Open training camp began on Sunday September 13th at 8:30AM, for the Calgary Flames, one day after completing their fitness testing. There has been a lot of buzz around camp this year for multiple reasons; first there are 57 players attending which is a huge group of players, second there are many new additions (many of whom have 1-way deals) who are fighting for the last few remaining roster positions, and last but not least main camp marks the new beginning for Theo Fleury, as he tries to make the squad at the tender age of 41.
The first 'real' day of camp saw the players divided into three groups of approximately 19 players each, and thus 3 separate practices were scheduled in the early morning and afternoon. I will go through each group individually and analyze the surprises, the improvements, and mis-steps.
For a full list of players and their groups go to
A few last minute changes were made to the groups and as a result Brian McGrattan came to group 1 and Greg Nemisz went to group 2.
Sutter ran the boys through many different drills but most of them focuses on either in-zone control, or 'on-the-fly' play. The first thing i noticed after the drills had begun was that Backlund had be paired up with the big guns of Iggy and Olli, and Bouwmeester was slotted with Regehr. There was a quick pace at camp and the players quickly picked up the new drills that Sutter and Lowry were running. The results from this first practice were much of what you would expect, Iginla looked great and was picking corners often with hard wristers, Jokinen was solid, and so was Backlund. On the defensive end I was really looking forward to getting my first close look at Bouwmeester and he did not disappoint. J Bo was faster than anyone on the ice, was smooth handling the puck, and making tape to tape passes like everyone knows he can, but near the end of the practice he surprised me. There was Bouw sitting at the blueline while one of the assistants passed him pucks and he was launching rockets from the point to the top shelf effortlessly. I was pretty surprised at how much power his shot has, and the fact that he was clipping the top corner (and in) made it that much more impressive.
On the other end of the spectrum was Brian McGrattan. Now I should preface this by saying that he was the only one wearing a yellow jersey (other players were in multiple colors depending on their linemates). Subsequently he did not take part in every drill but rather was often at center ice doing footwork drills with an assistant. Now the yellow jersey could mean he is injured (or recovering), but even still, he was taking extra water breaks and was bent over catching his breath at times. Not sure exactly what the case is here but I will assume it's something medical and we did not see the 'real' McGrattan.
Honorable Mentions from group 1:
- Nystrom played well and has improved his scoring touch.
- Kipper looked well but you can't really judge a goalie by practice because they don't go all out.
- Keith Seabrook, despite a so-so performance at the prospects scrimmage looked really solid defensively and broke up multiple 2 on 1's.
This group way by far the most exciting and had the most surprises in it.
Let's get right to the point; Theo Fleury comes out of the locker-room, and steps on the ice with a Flaming C on his chest, a sight many had been waiting with much anticipation to see. The first few drills were skating drills and Theo seemed to hold his own, he was obviously not as fast as he was 10 years ago but he wasn't slow by any standard. The practice wore on and Fleury hadn't really done much, he seemed to have a little trouble skating backwards and crossing over, and he hadn't put any legitimate scoring chances to the net. In fact I was close to writing him off when he seemed to get his second wind. He sniped one from the top of the circle off the post and in, and then with his next possession send a perfect pass cross crease for a backdoor goal which got the 300+ crowd going to the point of an ovation (the non standing kind). After that he really settled in and any skeptics that thought he would have no chance at making the big squad will have to admit it is a lot closer than they had initially thought. Theo aside, the biggest surprises of the day came off the stick of Nigel Dawes. Quite simply, he was on fire, scoring like crazy, lightning quick shot, solid on D, and quite honestly I would not be surprised if he spent some time on the top line this year.
Rene Bourque was wearing a yellow jersey and sat out many of the drills. He spent most of the time in front of the net at the other end of the ice tipping pucks on net with the goalie who was not currently in use. Hopefully he'll be ready to go 100% come October.
Dion Phaneuf also had a solid first day at both ends of the rink. His offensive abilities were prominent but his defense looked incredible. In one drill he had to face a set of 2 on 1's and completely shut down 4 straight attempts. Perhaps he took the possibility of a Bouwmeester rivalry to heart because Dion has definitely turned his focus up a notch.
Honorable Mentions from group 2:
- Mitch Wahl continued to impress with solid passes.
- Greg Nemisz apparently has a few moves that worked like a charm, and also made some great passes including a saucer pass that landed right in time for Lundmark to one-time home.
- Lundmark looked good but unfortunately he doesn't seem to have improved a whole lot and may be spending another year in the AHL.
- Lankow was sniping, and picking up the garbage in front of the net. Looks in great shape as well.
A little less star power in this group but a few surprises.
I spent most of this section focusing on Sjostrom because I think he could be on the bubble as far as forwards go. I thought I would see an intense Sjostrom but instead I saw one that was calm and almost seemed like he was guaranteed a job. As a result of being so calm he was able to make smart plays, great passes, and snapped a few home himself. All in all a good showing for 'Sjos' who I assume will continue to do enough to earn himself a spot. Mark Giordano stood out the most on the ice, with his speed and accuracy he was a force to be reckoned with and put together a really solid effort. Lastly another wild card came out of nowhere to impress me. This time it was Cam Cunning, and it seemed like every time he shot the puck it was destined for the inside of the post. He easily put away 5-6 goals in this manner and got multiple "ohhhh's" from the crowd and his teammates on the ice. He looked great; with a confident look on his face and the puck in the net.
Honorable Mentions for group 3:
- The line of Boyd Glencross and Moss performed very well together, they shared the puck and were solid in 5 on 5 situations
- Conroy played well with Sutter, and Sjostrom on his wings. His veteran Savvy comes out even in practice, and he showed a few times that he still has the hands to make some stunning plays.
It's really hard in situations like this to evaluate goaltenders since many of the drills are set up in a way that gives the offense a clear advantage. That said, Daniel Spence got lit up. Group 2 just let him have it today, especially Dawes who put at least 8 goals away during the duration of the practice.
All in all it was a really exciting day. Battles are setting up and I suspect that there are still many jobs to be won and lost. The year is looking more and more interesting every day that passes, and I am really stoked to get to see how the team plays once the preseason begins.
- Jason Kavanagh