The tone for the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2017 training camp was set as soon as the schedule came out.
Physicals start at 7 a.m. First practice: 8:45 a.m. Be up early, and get to work.
That’s exactly what the Hurricanes did as their 2017-18 season got underway Friday morning at PNC Arena. A spirited Bill Peters, whose whistle only left his mouth when he was giving instruction for the next three-plus hours, ran the Canes through several passing and decision-making drills, emphasizing over and over again the need to think correctly.
This defenseman needs to be here. This wing needs to be there. Do it again, until it’s right.
“It makes you ready and aware to bring your best,” said Jordan Staal, entering his sixth camp with Carolina.
“The expectation is definitely raised,” said Brett Pesce. “Everyone believes in each other, and everyone has another year under their belts. We expect to be that much better.”
Both practice groups spent the first 45-minute session on breakout drills and puck control exercises. There was very little in the way of the basics, and in some ways it resembled a midseason practice more than the first day of camp. Peters clearly left his players with work to do over the summer, and wasted no time jumping right into camp, a clear contrast to last season when his duties at the World Cup of Hockey prevented him from being present at the start of camp.
Following that session, the team cleared the ice to allow for resurfacing, and returned for 30 more minutes of work. Instead of the intrasquad scrimmages of years past, this time Peters had his players go through 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 drills. Long a weak point for the Hurricanes, the coaching staff seems to be setting the tone early that every point is valuable and reduced-man even strength situations will be a focus this season.
But the players didn’t seem to mind. In fact, Scott Darling and his compatriots on Team Dineen, Jeremy Helvig and Jeremy Smith, were on the ice well before the start of the first session, taking shots from new goaltending coach Mike Bales twenty minutes before their teammates joined them.
Darling said that there was an undercurrent of excitement leading into the first day of camp.
“There’s been a lot of excitement in the room, between the guys and the staff and everyone,” the Canes’ new netminder said. “It’s been what we’ve been waiting for. We’ve been waiting to get going. It was a lot of fun today.”
Unlike in past camps, when the NHL roster may not have been as clear-cut entering camp, this time around it seems that the pecking order is fairly set already. Instead of having lockers down hallways and into workout spaces, this season the Canes’ locker room is occupied solely by those players who are likely to take the ice on October 7 against the Wild. Everyone else - those likely ticketed for the minors - is in the visitor’s locker room on the other side of the ice.
But three empty spaces remain in the main locker room. Two are along the right wall, between Derek Ryan and the seven defensemen. And one is dead center, awaiting the appointment of the Canes’ next captain.
Who will occupy that stall remains an open question.
“I haven’t heard anything,” said Staal, the brother of the last man to wear the C. “It definitely would be an amazing opportunity. We’ll see how it happens.”
But whoever it is, he will lead a team of players expecting to make the jump to a playoff contender. Justin Williams said it at media day last week, and Darling reiterated it again on Friday morning.
“We have a good enough team to make the playoffs this year. That’s our goal. Anything less isn’t going to be acceptable, so that’s what we’re shooting for.”
The teams will next take the ice - again, early - tomorrow morning, and get to sleep in a bit on Sunday before the Caniac Carnival, with the first session starting at 10:30.