Monday, September 19, 2011

Training Camp

The Colorado Avalanche are officially in the midst of training camp.  Last week, the rookies, including first round picks Gabriel Landeskog and Duncan Siemens, participated in the Colorado Avalanche rookie camp and then beginning last Saturday, training camp opened.  I attended the on-ice session yesterday and here are my thoughts:

The Avs are going to be a young team.  This is not a bad thing.  There will likely be only 3 players on the roster over the age of 30; Milan Hejduk (35), Jan Hejda (33), and J-S Giguere (34).  The Avs certainly lost experience and leadership with the retirement of captain Adam Foote, but Hejda and Giggy will provide veteran leadership and experience.  Giggy brings a Stanley Cup win and a Conn Smythe as well.  At the ripe old age of 20, centers Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly will be entering their 3rd NHL seasons.  O'Reilly has looked good at camp.  He had a nice shot that beat Varlamov glove-side high yesterday.  I really want to hear the O'Reilly Auto Parts song when he scores in games!  Both of these guys look like they have matured physically over the summer.  Hopefully it's a healthy combination of good, offseason training and natural physical maturity at their age.  They are also both entering the final year of their rookie contracts.  Hopefully the Avs management will be smart and lock them up longterm soon.  Duchene especially.  Young stars like Tyler Myers, James van Riemsdyk, and John Tavares, Duchene's counterpart from the 2009 draft all recently signed lucrative longterm deals and the Avs certainly should pay Duchene his due as he has been more consistent and productive than any of the aforementioned.  You can argue for Myers, but I'm sticking with Duchy.  There is no good reason to not sign him now.  Would they not sign him until next year and hope he has a disappointing season so that they can pay him less?  Not a good strategy.  If he progresses and further proves himself, which I fully expect him to do, they'd only have to pay him more.  Worst case, he'd be in a contract dispute a year from now, which is where Los Angeles is with their stud defeseman Drew Doughty.  I don't see Duchene going that route though.  He's got too much class to ever holdout.
Duchene winning the faceoff with Peter Mueller on the right.

Mueller looked good.  He says he is 100% healthy after missing the entire 2010-11 season with that nagging concussion.  He appears bigger, stronger, and he's now sporting the tinted visor to reduce the glare from the lights.  It is very bright playing on the Pepsi Center ice and the lights make it hot out there.  Every time Muells takes a check in camp, everyone seems to notice.  He did appear to favor his leg after a hit yesterday, but returned without missing a shift.  If Sacco leaves Mueller with Duchene and Hejduk, that line could be very hot and dangerous once they click!

Several Avs players look bigger.  A major focus over the summer must have been strength training and muscle development.  Duchene, O'Reilly, Mueller, Stastny, and Galiardi all look noticeably bigger and stronger.  Duchene has amazing stick skills and is probably the most fun player to watch with the puck since #21 was in his prime.  His criticism in the past has been that despite his flashy moves, he's a little to easy to move off the puck.  With some added strength as size, Duchene could certainly resemble a certain Swede!  Let's not forget that Foppa was always known as a playmaker and not a scorer.  Duchene's other idol had the best wristshot of all-time, #19.  If he can put both those skill sets together, we could be looking at a future Hart Trophy winner.  O'Reilly began to emerge as an offensive threat toward the end of last season as injuries began to decimate the Avs forwards.  Hopefully, he will take the next step their and become a premiere two-way center.  Like Mueller, Galiardi's 2010-11 season was affected greatly, although certainly not to the extent that Mueller's was.  Both players have dedicated themselves to making themselves bigger and stronger this season.  While injuries will certainly never be entirely preventable, a smaller, weaker guy is certainly more likely to get hurt than a bigger, stronger player.  Galiardi gained 20lbs. of muscle and his "giraffe neck" is almost unrecognizable!  I expect a breakout year from the trash-talking Dartmouth alum.

