Monday, September 6, 2010

Coyotes Training Camp Diary (2003), The Final Chapter

Here's the exciting conclusion of my diary from the Coyotes Training Camp in 2003.

Thursday, September 11, 2003:

Today started later than usual. The players spent the morning taking their physicals and getting pictures taken and filling out paperwork. There wasn't much to do around the locker room this morning because most of the players already had their equipment. So we got set up for an afternoon session (which was once again broken up into 2 groups). The guys came, skated and left. It was a pretty long day for them, so most of them had no desire to hang around afterwards. Besides, they know tomorrow's going to be another long day, and a tough one. It's the first official day of camp, with each of the groups taking a separate session in the morning and then facing each other in an intra-squad scrimmage in the afternoon.

I saw Marty McSorley in camp today. That's right..."The" Marty McSorley. He's the Head Coach of the Coyotes' AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, and he's here to help out the Coyotes staff and familiarize himself with some of the players he's going to end up with. I jokingly asked him if his stick was legal (he was called for an illegal stick in the pivotal second game of the Stanley Cup finals in 1993 against the Montreal Canadiens, and the Kings ended up losing the series). Luckily, he has a very good sense of humor (he's a BIG man). I had met him once before when he was playing for the Kings. He's one of those guys that make you want to pull up a chair and just listen to all his stories. He's awesome! He could go on for days, and I'd gladly listen to every story. Talking to him was the highlight of this experience so far (no offense, Doaner).

Friday, September 12, 2003:

Today was sheer mayhem. I can't believe how many people were at the arena when I arrived. Sportscasters and reporters from every media outlet in the state were here to report on the first day of training camp. It seems odd that there is this much interest in hockey in a place where I can see cacti across the street from the practice arena. Not that it's a bad thing; it just strikes me as odd. I got right to work setting up the benches, then checked in with Stan and see what he needed help with. We passed out the jerseys in the locker room, hanging one in each player's stall. Next, we passed out the laundry in the changing room. Then we retired to the laundry room to fold some towels. Everything else was pretty much done before we left yesterday, so all that was left were little details this morning.

The first group came in, dressed and took the ice. The coaches were out there already and they wasted no time getting started. As soon as the last guy hit the ice, they began the warm-up skate. They only had an hour and a half, so they got right to it. It was a very intense session, with lots of skating and lots of passing and shooting.

While they were on the ice, the second group arrived and started getting ready to take the ice. The first session lasted from 8:30-10am, and the second session was scheduled to run from 10:30am-12pm. Then the scrimmage was scheduled for 4-5pm. It didn't leave a lot of time in between for the players to rest, and even less for the staff to finish with one session and get ready for the next. Days like this are as hard on the staff as they are on the players.

The big talk after the first session was all about the "Silli, Willy, and Nasher" line; Mike Sillinger, Landon Wilson, and Tyson Nash. It makes me wish Nash's first name was Bill. "Silli, Willy, and Billy" has such a nice ring to it. But Nasher is happy with his first name and seems unwilling to change it for the sake of having a catchy name for his line. In any case, those three were grouped together as a line and clicked right away. They're all on the small side (Wilson's the biggest, not as big as the 6'2" and 215 lbs. the program says, but he's pretty slightly built), but very quick. They buzzed around the ice like a swarm of bumblebees and wreaked just as much havoc. They could be a lot of fun to watch this season.

Shane Doan started off the second session with a bang. Even on the first day, Doaner plays the game his way. He absolutely crushed some poor rookie who got caught skating with his head down. He kind of felt bad afterwards, but that's the way the game is played. Better to find it out now than during the regular season when an opponent catches him. A guy wearing a different crest on his jersey may not be so nice. Doan seems to be settling into his leadership role nicely. He's kind of a quiet leader, preferring to set a good example for the younger guys to follow instead of yelling at them. But make no mistake; when Shane Doan speaks, people listen.

The goaltending could be pretty good for the 'Yotes this season. They have a bunch of guys in camp, some of them pretty young, but all of them talented. Jean-Marc Pelletier is a pretty solid prospect who will probably start the season with the Coyotes AHL affiliate in Springfield. Zac Bierk split time last season between Springfield and Phoenix. Sean Burke is the veteran among them, with Brian Boucher having a fair amount of experience also. I talked to Boucher for a few minutes this morning. Scorps Assistant Coach Travis Van Tighem asked me to say hello for him (Teegs and Bouch played together with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League, winning a Calder Cup championship in 1998). All in all, they have tons of potential.

The intra-squad game was a lot of fun to watch. They knew it would be fairly short so they held nothing back. It was a very quick-paced scrimmage, with lots of action. There were a few good hits, some crisp passing, and some good saves. There were also a few very nice goals. They look pretty sharp for the first day. This could be a good year for them. There's a lot of buzz about the Coyotes this year because of the new arena. It's currently being built out in Glendale, but they'll move into it mid-season. Everybody's excited about it, except for the people in the East Valley. They'll have a loooooong trek to get to the new arena, but I think it's worth the trip. I can't wait to see some games out there.

The stands were packed for the scrimmage, and there were photographers and cameramen all over the place. After the scrimmage, the locker room was crawling with reporters. I cleared off the benches and put the cooler and water bottles away. We started the jerseys in the wash, then waited for the locker room to clear out a bit before we finished cleaning up. It took a long time, but we finally got all the laundry done and the room cleaned up and ready to go for the next day. I went over to the training room and said my goodbyes to Gord and Jukka. I took one last look around the locker room, then said goodbye to Tony and Jason and one final thank you to Stan.

In addition to being an outstanding Equipment Manager, Stan's a great guy. He gladly let me come down and see how the NHL guys do things and gain some very valuable experience. He never once talked down to me or treated me like a lesser Equipment Manager because I work in the CHL. He freely offered to help me in any way he could, and I thank him for that. For that matter, the whole staff and team and everybody that I came in contact with were very cool. The Coyotes rock!

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