RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes owe one to Taylor Swift.
Because of Swift’s concert Friday at PNC Arena, the Canes had to move to Raleigh Center Ice for the day. Two preseason practices were held, and a team scrimmage that proved to be feisty, fierce and physical.
Before the scrimmage ended, there were two fights, a lot of big hits, one woozy player and a smile on the face of Canes coach Kirk Muller.
“I’m very pleased. The competitive level was great,” Muller said.
The smaller rink at RCI was a factor in the physicality. Put big bodies in smaller spaces and there will be more collisions on the ice.
Forward Jared Staal had the first big hit in the scrimmage, a jarring check on defenseman Tim Gleason.
“I thought he set the whole tempo of the practice with his hit,” Muller said.
Jared Staal, the youngest of the Canes’ three Staal brothers, wasn’t through, later hitting Gleason again and drawing a menacing stare and glare.
Soon, veteran defenseman Mike Komisarek and forward Nicolas Blanchard dropped the gloves and started throwing punches. Later, defenseman Matt Corrente and forward Brendan Woods did the same.
Corrente was reacting to Woods hammering Jiri Tlusty along the boards. Tlusty left the ice for treatment and was held out of the second practice session, but Muller said the forward could return for Saturday’s workouts at PNC Arena.
And no complaints from the coach.
“Hey, camp’s started,” Muller said. “There are a lot of guys ready to go. There’s a fine line between respect and veterans and young guys and wherever you are on the totem pole. ... If I’m a player and I worked hard all summer and I trained in the gym and I know there’s a job opening right now, you’ve got to go out and show it. That’s where we’re at.
“We’re not a team that made the playoffs or the Stanley Cup finals last year. We don’t have our 20 set guys. We’re looking for guys who want to play a certain style and play hard and I thought the guys get the message and did it on the ice.”
The pace of the scrimmage was brisk, the mood intense. Forwards Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman scored, but the staff was gauging effort as much as results Friday.
Blanchard, like Jared Staal, spent most of last season with the Charlotte Checkers in the American Hockey League but did make his NHL debut with the Canes. Komisarek signed a one-year, free-agent contract with the Canes, looking to resurrect his career after some lean years with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In a flash, the two were at each other behind the net, landing some solid blows. And then, just as quickly, shaking it off.
“It happens when you battle hard in a scrimmage,” Blanchard said. “It’s not something you’re looking to do against your own teammate. But after the fight I tapped (Komisarek’s) pads. It was over. He wasn’t mad and I wasn’t mad. It just happened. We play hard.”
Asked about the fight, Komisarek smiled and said, “These young guys run around, with a lot of energy. You have to quiet them down a little bit.
“No, it was great to see. Guys are battling, guys are competing. It’s exactly what you want coming into a camp like this. The team hasn’t made the playoffs in quite some time. Everyone is hungry, everyone is pushing each other. Guys are battling and competing for ice time and spots.”
Forward Nathan Gerbe was not at practice Friday because of personal reasons. Forward Sergey Tolchinsky sat out his group practice and the scrimmage but said he hoped to return Saturday.
Defenseman Ron Hainsey, a free agent signed Thursday by the Canes, will put in his first practice Saturday.
The Hurricanes will hold two group practices and another scrimmage Saturday at PNC Arena, beginning at 9 a.m. The annual Caniac Carnival, which begins Sunday at 10 a.m. at PNC Arena, is highlighted by the Red-White scrimmage at 1 p.m.
“We’re not letting up,” Muller said. “What we saw today, we want to see tomorrow. One good practice doesn’t make it for some guys. The carryover and the energy has to build right into tomorrow and the following day and right into the Red-White game.”