type of team,” said the head coach. “I think that we want teams to come here and know that it is a tough place to play.”
That being said, Kinnear has made it clear what he wants to see out of his team.
“Being ultra competitive, playing big, playing with courage,” he said. “For me, it doesn’t really matter the size, we just want guys that are going to play the right way and play with courage. If you play hard and do the right things, usually positive results come from that.”
VETERAN PRESENCECharlotte’s current roster features a wide mix of experience levels, with the usual slew of first and second-year pros suiting up next to players with hundreds of NHL games to their names.
The unique combination sets up a helpful support system for those younger skaters getting into the swing of things in a new environment.
“It’s been great talking with Dalps [Zac Dalpe], even down in Florida, just trying to pick his brain,” said Bowlby, who is entering his second pro campaign after playing 23 games for Syracuse last season. “The guy’s been playing hockey forever, so any little piece of advice he’s got has been great. Us younger guys are trying to lean on guys like him and take the things they say to heart.”
That guidance is not only welcome here at the beginning of camp, it’s something that will be beneficial across the grind of the AHL season.
“I think it’s important for the young kids to have someone to lean on, because it’s not always easy,” said Kinnear. “There’s going to be ebbs and flows and I think the veterans keep that even keel mindset so you don’t have those lows for too long.”
While the positive influence of those veterans has been key in these first few days of camp, it’s hardly the only thing they bring to the table, as the strong play of skaters like Dalpe and Scott Wilson has been noticeable.
“I want them to get better too,” said Kinnear. “They’re here for a reason. They have aspirations to get back to the NHL.”
BOWLBY PREPS FOR YEAR TWOAfter a strong showing for Syracuse in the truncated 2020-21 season, Bowlby is ready to get the full experience for his sophomore campaign.
“I’m looking forward to a full year and really getting after to see what a real season feels like,” the forward said.
Following a three-year career at Harvard, the 23-year-old stood out as an offensive contributor in his 23-games for the Crunch, tying for fourth on the team in goals.
“I think it was a great year for me,” said Bowlby of his rookie year. “I just want to try to build on that and use the confidence and comfort that I got at this level to be more effective this year.”
Bowlby, who worked with Kinnear last season in Syracuse and more recently at Florida’s development camp, has his sights set on replicating that success by buying in to the Checkers’ newly instilled identity.
“They want us to play hard and fast,” he said. “I think I can definitely contribute in that way.”