by Jas Faulkner, Nashville Correspondent
As the Predators work their way through the preseason, it is arguable that the hardest part is still to come. Head Coach Barry Trotz has said many times that there are few if any secure places on the roster and no one should take their place on the team for granted.
“Places on the roster aren’t just given, they have to be earned”
The mix of veterans, rookies-in-development and invited prospects is typical of professional sports training camps. Two things have made this particular camp stand out from previous sessions. Coach Trotz revealed early in the process that there would be a greater emphasis on scrimmaging as a way to assess who to keep and who to send back to their places in other leagues or home to wait for another chance next season.
The departure of netminder Dan Ellis generated chatter about who would win the other goalie berth. By the time the first day of training camp rolled around and skates hit the ice, the official word from the coaching staff was that it wasn’t just that goalie position that would be a question mark during the last half of September. Very few positions were assured and no one should take for granted they would be on the roster by the end of preseason.
“We’ve got a few spots open on the team and for me personally, I’m fighting for a spot, too. I’m going to go out there like I have to earn my spot. I’m going to go out there and play for keeps. … You have to do whatever it takes to stay on the team.”
Whatever it takes has meant playing against each other in a pressure cooker environment that is populated by coaches , the media, fans and organizational figures who did almost daily temperature checks to see how the roster was shaping up. Remember the- question that every parent dreads hearing from the back seat during a road trip? “Are we there yet?” Imagine hearing that daily from your boss, your employees, people who are simply observing your work. For the coaching staff and the veterans, this is all just part of the landscape. The rookies and prospects could find the constant pressure to excel while under so much scrutiny daunting.
For some organizations, team building and the high level of competition would be an almost impossible combination. In an interview at the start of training camp, veteran player Steve Sullivan noted that the shorter camps and smaller roster sizes might make things seem easier but it could also create more intense competition as there will be less time to see what each person is capable of. The converse veiw is that this also gives Trotz and company a good idea of who is adaptable and mature enough to meet the challenges of playing in the modern NHL. Gone are the days when seventy plus players drilled and practiced for weeks. In the three week period (including preseason games) that each man has to get through without being cut, there are few if any chances to rehearse. It’s show time. Prove yourself from the first time you seet a blade on the ice or prepare to see your name on a press release announcing the newly slimmed down roster.
“Having someone show you the way, show you how it’s done is pretty important. It can make all the difference.”
One of the common sentiments that was usually expressed in an almost confessional tone was that to get through this, everyone was going to have to adopt a degree of selfishness to protect their place on the roster. In a club where speed and toughness are important, but character comes first, this can create a difficult dichotomy. Meeting youthful enthusiasm and keeping the club’s commitment to developing new talent is an added wrinkle to the intense environment that is training camp. So how do these young men who are by nature decent people stay true to themselves while doing what is asked of them by the organization?
“The young guys, they’re very respectful and we’re trying to help them too. I can remember being a young man going to camp for the first time and being nervous at times. Being able to help them out, it will go a long way towards building the team.”
- Jerred Smithson
Mentoring has been the thread that has run through training camp as days wore on and the roster whittled from 58 to 38 to (as of this morning) 27. For the veterans, it has meant demonstrating star-level talent on a team whose ethos dictates that there are no stars. It means instilling a work ethic that is present and obvious no matter what the numbers on the jumbotron may indicate. For the rookies, it is hoped that exposure to the values that go with all of the hard work will cause something inside to click.
“Mentoring is a very important aspect of training camp. It gives people a better idea of what is expected of them both on and off the ice. The veterans always make an effort to reach out to the new guys .”
Western Kentucky University’s Henry Hardin Cherry is credited with coining the phrase, “The spirit makes the master.” Unlike university students who have anywhere from two to four years to internalize that lesson. Hockey players have two to three weeks to show that they have picked up the skills they need to play in the big league. There have been some staggeringly talented young men who have been sent back for another year of playing for the teams that feed talent into Nashville. In the end, when the stats and skills between the people left standing are pretty even, it will come down to what is inside that counts. Who will have listened and heeded the veterans? This is the tell that Trotz, Poile and everyone else needs to determine who will be wearing a navy blue sweater on October 9th.
And that’s it for today, Predsnation. Be sure to catch tonight’s game on the Preds 2010 Radio Network flagship station, 102.9 The Buzz. Pregame show starts at 5:30 CST. Coming up tomorrow: I visit with some bloggers you should know. And Friday? The kids of Predsnation get their say as they talk about hockey and offer advice to the Predators, kid fan favorite Jordin Tootoo returns the favor and I tell you about some chances to let your favorite cub get some ice time courtesy of the team.