Ventured to Ristuccia today for the second day in a row. Got some happy news on the way over; apparently Andy Ference put some skating time in before the rest of the team came out for practice. Could we really be en route to having an entirely healthy team, soon? Consider this – Begin, Bitz, and Sturmface all skated today, participated in all drills. Granted, it was about an hour lighter than yesterday’s practice, focusing mostly on breakout drills, power play/4-on-4/4-on-3 situations, but these guys are almost ready to go, if not completely ready, as is Savard.
Ristuccia is a fun place to take in a practice. If you’ve never been, how it works is this – the bleachers are divided in thirds, two-thirds being open to the public, the other third reserved for media and Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli (they watch from the bleachers a lot, lately.) The bleachers are at ice level; I know some other teams do it differently. The Blackhawks make you watch practice from a balcony above the glass – different perspective but not as great for pictures, and you don’t get that fun opportunity to watch your favorite players right through the glass. Another fun thing is getting to see the people you know so well from TV right up close – John Whitesides and Naoko Funayama were out and about in the public side today.
Plus, the coffee machine at Ristuccia has some beneficial issues. I definitely put the same dime in four times and it kept coming back out…$1.25 hot chocolate for $0.50. HECK YES.
My love for the Ice Box aside, the most fun practices to watch are the ones like today’s. While the atmosphere of yesterday was more serious, hard-working, and down-to-business, today was a bit more light hearted at times – makes sense, given that the team will immediately travel to Buffalo this afternoon. Mark Recchi was the only person not present today; the plan is probably for him to meet the team in Buffalo.
The team was all on the ice by 11:15, for an 11:30 start time; the work ethic is really giving this practice a positive feel. The team worked on a variety of drills, from below-the-blue-line special situations to breakout passes. Lines looked like this:
Towards the end of practice the team did a shootout; Timmy stonewalled everyone except Matt Hunwick, to the raucous cheers of the rest of the team, and Tuukka let in a few, prompting a “YOU SUCK, RASK!” and some laughs from his teammates. Poor Tuukka. At least there were no milkcrates in range.
After the 12:15 stretch and huddle, some of the team headed off the ice, while others stuck around to work on one-timers. Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid hung out at center ice and worked on passing drills with coach Ramsay, emphasizing quickness and accuracy. Apparently bored with what he was doing and intrigued by this drill, Marco Sturm came over and took a run-through on this drill, followed by Steve Begin (who was sort of bad at it, much to the amusement of all watching) and then eventually Derek Morris. Begin and Sturm took a few run-throughts, before Matt Hunwick came over and took one.
The last five guys off the ice were Begin, McQuaid, Boychuk, Hunwick, and Sturm. The resilience of the two young defensemen is amazing; despite the potential of being sent down to Providence, McQuaid works incredibly hard at these practices. Which begs the question, and this is looking at the whole team – guys like Sobotka and McQuaid and Boychuk and I’m even going to include Paille in here, to be honest – they work incredibly hard, but there’s going to be at least one, if not two healthy scratches once everyone’s healthy again. Specifically on the forward side of things – Whitfield’s back down so you’ve got one empty slot. Fill that with Bitz; now there are no empty slots but you’ve got Sturm and Begin on their way back. On the fourth line today, Begin, Sobotka, and Paille rotated in; Begin played wing with Sobotka and center with Paille.
Who’s getting scratched? Is management taking the sudden glut of forwards into account as we barrel towards the trade deadline? Only time will tell.