Heading up to training camp, I didn't really know what to expect. I'd never been before, and I didn't know anyone else who had. I did, however, know that the Commune was going to have a blast. I wasn't wrong. I'm not sure what the proper balance to strike between shanahanigans and actual hockey coverage is because they all kind of blur together. I fully intended to tweet more updates from the practices and scrimmages, but it turns out that the Centre Ice building is even more of a bunker than the Joe and I didn't get cell service anywhere in the building. We ended up with a million hilarious moments that just can't be explained to anyone who wasn't there, a bevy of new nicknames, several thousand pictures between the dozen ladies, and a really interesting insight into the Wings' system.
I never played hockey, so everything I know about it comes from watching the finished product out on the ice during games. It's not like baseball that I grew up playing in one form or another where I know the process that goes into it. I see plays on the baseball diamond and I know the mechanics and preparation that go into it. It's different with hockey for me. I'd never seen the drills that the players run through during practice so this was a very cool behind-the-scenes look at the Wings' system. It was interesting to see Mike Babcock at work running drills and dishing out instructions.
I spent a lot of time taking pictures during camp. At the moment, I've got 1,128 saved in my training camp folder, so I'm not sure when I'm going to get them all retouched and uploaded. I posted most of my favorites on Twitpic throughout camp and I'll eventually upload them to Photobucket as I get them cropped and color-corrected. My major project for the week is going to be 'Shopping what seems like a million pictures. There are some quality issues because of the netting that ran around the rink and the distortion from the glass, but I got some good shots.
I don't really know how to write a recap of what went on this week, so I'll just jot down some notes about what caught my eye during training camp.
Henrik Zetterberg looks good. Really good. We all know he's a star, but he looks particularly energized right now. I know it's just practice, but he looked better than he did for most of the season last time around. I think he's going to have a good year.
Datsyuk was in rare form, too. On the first day of practice, he was cracking the crowd up by harassing one of the goalie prospects. He's every bit as entertaining to watch during practice as he is during games. Watching him just play with the puck during breaks between drills was fascinating. In other news, he and Hank could not possibly be more adorable together. Every time I looked over at them, they were huddled together talking and laughing. I can't remember who said it, but one of the Commune ladies likened watching them play around with the puck to watching otters at the zoo.
Jakub Kindl looked pretty good out there. I feel a lot better about him now than I did coming into camp. He's going to be challenging Ericsson for a job sooner rather than later.
I like the Salei signing even more than I did before. He looked good out there. He seemed like a steadying presence for Ericsson during the first few days of camp. On the way to Traverse City for the Red and White Game, we were discussing how he might be exactly what Big Rig needs to figure things out. He's not doing anything terribly flashy, but he's making smart plays with the puck and that's exactly what you need from a third pairing defenseman.
Everything I've read so far has been ripping Jonathan Ericsson based on his play in the Red and White Game. Having been there for all four days, I can say that he didn't look as bad as he did during the one televised event. He actually looked pretty good during the practices, but had problems during the scrimmages. The most glaring issue was the huge mistake on a turnover that led to Helm's goal. He still has a tendency to fall back into the routine where he stands around and doesn't move and still makes questionable decisions with the puck, but I hope being paired with Salei has the same effect that Lilja's return did last season.
Mike Modano looked pretty good out there, too. The first day of practice, he was milling around with Cleary and Hudler on the ice and all I could think was, “Holy crap. This is the Wings' THIRD line.”
I really liked Cory Emmerton, and not just because he has impeccable eyebrows. He looked good out there.
Owens is fast. I was impressed with his speed and hustle throughout camp. I particularly liked his play in the Red and White Game.
Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood both looked good in the scrimmages. I feel a little more reassured about the goaltending situation than I did before camp, but it's still my biggest anxiety heading into the season. Also, Jenn from Hockey Blogette caught a picture of Ozzie drinking a bottle of Pepsi during practice. It was one of the highlights of the week.
Aubry looks like he has good hands and a nice shot. He's someone to keep an eye on as he comes up through the system.
Cleary looked pretty good. It appears that his injury issues were taken care of during the off-season and is ready to come out and have a strong year this time around.
Pearce is my new favorite goalie prospect. There was an annoying little kid at practice on the first day who kept standing right in front of the glass and blocking our view. The next day, Pearce was chilling on the ice waiting for the players to arrive after the scrimmage and he decided to practice clearing the puck around the boards. One of his shots went high, hit the netting, dropped down behind the glass, and landed on the annoying kid who was once again all up on the glass. The Commune was instantly in love.
Poor Tomas Holmstrom can't even score in an intra-squad game without having his goals waved off. I happened to be standing directly behind the net when the puck went in and I promise you that the goal was legit. We were also totally geeking out on the first day of camp when we got to watch Homer stay after practice to work on tipping pucks in front of the net.
Franzen looks like he's gearing up to have a good season. He was doing his Mule thing all camp long and looks as good as new. This is going to be a fun year to watch, I think.
Kronwall looks like he's skating well. His knees don't seem to be bothering him so far. Here's hoping he can finally manage to stay healthy.
I'm liking the break-up of the top defensive pairing a lot more than I was when it was first announced. I still think there's a pretty good chance it won't last, but the more we discussed it amongst ourselves, the more I was sold on it. A lot of my support comes from Rafalski's play during the Olympics. On Team USA, he was the guy and he stepped up in a big way. He looked much better than he has in a Wings uniform. Our theory was that he'll once again be the guy on the second pairing and maybe he'll take charge like he did during the Olympics.
This whole experience was one of the coolest things I've been a part of. I've always wanted to go to training camp, but prior to joining the Commune, I'd never had anyone with whom to go. We had an absolute blast. Part of our group took a short trip out to Sleeping Bear Dunes and hiked up one of the dunes. We got some gorgeous pictures of the lakes and the sunset. During the scrimmages, we Kesler danced along to the music. Mike Babcock and Ken Holland were standing in the suite right above us and I don't think they were amused by our dancing. We're pretty sure we got a few death stares and disapproving head shakes were sent our way. Surprisingly, all of us survived. We rocked out in the car to a CD full of all of the Wings' old playoff songs as well as goofy things like the Zetterberg Song. (I still do a mean rendition of the I Want Stanley Rap.) We watched the Fight Night game and yelled at Claude Lemieux and had countless hours of ridiculous conversations that wouldn't make sense to anyone outside of the Commune. I didn't get nearly enough sleep and I'm pretty sure I lived mostly on cupcakes, caramel corn, and garlic-coated balls of dough. In other words, I had the time of my life.
Through all that, some of my favorite moments were when we sat around and had serious, in-depth discussions about hockey. I don't know where else one would find a group of a dozen women who love to just sit around and talk about defensive prospects and powerplay units and fourth liners and then transition seamlessly to cracking jokes about Todd Bertuzzi. The Commune is truly like nothing else.