You could sense it in the OhioHealth Ice Haus this morning. Hockey's on the horizon, and the jam packed sheet of ice was blatant evidence of that.
By my count, we're approaching 20 players who have arrived in Columbus and are participating in the informal player skates. My math could be way off, but in this case, I trust myself to perform a routine head count.
What's also becoming apparent: the nature of these skates is becoming far less leisurely and much more business-like. With the growing number of players taking part, that means everyone has less time to get their work in and get up to NHL speed. Training camp looms just two weeks away, and the goal is to hit the ground running -- not use camp to get your "sea legs" under you again.
As he has done from the outset, former Ohio State assistant/current ECHL assistant JB Bittner led the practice session and got a few drills in with the guys before giving way to an extended scrimmage. Today's skate was about 90 minutes in length, somewhat longer than in recent days -- and there was no shortage of competitive spirit running through the building.
Both Blue Jackets goaltenders (Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky) were on the ice for the duration, a slight change from previous practices. Usually it was one or the other, with a local goaltender occupying the other cage.
Today it was the full complement, and both guys looked rather sharp while seeing a ton of shots. Bobrovsky's noted quick footwork was on display, as was his relentless pursuit of learning everything he can about the shooter. I've heard a couple of his Blue Jackets teammates talk about how hard he competes and battles for every puck.
Other notes from today's skate:
-- Mason has been steady during these workouts. That's not to say it's a guarantee of a bounce-back season, but every step in the right direction is a good sign. One thing that stands out is calmness; he has been tracking pucks well and letting the play come to him.
-- Non-hockey note (but on topic): the new Dispatch Media Center is just about complete, and it's a dazzler. I'm sure you have seen the pictures we've been tweeting, but the real eye-opener is when you stand next to it. The party tower LED boards and the ribbon boards are coming together, too, adding another element of excitement as we inch closer to the season.
-- Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert joined the group today. Foligno traveled the past couple of days from Sudbury, Ont. and made a pit stop in Buffalo to visit his brother Marcus, who will be a second-year player with the Sabres. First thing you notice about Foligno's game: he can skate well, and has a quick wrist shot.
-- Calvert had a couple of nice looks in the scrimmage and will definitely be in the mix to crack the Blue Jackets roster in training camp. I've always liked his fearlessness with the puck; even as a smaller player, he doesn't shy away from the high-traffic areas.
-- Artem Anisimov: size, skill, competitive. I think he's on the verge of a breakout season. Keep in mind, too, that he's just 24 years of age.
-- Cam Atkinson scored a goal today that had a lot of us shaking our heads. From the blue line, he took a pass from Will Weber and walked out into the slot. Bobrovsky thought he had the angle sealed off, but Atkinson's snipe found the inside post and in.
We'll have video from today's skate later this afternoon. I'll be back tomorrow with any updates.