There’s an old adage amongst sports people that says “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” when referring to a season and for the Portland Winterhawks, the first section of the marathon passed yesterday afternoon when they wrapped up the first part of the 2010-11 training camp at the Memorial Coliseum.
Of the 80 or so players that took part in the past five days of both on and off ice sessions, the team was expected to keep around 40 for more sessions this week. From there, they will narrow it down a bit more before heading to Everett for the preseason tournament that starts at 11:30 AM on Friday at the Comcast Arena when the Hawks take on the Seattle Thunderbirds.
For the most part, the players that are heading to pro camp should be around for the games this weekend. How much they play will be determined by the coaching staff, but they should be around. One that won’t be there is Ryan Johansen who is off to begin work with the Columbus Blue Jackets. So, I guess the Ryan and Nino watch is officially on as both players will do their best to show their respective NHL teams that they are worthy of a roster spot as 18 year olds.
The other 11 players leaving to attend camps (Brett Ponich/St. Louis, Spencer Bennett/Calgary, Brad Ross/Toronto, Taylor Aronson/Nashville, Troy Rutkowski/Colorado, Luke Walker/Colorado, Mac Carruth/Chicago, Riley Boychuk/Buffalo, Oliver Gabriel/Columbus, Tayler Jordan/Vancouver and Taylor Peters/Pittsburgh) will depart by early next week.
As far as the last few days of camp went…I was impressed with the skill level of the players in camp and, while the scrimmages were more run-and-gun than a normal game would be, there was a lot to like about the depth of the Hawks 50 man protected list. Did any newcomer do enough to unseat a current member of the protected list? That will be determined by the hockey operations staff of the Hawks and as per norm, the protected list changes won’t be made public unless a player signs the WHL agreement.
Looking at potential newcomers to the 2010-11 roster, I focused on the potential 1994 class (16 year olds) and liked what I saw from all of those that have already committed to the Hawks. A few notes, in no particular order:
Derrick Pouliot – every time that I watch him, I am impressed by his command of the game and his poise and decision making. He never seems to panic and when he had the puck on his stick, his team was in control. He did seem to rush some shots on scoring chances, but scored a beauty of a goal to tie the game late on Saturday to propel his team into the final of the Neely Cup on Sunday.
Taylor Leier – Had good chemistry with Johansen on his team and showed that he can get to the scoring spots on the ice and make something happen when he gets the puck in those spots. Finished with 6 goals and 10 points (unofficially) in the scrimmages and coming up and practicing with the Hawks during the postseason probably helped him in preparation for this season.
Josh Hanson – His skating really impressed me this past week and, much like Pouliot, is very poised with the puck. He was steady and you didn’t notice him much in the defensive zone, which is a good thing. Smart, both on and off the ice.
Brendan Leipsic – The little guy…I’m sure he’s tired of hearing that. Little or not…he plays big and he showed that he has some nice offensive instincts that will go a long way in the WHL. He had a number of guys after him as the games progressed and that is a sign of the type of game he plays.
Adam Smith – Adam knows only one way to play – physical. He drives to the net with no fear and often times finds himself being the center of attention in goal mouth scrambles for crashing the crease. He skates well for a big body and will be a force in front of the net.
Just how many of these five will be with the team this year is still to be determined, but all proved that they can be WHL players and it showed how deep the Hawks are in a lot of areas. Will we be comparing the 1994 bantam draft class to the 1992 bantam draft class in a year or two? Only time will tell…
For the 1993 bantam draft class…the three players that played last year in Portland all showed very well in the scrimmages with Ty Rattie leading the way, posting 8 goals and 15 points in the scrimmages. The puck follows Rattie and he handles it in tight traffic incredibly well, even when on his knees. Could he have the type of season where is a top 10 NHL draft selection next June? He’s off to a great start. The other two, Seth Swenson and Tyler Wotherspoon had solid camps as well and look like they will battle for increased roles in their second years in the WHL.
In net, there will still be a battle for positioning with Ian Curtis recovering from shoulder surgery and not available until October at the earliest. It will be interesting to see how the remaining goaltenders (I haven’t seen the list of who is still around as of yet) fare this weekend in Everett.
All in all, the past few days have been a chance for players to be seen by the Hawks hockey staff and to get to know what hockey in Portland is all about. They were put through some rigorous fitness and on-ice sessions and the results were positive. The talent level of the players in attendance may have never been higher in team history.
The next leg of the marathon starts this weekend in Everett. I’ll be on hand and I have figured out how to do live-blogging, so look for that for the three games starting Friday morning. I’ll have more details on that in the next couple of days.