The point of attending this for me is incredibly simple. I just miss Canes hockey too much, and this is the closest I can get to it in August. Other than a tiny bit of information on who is in town and seeing some new guys skate and handle the puck a bit, I get minimal information from watching the usual assortment of drills. It is about hearing pucks hit sticks and skates cut through ice which is the coolest part of watching practice or informal skates at RCI in a small building and the equivalent of 3-4 rows (or against the glass if you want to stand) from the ice.
As quick background for anyone who does not know the summer NHL schedule, it works like this. Per league rules, the teams cannot start practices or anything formal until late September. But players getting into shape start skating about a month before that. Basically, the captain or one of the veterans rents rink time at the local hockey rink and some combination of Tweets, email, word of mouth, etc. let other players know that skating is starting up. Again, these are not team events, so it is common for other local players to join in the early stages. When Erik Cole and Aaron Ward were still living here but playing elsewhere they would sometimes appear at the informal skates. Players come in gradually. The European players are usually working out at home and come in a bit later. And even North American players are sometimes wrapping up whatever offseason training they do from wherever they live in the offseason. As things get closer to the start of the official training camp, the group grows and starts to look a bit more like the Hurricanes roster and system players who will be at the team training camp.
Here are a few quick notes from today’s informal Canes skate at Raleigh Center Ice:
* 11 players skated: Eric Staal, John-Michael Liles, Jaccob Slavin, Josh Wesley, and Zach Boychuk with Cam Ward and Daniel Altschuller in net were the official Hurricanes contingent. Others included former (and I guess potentially future) Canes Tim Gleason and Jiri Tlusty who are unsigned and Peter Harold (player in Blues system who someone said lives locally) and Bobby Sanguinetti (former Canes prospect who is with Buffalo now).*
* Highlights included the good and bad Tim Gleason. He got his skates caught up going backwards in the defensive zone and did a falling, dancing 4-step recovery (never actually went down) that was more noticeable and entertaining than actually falling. He did follow that up with a fairly pretty goal on one of the drills that yielded a good number of hoots and hollers. More seriously, it is uncertain what the future holds for him, but it is nice to see him back in Raleigh. He is easily in the category of players that I am proud to call a Carolina Hurricane for forever.
* Josh Wesley continues to project well for a 4th round pick. He has NHL size, and his skating looks better every time I see him which is not to say that he was a bad skater initially just that he continues to progress. He is likely a couple years away, but you have to like the combination of size, athleticism and pedigree to give him a chance.
* The thing that always stands out to me about watching Eric Staal in skating drills from up close is how easily and quickly he eats up ice with his big, smooth strides without seemingly working that hard.
* Amidst a small crowd today, I loved seeing a stroller, a toddler age Caniac who already had an E. Staal #12 jersey and another kid who spent more time being chased about the seating area than watching hockey – but it is still a phenomenal start. We need to keep growing Caniacs, so that next time we play the Bruins, Penguins, Rangers or whoever in the playoffs, we can fill all the seats with red, black and white. (Note: I am not telling people to go have babies, as this is an important family decision that (barely) trumps hockey.)
I am not sure if schedule will allow me to get back out to Raleigh Center Ice before things start for real (need to save playing hooky for training camp), but it was great to get a tiny taste of Canes hockey in August.
Hockey season is getting closer!