If there’s one criticism of the Carolina Hurricanes in recent years, it’s that they were too easy to play against. They were soft. Rarely could you expect a game full of hitting, and fights were slightly more common than a playoff appearance.
Thanks to a mid-season hire and the following year’s lockout, coach Kirk Muller has finally gotten the chance to orchestrate his first full training camp. And the theme this year appears to be physicality.
The second day of practice, a scrimmage, was highlighted by hits, fights, cross-checks and crunches. Mike Komisarek traded punches with Nicolas Blanchard, with neither leaving the ice any worse for wear. The same cannot be said for Jiri Tlusty, whose day ended early after a hit along the boards by Brendan Woods.
Tlusty should be fine for the weekend session, but Muller isn’t making excuses for the rough play.
“Hey, camp’s started. There are a lot of guys ready to go,” he said. “If I’m a player, I worked hard all summer, I trained in the gym all summer and I knew there was a job open right now, you’ve got to go out and show it.”
The increased intensity of training camp should come as a welcome sight to fans. Too often has there been a questionable hit with little or insignificant retaliation. Last year, when Jared Cowan laid out Jeff Skinner, clean or not, only Chad LaRose stepped up. A fan-favorite, sure, but not exactly intimidating. The aftermath of the hit was reminiscent of a chihuahua going after a pitbull: all bark, no bite.
Whether or not the hit on Tlusty was legitimate, Matt Corrente attempted to settle the score with Woods. That’s the kind of team Hurricanes’ fans should be hoping for. ‘If you injure one of our guys, there will be consequences’.
It doesn’t matter that, right now, the toughness is coming against teammates. Komisarek is no stranger to mixing it up, and Blanchard too has gotten into his share of scraps in his limited NHL action. Both are fighting, literally, to make the team in the first place. There is no on/off button; setting the tone now will carry throughout the season, and possibly, beyond.
“We’re not a team that made the playoffs or was in the Stanley Cup Final last year. We don’t have our 20 set guys. We’re looking for guys that want to play a certain style and play hard. I thought the guys got the message, and they did it on the ice today.”