Ducks return to Honda Center for informal practice
As the clock ticks hurriedly to NHL’s opening night Jan. 19, the Ducks gathered Thursday at Honda Center for an informal practice without a coach partially to gauge where their conditioning is before the 48-game sprint of a labor-stoppage-shortened season.
“From what I saw, the guys have taken care of themselves and I think we’ll be ready to go,” said left wing Matt Beleskey, who spent three months of the layoff playing for the Coventry Blaze in England – the team covering his expenses with him funding his own insurance.
Ducks veteran Teemu Selanne assessed players such as Beleskey, defenseman Luca Sbisa, centers Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano and right wing Bobby Ryan, who played games over the break and hold an edge over others such as Selanne, who relied on mountain biking, running and informal practices to stay conditioned.
“The way things are now in this game, everyone comes to camp in great shape,” Selanne said. “But game shape comes from good practices and games. It doesn’t matter what you do -- riding a bike or running -- the games take you to another level.”
Ryan, after playing for Sweden’s Mora IK, agreed.
“The little things like timing and issues with the puck and things like that, they can’t come by doing what we were doing every day here,” Ryan said. “So I think going over there gave me a little bit of a base, I guess. It helps cardio-wise as well.”
Ryan was on the ice when Anze Kopitar of the Kings injured his knee.
“Right next to him,” Ryan said. “Actually it very well could have been me. It was a matter of five feet and could have been me if we had just switched positions. I don’t know how serious it is.
“As a member of hockey, I hope he’s OK. As a Duck, it’s a little different but you never want to see a guy hurt. It didn’t look good. It was just one of those weird, tricky plays. You could see it … I think the guy that came to hit him fell. He went forward and backward at the same time, caught up. You could see the knee bend a little bit. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.”
Ryan also experienced a 39-hour travel nightmare returning from Sweden, getting dumped off by his team in a remote place to find a train, getting a Stockholm-to-Newark-Los Angeles flight home.
Cogliano played eight games for the Austrian team Klagenfurt between mid-November and December, and also practiced at the Ducks’ and Kings’ practice facilities with players including captain Ryan Getzlaf, the players “chipping in 20 bucks apiece,” to rent the ice time, he said.
“It worked out good; I felt good out there today,” Cogliano said. “The guys are preparing. This is where we want to be, obviously.”
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau, who observed some of Thursday’s 90-minute practice from an arena seat about 25 rows above the action, said he was happy to see the players back at work after resolving their drawn-out dispute with owners.
“It’s a bit like they have a spare teacher in the classroom today, but I saw they did a good defensive zone drill, and I’m happy we’re already hard at work on defense,” Boudreau said in a nod to the Ducks ranking 19th last season in goals-against average (2.73) and missing the playoffs.
“You’ve got to believe they haven’t been sitting around on their butts all winter. Some have been playing in other leagues, and that’s good. The thing is, though, they haven’t hit or been hit by someone they hate yet. And those bumps and bruises might take a toll early on.”
The Ducks are scheduled to begin their official training camp with Boudreau on Sunday after NHL players officially ratify the labor deal Saturday. The NHL schedule could be set by Saturday, with it appearing now that the Ducks will open in Vancouver.
Instead of the typical September of a 10-day camp and exhibition games to prepare, the Ducks are headed to a Jan. 19 road game since the Honda Center will be occupied by “How to Train Your Dragon Live” through Jan. 20.
Seventeen players worked out Thursday, producing the long-awaited clacking of sticks on ice and smacking of pucks that were silenced by the dispute.
“I hope they come back,” Selanne said of fans. “They have a right not to, but I hope they know we were missing hockey, too ... put those things behind and give us support.”
Plagued by slow starts in recent years, the Ducks know they can’t allow that to happen in this shortened campaign, Getzlaf said.
“It’s the time of year when we usually crank it up, and we need to. The first 10 games are essential,” he said.
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