The Colorado Avalanche opened its official training camp Thursday, September 23, at the Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colorado. The 56-player training camp roster includes those who have signed contracts with the Avalanche, players signed with the Colorado Eagles in the American Hockey League (AHL) and other skaters invited to a pro tryout (PTO). The team was split into two separate teams, Groups 1 and 2, for practice.
The family sports center features two well-lit ice patches, the Avalanche Rink and the Hamilton Rink. The facility is home to the Arapahoe Warriors Youth Hockey Club, as well as nearby Cherry Creek and Chapparal high school hockey teams.
This report is filed from Group 2 training on Thursday September 23 and Group 1 training on Friday September 24.
Thursday September 23 – Group 2 Led by Francouz
Before the full squad took to the ice, Group 2 goalies — Pavel Francouz, Jonas Johansson and Hunter Miska — worked with several members of the coaching staff. All three goalies took turns blocking the coaches’ close shots, moving from right to left, mostly focusing on pad saves.
All eyes were on Francouz, who spent all of last season on the injured reserve list, and plans to be a solid number two goalie behind Darcy Kuemper (acquired by Colorado in July). The 31-year-old Czech, who wears his catching glove on his right hand, looked sharp in the net, blocking out most of what was happening to him.
The entire team hit the ice minutes before 11 a.m., led by head coach Jared Bednar. “We are excited for this season,” said Bednar. “This is another opportunity for us to reach our goal. Last year’s playoffs are biting a bit, and we’ll use that as motivation. ”
Skaters at training camp were divided by jersey color. Defense and goalkeepers wore black, and each of the five front lines wore, in order of team experience / seniority, navy blue, burgundy, white, gray and light blue. Bednar, immediately identifiable by his trademark salt and pepper wicks, hissed the entire group to kneel by the bench and guided them through the camp drills. The drills consisted of a variety of two-on-one, three-on-two, and five-on-five drills, the latter taking the form of micro-scrums.
Johnson seems ready to play
The most anticipated of the Group 2 skaters was veteran defender Erik Johnson, who missed all but four games of the 2020-21 campaign with injury. Johnson, 33, whose black jersey had tucked into the back of his bras, was paired with young Bowen Byram. Byram, 20, also missed time last season, limiting it to 19 games played; he will qualify as a rookie for the coming season.
The pairing was clearly the group 2 defensive body class in training. They worked well together and it was to be imagined that the coaching staff relished the opportunity for young Byram to learn from the seasoned Johnson.
The top offensive line on the ice, dressed in navy blue jerseys, was Nazim Kadri in the middle of Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky. The three played an important role in the Avalanche’s offense last season. Kadri and Burakovsky were most often on Colorado’s second row – Burakovsky occasionally moving to the front row alongside Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and / or Captain Gabriel Landeskog – while Nichushkin was a mainstay of the penalty unit of the Avalanche.
All three skated with energy and skill, moving the puck and attacking the net mid-season. Kadri in particular had a scorching bar shot, beating Francouz on his blocker.
Another highlight of Group 2 was striker Logan O’Connor. Dressed in a burgundy sweater, the former University of Denver student played 24 games with Colorado last year, including two in the playoffs. He showed speed and tenacity in training camp, working well with teammates Darren Helm and Mikhail Maltsev (the latter acquired from the New Jersey Devils in a trade for Ryan Graves), and bringing the same level of aggression. that he showed in the playoffs. O’Connor and the Avalanche agreed to a three-year contract extension this week, keeping the 25-year-old Texas native in an Avalanche jersey throughout the 2024-2025 campaign.
On the defensive end of the puck, Dennis Gilbert showed tremendous speed to return to the defensive zone to thwart scoring attempts. The 24-year-old Buffalo, New York native spent most of last season with the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate the Colorado Eagles, receiving the call to start three games with the Avalanche. . Prior to that, he divided his time between the Chicago Blackhawks and their AHL affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs.
Bednar skating test
Coach Bednar ended the practice by asking the players to skate sprints across the goal line. Five players lined up on the goal line, sprinted to the opposite goal line and came back, making the round trip two and a half times, finishing at the other end of the ice. Each group of five skaters completed the drill twice, including the three goalies. Bednar kept his eyes on his stopwatch with each group, timing their efforts.
The players were visibly exhausted at the end of their second set of sprints, many falling to the ice as they tried to catch their breath. Two players stood out during this drill: left winger Kiefer Sherwood, who spent time between the AHL and the NHL with the Colorado and the Anaheim Ducks; and right / center winger Callahan Burke, who is under contract to play with the Colorado Eagles this coming season. Both showed endurance and courage in an exercise that devastated many more seasoned pros.
Friday September 24 – Group 1
When Group 1 hit the ice the next morning, the 50 fans in attendance the day before were more than double that number when the players entered the ice. Everyone’s attention was drawn to the navy blue jerseys as Mackinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog did their warm-up laps.
When the whistle blew and Coach Bednar called the first drill, it didn’t take long to see what makes Colorado’s number one line – arguably the number one line in all of hockey – special. . MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog were, quite simply, electric.
MacKinnon, who took the ice with several stitches in his chin as a result of a puck in the face on the first day of training, told his line-mates: “We’ve been together for four or five years, so even today. hui, the first day back… the chemistry is there. It’s easy to read each other. This is very fun.”
The three veterans, all still in their twenties, worked as a cohesive unit, preparing passes, plying the skating lanes and setting up setbacks and deflections. MacKinnon demonstrated his superior skating skill on both ends of the ice, releasing his teammates to reach the net over and over again. Rantanen landed a slapshot from the right face-off circle, then placed a puck in front of Kuemper, diving to complete the shot. And Landeskog played the aggressive, physical hockey he’s known for.
In fact, the entire skate was more dynamic and physical than the day before. The contact was closer, the body controls were more difficult, and the overall pace was faster. Only one skater wore a red non-contact jersey, and that was last year’s Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar.
Paired with defenseman Sam Girard, the 22-year-old phenomenon, entering his third full season with the Avalanche, was not skating 100 percent, but still looked sharp. In one drill, Makar and Landeskog rushed for the puck in the corner, Makar winning the battle with a skillful nudge. Recovering “from a small procedure”, Makar should be ready for the start of the season.
Bednar and the coaching staff shouted encouragement at the 26 skaters throughout practice – he banged his stick against the boards when he was especially happy.
Other players who performed well during the session and are vying for places on the roster include:
6-foot-5 defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, who had complete control of the puck every time she touched his stick. The 27-year-old former LA Kings member was selected by the Seattle Kraken in this year’s expansion draft and was later traded to Colorado in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2023. He was an imposing presence on the ice.
Left winger Sampo Ranta, who wore a white jersey, was one of the strongest skaters on the ice and handled the puck well. Ranta, selected in the third round of the 2018 draft, started two games for Colorado in the 2021 playoffs.
Shane Bowers, 22, and Andreas Wingerli, 24, both dressed in gray jerseys, demonstrated sharp saves. Bowers was a first-round pick in the 2017 Ottawa Senators draft; Wingerli has played for the past six years in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), where he recorded 104 points in 222 games.
Forwards Matej Kaslik and Benjamin Tardiff on the light blue line, the lowest in the pecking order of the front five lines, also showed skill. Kaslik, in particular, showed composure under pressure and leadership on the ice.
Four members of the squad missed the first two days of camp with injury, including defenseman Devon Toews, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and will likely miss the start of the 2021 campaign- 2022. Forward Stefan Matteau and defenseman Roland McKewon, both absent for Covid protocols, and amateur test guest Tarun Fizer were also absent.
The Avalanche will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the club’s first preseason game on Tuesday, September 28.