GLENDALE, Ariz. – If fans wanted to see a lot of plays worthy of a highlight reel on the opening of the Phoenix Coyotes’ training camp, they came to the wrong place.
The Coyotes, entering their third season as the NHL parent of the Portland Pirates, got right down to the grind of playing professional hockey in their first practice sessions at Jobing.com Arena on Thursday morning.
“The first couple of days are some hard practices to get ourselves back into the grind mindset and get away from summer hockey,” said Coach Dave Tippett, who had guided the Coyotes to three consecutive playoff appearances before falling short last season. “Today (was) dealing with a lot of structure without the puck and competitive levels without the puck.”
The players spent much of the practice sessions at one end of the ice engaged in one-against-one drills.
“What we’re trying to do today is to make sure there’s some competitiveness in it,” Tippett said during a press conference midway through the practice session. “You will see that all of the drills are one-on-one stuff and three-on-three competitive stuff. The thing that they don’t get in summer skates is real hard one-on-one competition.”
The players at the camp — six goalies, 16 defensemen and 35 forwards — have been divided in three groups. Each group spent 90 minutes on the ice doing drills Thursday.
“The names are not (drawn) out of the hat,” Tippett said. “There’s a method to the madness.”
Each group consisted of Phoenix veterans, young AHL players and future prospects.
“You’ve got to have balance of veterans and young players with each group,” Tippett said. “I expect the veterans to lead the way in intensity and how we practice, and young players can learn from that.”
While Tippett and his staff were on the ice running the practice sessions, the Portland coaching staff sat in the stands.
“We’re observing the coaches and evaluating the players,” Portland Coach Ray Edwards said. “We want to see how things are introduced and taught to the players, so we can do it in the same way in Portland.”
More than 30 players at Thursday’s practice participated in a four-day rookie camp that ended Tuesday. Despite the grinding nature of the training sessions, some of those players noticed an up-tick in the speed and intensity level.
“Today was definitely a step up, that’s for sure,” said goalie Mike Lee, who played 16 games for the Pirates. “The big guys were here and everything is happening a little faster out there. It’s good to get in a good workout. I just got to make adjustments and get up to speed.”
Because of the player lockout, the Coyotes didn’t hold training camp last season.
“I think there’s a little more excitement,” said defenseman Michael Stone, who signed a three-year contract with the Coyotes last June, spending half of the AHL season with the Pirates. “There seems to be more jump, and everybody is anxious to get going.”
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