The atmosphere was positively electric for the first day of the Blue Jackets training camp as fans packed the OhioHealth Ice Haus to see the team reunited on the ice for the first time since the summer.
The noise level in the Ice Haus steadily increased as fans starting arriving shortly after 11 a.m. Fifteen minutes before the team was expected to take the ice, head coach Todd Richards addressed the crowd, thanking the fans for their support and exclaiming, “I’m a little surprised, but I’m not surprised at all.”
Then, the waiting began again, and the rink was filled with the same sense of anticipation one gets before the first day of school or a major exam. The news of a new CBA between the NHL and NHLPA had already been blasted like the sound of a continuous cannon… hockey is back, hockey is back, hockey is back. Now, it was time to carry the flag once more.
“It was gratifying. To see the crowd with all that energy, the place was packed,” President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said after practice.
“It was outstanding.”
James Wisniewski was the first player to take the ice to an immediate standing ovation from the crowd. The ovation lasted until the last player took the ice, and then practice began at a torrid pace that mirrors the pace of the 48-game season announced last night by the NHL.
Todd Richards had his team flowing from drill to drill in what looked more like a synchronized skating routine than hockey practice. The players were all business, skating hard and proving that they’re just as ready to go as the fans.
The drills were designed to match the intensity of a midseason practice. At the sound of a whistle, players rushed end-to-end on the ice, throwing plenty of pucks at the goaltenders, Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky. Then, at the sound of another whistle, they began stick-handling in tight spaces during three-on-three and one-on-two drills in the corners. Breakout plays, spurts of five-on-five hockey, cycling drills – all were on deck for today’s 90-minute practice.
“That pace out there was ‘NHL quick,’” said Davidson. “It’s going to be very important right away to play well. You’re going to need a team that has some depth.”
Today’s roster reflected the need for depth as 25 players participated in the practice, including the familiar faces of RJ Umberger, Derek Dorsett, Vinny Prospal, Jack Johnson, Steve Mason, and other Blue Jackets veterans. There were also many new faces as fans got a glimpse of Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov (sp), and Nick Foligno. A few players who had spent the first half of the season playing for the Springfield Faclons also skated today, including Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, and Tim Erixon.
Calvert inspired one of the loudest cheers heard from the crowd today as he skated into the slot with the puck as two defenders tried their best to slow him down. With the speed and finesse of a great skater, he pulled a spin move that not only threw his opponents off, it gave him a clear shot at Mason, who made the save. Still, the moment garnered loud cheers and applause from the crowd.
Blue Jackets fans know greatness when they see it, and so do the players. They raised their sticks in salute to the crowd before leaving the ice, and a few of them were still greeting fans and signing autographs 25 minutes after practice ended.
“Now that the players are back, they’ll be doing their share very much so to make Columbus and the area a better place,” Davidson said. “They’re a team that’s gonna work their tails off.”
As Day 1 came to a close, it seemed the anticipation had intensified. Davidson said the team wouldn’t be outworked this season – and tomorrow begins a new day, and a new opportunity to work hard.
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