WHISTLER – The Vancouver Canucks hope to be a faster hockey club this season than they were a year ago.
To that end, head coach Travis Green demanded his players report to training camp in better physical condition and warned them they’d be put to the test when on-ice sessions began here on Friday. Through two days, there has been a noticeable emphasis on tempo during drills and again in the camp’s first scrimmage, played before a full house of onlookers at the Meadow Park Sports Centre.
“I want them to play faster,” Green said after Saturday’s sessions. “I think we took steps last season, but the game is played at an extremely high pace. I’ve said it a lot -- we pushed our players to come back in better shape, but not only better shape, we wanted them to work on their skating and work on their quickness."
Derrick Pouliot, attending his first Canucks camp after being acquired on the eve of the season opener last October, felt the scrimmage took the intensity level up a notch or two after Friday’s focus was on skating.
“I could see it got a little competitive there as guys were starting to hit a little bit and battle and it’s good to see,” the defenceman said. “It’s good to get a couple of scrimmages like this before the preseason starts just to get back into that game mode and competing and working in five-man units.”
Jonathan Dahlen was among the goal scorers in a losing cause in a 3-2 Group A victory in the 40-minute-long scrimmage. The 20-year-old winger was a standout at Young Stars in Penticton a week ago, but has already detected the significant jump in competition through the first two days of main camp.
“It’s the same intensity, but [with] bigger guys and stronger players and a lot better players,” Dahlen says. “It’s a big difference than playing Winnipeg’s Young Stars, so it’s a whole other level. But I feel good. I played against men for three years back home [with Timra in Sweden], so I know they’re probably going to be a lot stronger than me. I think I hold them off pretty good along the boards and I think it’s gone pretty good these first few days."
Newcomer Tim Schaller is still settling as a Canuck after spending the past two seasons in Boston. Signed as a free agent on July 1, the winger was on the winning side of Saturday’s scrimmage and played on a line with Jay Beagle and Zack MacEwen. Everything about camp has been an adjustment for Schaller who admits there were no familiar faces in the locker room when he arrived in Vancouver a week ago.
“I haven’t played with one guy here and I had no connection with the management or anything like that,” he explained. “It’s pretty much a clean slate, but if I go out there and play my game, I can build everyone’s trust and go from there. I feel comfortable now. The first few days we were here we had a team dinner and I got to know a bunch the guys and they treated me like one of the guys, so it’s going well.”
Antoine Roussel, who suffered a concussion during a summer workout in Montreal last month, skated on his own for the second straight day before his teammates took the ice. The hope is Roussel will be able to join the main group perhaps as early as Sunday.
“He skated hard and did a skating test and I’m expecting to see him on the ice sooner than later,” said Green.
The Canucks will skate in two main groups again on Sunday followed by a third group comprised of players destined for Utica of the American Hockey League. Players are being rewarded with the chance to sleep in on Sunday with on-ice sessions slated to start an hour later than they have the first two days. Action begins at 10am Sunday with a scrimmage scheduled for 11am.