The Carolina Hurricanes’ first practice of training camp was scheduled to begin Friday at 8:55 a.m.
Bill Peters blew his whistle at 8:52.
The Canes’ new coach was ready to get an early start at PNC Arena, and for more than three hours the players rarely stopped. Peters divided the 51 players at camp into two groups, sandwiching the group sessions around a scrimmage that started slowly and was a bit too sloppy for Peters’ taste but wasn’t lacking intensity or physicality.
On one play, forward Jeff Skinner carried the puck across the offensive blue line and found defenseman Ron Hainsey in his path. Down went Skinner.
“I tried to squeak by him there and he sort of shut me down,” Skinner said, smiling. “That’s what you want in camp, that competitiveness.”
Skinner later scored in the scrimmage – a shot through traffic that may have been tipped, Skinner said – and Hainsey shrugged off the hit on Skinner. But it was obvious throughout the morning sessions that there would be little down time and no time for niceties in camp.
Canes captain Eric Staal has played for coaches Peter Laviolette, Paul Maurice and Kirk Muller – winning the Stanley Cup with Laviolette as the coach in 2006. Peters, he said, made a good first impression.
“He comes in with a presence, a plan and an idea, which is what you want,” Staal said.
The players, in turn, gave Peters want he wanted. The pace was brisk and the players’ concentration keen.
“I thought it was good,” Peters said. “I thought we got some work done. I liked our day. We got some things done and we got better.”
Peters, who doesn’t mince words, said the forecheck was addressed on the first day. Zone entries, he said, were addressed. Assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour did a good job in handling the power play, Peters said.
As for the lines and defensive pairings, Peters said not to read too much into it, saying he was trying to balance the two groups. Peters said the first group, which had Eric Staal centering Skinner and Elias Lindholm, would be the squad that would play in the first preseason exhibition game Sunday against Columbus at PNC Arena.
“It’s a very dynamic situation with the lineup,” Peters said.
Anton Khudobin was in net for the “A group” and will be the starting goalie against the Blue Jackets.
Forward Alexander Semin, showing no effects from his offseason wrist surgery, scored on a breakaway in the scrimmage, which ended in a tie at 1.
“I thought the intensity was fine. I just thought the execution could have been better,” Peters said of the scrimmage.
Among the younger players, Peters mentioned center Victor Rask and winger Brock McGinn. Both played in the recent Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament, and Rask was a standout with four goals and four assists in the four games.
Peters, who handled the defensemen the past three years as a Detroit Red Wings assistant, said he also liked the work of Hainsey and Jay Harrison on the back end.
Hainsey, starting his 12th season in the NHL, said he’s never had a training camp in which a preseason game was scheduled after just two days of practice.
“This is unique and there’s only so much you can cram in in two days,” Hainsey said. “It was uptempo, it was quick. We got ourselves moving and got some good work in. It was fun, it was good.”
After the Blue Jackets, the Canes play back-to-back games on the road – Tuesday at Buffalo, then Wednesday against the New York Islanders. The annual Red-White game is next Friday at PNC Arena.
“We’re into a season kind of thing,” Hainsey said. “This camp will be a little more sped up, prep-wise.”
The Canes will have the same practice schedule Saturday, although the groups will be reversed. Those sessions will not be open to the public because of N.C. State’s football game, which makes parking problematic.
“I thought it was awesome,” Harrison said of the first day on the ice. “I thought the intensity was awesome and everybody was super-motivated. Everyone was on the same page. There’s no secrets about what’s expected and what we want to achieve here.”