Coach Joe Sacco said that the captaincy has not yet been decided, but alternates Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk are certainly in the running.  My vote's still for Stastny with Hejduk, Duchene, and Erik Johnson rotating the "As."  Sure, Stastny has his critics.  People say he's underperformed, but based on what?  His contract?  That's not his fault.  His agent was good and the Avs overpaid.  He's not flashy?  That's not his game.  Sure, 57 points in 74 games could have been better, but he was consistent throughout the year and he was an NHL All-Star.  Not to mention, he was an Olympic Silver Medalist in early 2010.  My point is, let's not run Stastny out of town just yet.  He's a very smart hockey player, and like a lot of other guys, seems bigger, stronger, and hungrier at camp this year.  He's not the most outspoken player, but he does have the quiet leadership capabilities like Joe Sakic did.  He's only 25 and he's been an alternate captain for several years now. 

Gabriel Landeskog has also looked good.  The Avs prized rookie looks comfortable playing against NHLers and will only get better with more experience.  There is no way this guy should not be on the opening night roster.  I'd like to see him with Stats and Galiardi. 

#92, Gabriel Landeskog

On defense, Siemens has looked good too.  I would certainly be in favor of keeping him up for the maximum of 10 games before they have to decide whether or not to send him back down to Saskatoon.

Finally, I like our goaltending tandem.  Varlamov has looked really solid at camp.  Varlamov has perhaps been affected by the tragedy in Russia more than any other player and he undoubtedly is still struggling with the tremendous losses.  The Avs have provided grief counselors for him and other players and Varlamov seems determined to play to honor his fallen teammates and friends.  On a more upbeat note, I really like his new pads and mask!

Well, that's all for now.  I hope to have more as the preseason rolls along.  I was hoping to go out to the preseason finale against the Kings in Las Vegas, The Frozen Fury, but it's looking like that mini vaca may have to wait until next year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I'm going to keep this one short.

I just wanted to pay my respects to the players that the NHL and the hockey world have lost this summer.  Three enforcers have lost their lives.  Derek Boogaard, 28, Rick Rypien, 27, and Wade Belak, 35.

Earlier today, the hockey world suffered another terrible tragedy with the plane crash of the Russian KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, which killed 43 people and injured 2 more.  Among those killed were former Avalanche players Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins.  Both of whom I met when they played here in Colorado.  Skrastins, I met during Avs training camp one year.  He came off the ice and I opened the door for him.  He said "thanks" and he must have been hungry because he came back with a Powerbar a few minutes later.  During his time with the Avs, Skrastins earned the nickname, Iron Man, by passing the all-time consecutive games played streak for a defenseman.  The record was previously held by Tim Horton, another player who died tragically before his time.

Karlis Skrastins of the Colorado Avalanche is honoured during a pre-game ceremony Thursday.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Avs' annual Meet-the-Team event in 2009, for season ticket holders.  Among the many players I met, was Ruslan Salei.  He was playing air hockey against fans.  Right before me, there was a little boy who was probably about 3.  He could barely see over the table.  Salei graciously let him win and took several pictures with the boy afterward.  The boy was elated.  You could tell that Salei just made the kid's day!  The way he interacted with that kid was better than many dad are with their own kids, sadly.  He wasn't so generous to me.  He got off to a 5-0 lead and quipped about whether or not I would score a goal at all.  The game ended 7-2.  I saw him again later during the autograph sessions and he remembered me, and made another joke about my lack of air hockey skills.  I told him that I had beaten Scott Hannan after I played him.  Anyway, he seemed like a very down-to-earth, nice guy.  The kind of guy you could sit and have a beer with and watch a game and talk sports.  Matt Duchene recently tweeted, "So saddened by the news of the Russian plane crash.  Mixed reports on whether former teammate R. Salei was on it or not, I'm praying he wasn't"  Unfortunately, it has since been confirmed that Salei was in fact on board.

Salei had a wife, Bethann and three kids,  Alexis, 5, Aleksandro, 3, and Ava, who was just born last March.  Skrastins had a wife, Zane and two daughters, Karolina and Laurena.  Also among the deceased was former NHL All-Star Pavol Demitra.  My thoughts and prayers are certainly with the families of the players and personnel on the plane. 

Of course, we are also a few days away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11, one of the darkest days of U.S. history.  On one of the flights were LA Kings scouts, Garnet “Ace” Bailey and Mark Bavis.

Very tragic indeed.