RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes’ team scrimmage had barely started Tuesday when defenseman Tim Gleason put a hard shoulder into forward Jeff Skinner along the boards.
Gleason never stopped hitting. In the final minutes of the scrimmage, with most of the players slowing down, he twice rocked forward Jussi Jokinen during puck battles.
“Jussi was a little mad at me at the end, but that’s the only way I can get into it,” Gleason said. “If I’m floating around, I’m not effective. It was good to get some physical (play) in there.
“They’re going to get it in the games, and so am I. I think it was a step in the right direction, to get into a game situation as quick as we can.”
That’s the way Canes coach Kirk Muller wanted it. Carolina originally was to play eight preseason exhibition games this season – that is, before the NHL lockout. With an abbreviated training camp and regular season fast approaching, they had to settle for one preseason scrimmage at Raleigh Center Ice.
The Red team, with Dan Ellis in goal, topped Cam Ward and the White 5-2. But Muller and his coaching staff were more interested in looking at different players and different line combinations.
“The pace and the tempo and the energy of the guys was better than we were expecting, so that’s a nice sign,” Muller said. “Getting the contact, getting the speed, having guys playing against you – that’s the only way to do it.”
With RCI packed with Canes fans, Alexander Semin created an early stir by ripping a shot from the slot past Ward. It was the kind of shot – heavy, wickedly quick – that Semin often used to hurt the Canes during his years with the Washington Capitals.
Jordan Staal had a goal for the White. So did Jeff Skinner, who played on Staal’s left wing.
“The big boys scored, so they’re happy. That’s good,” Muller said, smiling.
Getting a lot of scrutiny were the players called up from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. The Hurricanes announced later Tuesday that centers Jeremy Welsh and Riley Nash had been reassigned to the Checkers.
Forward Zach Boychuk started the scrimmage on Eric Staal’s line along with Semin and scored on a shot from the left wing that beat Ward. Drayson Bowman, who had the first goal of the scrimmage, later played the left side on Staal’s line.
Zac Dalpe, recalled Monday from Charlotte, opened on the right wing with Jordan Staal at center and Skinner on the left wing.
The defensive pairs included Bobby Sanguinetti, another callup, and Ryan Murphy, a 2011 first-round draft pick by the Canes who is playing junior hockey for the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League. What Murphy lacks in size, he makes up for with his quickness and stick-handling.
“I thought Sanguinetti was really good,” Muller said. “ ‘Murph’ brings a different dynamic to the game.”
Muller said the small rink at RCI was “like the old Boston Garden” and made for some physical play in tight quarters.
“It made guys make plays a little quicker, with the big bodies out on that small surface,” he said. “That’s a key for getting their timing, getting their hands, getting some scoring opportunities.”
The Hurricanes will return to PNC Arena for 11 a.m. camp practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that are open to the public. They’ll have more personnel decisions to make before the Saturday opener against the Florida Panthers.
For most of the Canes, the team scrimmage – three 18-minute periods – was as close as they’ll get to NHL game action before Saturday.
“It was nice to get more of a game flow and get that timing back,” Jordan Staal said.
Skinner, like Staal, liked the fast pace, saying, “I thought was a high-tempo, get-back-into-games situations. Guys were ready to go.”
Gleason was ready. Muller smiled when asked about Gleason’s early hit on Skinner.
“ ‘Gleas’ gave him a little wakeup call, which is good,” he said. “It was good for the boys.”