Hockey is back!! At least in some form, as the Colorado Avalanche rookies took to the ice this morning at Family Sports Center for day one of rookie training camp. All in all, it was a good practice, and the guys had a lot of energy and enthusiasm to impress during the drills.
The goalies took to the ice first, and worked with goaltender coach Francois Allaire on technique. They did some post coverage drills, and also spent a lot of time working on handling the puck behind the net, and clearing it to the side-boards.
Goalie coach Francois Allaire looks on as rookie goalies Roman Will (in net), Francois Tremblay (34) , and Spencer Martin (60) do technique drills. -Photo by Austin Manak
After 10-15 minutes of the goaltenders having the ice to themselves, the rest of the guys came out and did a quick skate to warm-up. The coaches (including former Avs defenseman Brett Clark) led the team through several drills. The early drills focused on breakouts, and zone entry. For one drill, a defenseman gathered the puck in his own zone, and then made an outlet to a forward who had circled back through the zone. The forward then had a 1-on-1 with the goalie. The team broke down a couple of times, and each time the drill became a bit more complex. Eventually the breakout featured a full line of three fowards, doing a bit of a weave/passing drill before taking a shot on net.
The rookies also did some work fronting the net, and attempting to tip point shots from the defenseman. Later drills focused a lot more on in zone activity, such as puck possession in the corners, 1-on-1 battles to get to the front of the net, and some D to D passes on the blue-line followed by a shot.
My favorite drills to watch are definitely the high paced transition drills. So many moving parts, on both ends of the ice. The flow of those drills is captivating, and the overall speed of the action is a lot of fun. Scroll down for quick run-down on a few of the guys who really impressed me this morning.
Borna Rendulic #71
Rendulic was the one guy who really stood out to me this morning. The first thing that caught my eye was his size. The Avs have brought in some Euro experiments before, such as Jaraslov Hlinka and Joakim Lidstrom. These guys had talent, but they just don’t have the frame that Rendulic has. He literally looked like a man among boys out there today, and my favorite thing about Rendulic was he was always grinning from ear to ear. He just had that persona you gravitate towards on the ice.
Despite his size, he still was one of the better skaters out there. He was quick through the neutral zone, and when he took a shot, it was explosive and came off his stick smoothly. One thing I did notice was his stickhandling was a bit shaky at times. A couple times he tried to make some flashy moves and lost control, and he had a few instances in close where he could have finished a rebound, but couldn’t quite corral the puck. Overall though, a great debut for the Croatian import!
Borna Rendulic, No. 71, breaks towards the net for a shot on goal. -Photo by Nadia Archuleta
Colin Smith #37
Honestly, Smith looked like the most talented guy on the ice today. He had speed, skill, was crafty with the puck, and finished off a lot of plays. I was very impressed with his overall game. The biggest knock on Smith is his size. He is listed generously at 5’10”, 175 lbs, and while small guys have had an impact in the NHL before (Think Marty St. Louis), the Avs have gone on record to say they would like to get bigger up front. No way Smith makes the Avs, but he was still a pleasure to watch, and will give Lake Erie a talented weapon up front.
Cody Corbett #41
Corbett was undrafted, and it looks like the Avs are going to reap the fruits of signing him as a rookie free agent. He looked pretty good out there today, certainly a bit of a project, but he has some noticeable skill and upside. The main asset Corbett showed off today was his shot. His shot impressed me more than any other d-man. Not only was it hard and heavy, but he had a quick release for a defenseman. Some of the other guys had long sloggy wind-ups, but Corbett pulled the trigger quickly, an must in today’s NHL.
He looked pretty average in other areas. A few mistakes in the passing game, and had a few pucks jump over his stick. All and all though, I think the Avs should be very pleased to have this guy. He gives them a nice talented project d-man for the next couple of years.
Conner Bleackley #49
Connor Bleackley, No. 49, jumps out of line to take part in a drill at Avs rookie camp. -Photo by Austin Manak
This year’s first round draft selection had a solid debut. Lots of fans in the arena were excited to see Bleackley and were discussing him in the stands. He seemed to have a pretty polished game overall, and did most things well. He honestly didn’t do anything that made me go “WOW,” but with 20 or so guys on the ice it’s hard to keep track of everyone at all times. Maybe I just missed some of his better plays.
One thing that stood out for Bleackley was his shooting. A lot of guys just kind of shot it in the general direction of the net. Bleackley seemed to have a lot more control and precision with his shots, and was picking corners. Looking foward to keeping a closer eye on him the next couple of days.
Chris Bigras #57
One of the first things you notice about Bigras is he seems small and gives off a demeanor of being very mild-mannered. However, he has the quickest feet of any rookie Avs d-man. He utilizes those quick feet to quickly track down pucks in his zone, and re-position himself to get good angles for his breakout passes.
Bigras was on point with his passing game. Every pass was crisp and right on the tape, I never saw him make a bad pass. Bigras garnered a lot of attention after he was drafted last year, with some even saying he was a dark horse to make the team. He is still very young, but his composure on the back end, and ability to make quality breakout passes make him a very viable option for the Avalanche blue-line this upcoming season.
Overall, a good day at camp for the Avs newbies. If catching some free up close hockey sounds fun to you, the boys will be back on the ice tomorrow at 9:45 am at the Family Sports Center in Centennial, CO. My one tip is to bring a long-sleeve shirt or hoodie if you do plan on coming. Much like the pace of the drills, the arena is kept brisk!
Follow me on twitter @Cottstigan for live tweets and updates on #AvsCamp throughout the week. Also like the Mile High Sticking page on Facebook for lots more photos from training camp. I’ll leave you with a bonus Rendulic and Corbett video!