ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — Jason Dickinson was warned about the dreaded bag skate he'd face on the first day of Vancouver Canucks training camp.
He kept the gruelling sprints in mind as he worked out over the summer but still found completing the feat an "enlightening" experience on Thursday.
"You do an hour-and-a-half, hour-and-45 practice with a lot of pace, a lot intensity and then a bag skate," said the versatile forward. "In the summers, you try to replicate as best you can but the lactic acid that builds up is hard to replicate. Until you actually do it, you don't actually understand just how it feels come real time."
Dealt to Vancouver by the Dallas Stars ahead of the NHL expansion draft in July, Dickinson was one of several players who got their first taste of a Canucks training camp on Thursday.
The bag skate — an annual tradition head coach Travis Green has become infamous for — left several athletes in obvious distress. Some slumped against the boards for support following the final sprint. Others were left doubled over their sticks, panting. Defenceman Olli Juolevi lay sprawled on the ice in a corner. Winger Conor Garland vomited behind a net.
“It’s definitely a hard skate, especially for someone with my speed and my short and stocky legs," Garland said. "It was hard. But I got through it."
The exercise is not just a physical battle, but a mental one, he added — and not one he put much stock in on Day 1 of his first training camp in Vancouver.
“I was more focused on the rest of practice and learning the systems," said the former Arizona Coyote. "A bag skate’s a bag skate.”
While the test may seem like torture to some, Green said it's something he puts players through for a reason.
"It’s a tough skate but a lot of them have done it a lot of times. I think new players probably struggle with it a little bit more just because they haven’t done it," he said. "Guys that have been here, they know what’s coming. I’ve seen the skate done a lot of times. You learn a lot about what a guy’s done over the summer to get ready, especially if they know that it’s coming.”
Some players felt they had more to prove than physical fitness as camp opened Thursday.
Alex Chiasson joined the Canucks late Wednesday night after signing a professional tryout contract.
“I’ve been this route before. I gotta go out and I gotta earn a spot on the team," he said.
"From today to the end of camp, I’ve got to go, I’ve got to show that I deserve to be on the team. I think from what I’ve done in the last three years I’ve built somewhat of a nice resume for myself. … I still think I have a lot to offer and I just want to be piece of the pie.”
A veteran forward, Chiasson spent the past three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, putting up a career-high 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists) in the 2018-19 campaign, but found himself without a contract just days before NHL training camps were set to open.
The 30-year-old Montreal native said he had similar opportunities with four to six other teams and picked Vancouver because he believes it's somewhere he can have success.
“It’s fair to say it’s not an ideal scenario but you ask people that know me, I’ve had to earn to stay in the NHL," he said. "I think playing in the league is a privilege.”
Canucks captain Bo Horvat said adding Chiasson to the roster is a "great pickup" for Vancouver.
“I know what he’s like. I played against him a lot last year and the years previous to that," he said. "He’s a big body, he’s got some skill in front of the net and hard to knock off the puck. So I think we need that in our lineup and he’ll be great for us.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021.