Usually it still feels like summer outside when training camp begins. This year, there was a touch of fall in the air. Despite the cool and overcast morning, over 1,000 fans poured into a cold ice arena to see the Anaheim Ducks take to the ice for the first time since April.
Judging by the amount of cash overflowing the money box, most fans ponied up $5.00 apiece to go to the Anaheim Ducks Foundation. Having hockey back seemed to put everyone in a good and generous mood.
The crowd, hungry for their favorite team, were easily pleased by what they saw on the ice.
Players were split into two groups and ran through standard drills and conditioning. Nearly every puck that went into the net was cheered. When Jonas Hiller stuck his head out of the locker room tunnel, fans erupted in support.
By the time the Zamboni had cleared the ice for group two, everyone knew who would be on the ice in this group. Including some 41 year old guy from Finland. Teemu Selanne got a standing ovation just for coming out onto the ice. No need for “one more year” to be chanted, as he has already signed that contract.
There are three players at camp not cleared for contact – Toni Lydman, Matt Beleskey and Matt Kennedy. They wore the “don’t hit me” red jerseys and participated in regular skating drills but none of the contact drills. Kurtis Foster was not on the ice at all due to an inflamed knee.
Hiller, who suffered from vertigo for the final half of the season, looked sharp during drills. While he was a bit foggy and a split second behind in his reactions in the spring, he looked on top of his game. If Hiller can avoid further bouts of vertigo (which can come at completely random times) things look solid for the Ducks in net.
While players will be competing for spots in the bottom six forwards, the defense seems pretty set. Goaltending will likely be Hiller and Dan Ellis, but Ellis will have competition for back up with Jeff Deslauriers and Iiro Tarkki.
Sunday will be another day on the ice for both groups and then Monday will see the first scrimmage. By then, they will be chomping at the bit to hit someone and try to make the best impression they can to the coaching staff.
The first pre-season game is on Tuesday, so there is not much time to figure everything out and get down to business.
One thing is certain – hockey season is back and it feels really good!