After each team’s morning skate, I spoke with a few players from each team and had all of them size up their competition. What I learned: the atmosphere in the two locker rooms was very different.
Calvin de Haan and Nino Niederreiter, players for the Blue Team, gave some detailed answers, but were primarily down to business. But when I walked into the White Team’s locker room and spoke to Aaron Ness and Rhett Rakhshani, their answers were quite comedic. So who will take the cake tonight, the down to business Blue Team or the fun and energetic White Team?
Here’s what the Blue Team had to say:
Calvin de Haan
Q: Tell me, what do you expect from tonight’s game?
de Haan: I think it’s going to be a pretty high-tempo game. A lot of guys are trying to make first impressions and some are trying to make lasting impressions as well. I think guys are going to work hard out there, especially for some of the camp invites. It’s a chance to make a name for themselves.
Q: Which team do you think will win?
de Haan: We think we’re going to win. You have to be confident, but at the same time you can’t be cocky, it’s a fine line. Their top line definitely has a lot of skill, with (Rhett) Rakhshani and (David) Ullstrom up there. They had great seasons last year. And they have the pest up front too, (Justin) DiBenedetto. He’s going to try to get under our skin, I can tell you that right now. Other than that, they have a solid squad just like us. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Q: What’s the best part about the skills competition?
de Haan: The skills competition is a good time to show some creativity that we have as players and as goalies to stop the puck, making incredible saves on breakaways, but it’s competitive as well because it’s an aspect of the game. It’s a good way to show your creativity.
Q: Who do you think will win tonight?
Niederreiter: I have no idea. I think we have a very good team and my opinion, we’re probably going to win. We have great skill. Kirill (Kabanov), Ryan (Strome) and I have some good chemistry so far, we’ve been passing a lot. They’ve got good skills and good shots, so I think it’s going to be a good line.
Q: Do you think it will be a close game?
Niederreiter: It’s definitely going to be a good battle. We both have good teams. It’s always fun to play summer hockey. There’s going to be a lot of good skill out there and we’ll be competing hard so it will be very fun.
Here’s what the White Team had to say:
Q: What do you think of your competition?
Ness: I haven’t had the chance to see them, but I think we’re the harder working team. I think we’re a little more skilled too, on both ends. We’ve got great goaltending and really great coaches (Brent Thompson and Geoff Sanderson) so it will be a good game, but hopefully we’ll come out on top.
Q: So you’re not going to size them up for me at all?
Ness: I haven’t really had a chance to look at the roster yet. I usually like to study that before the game starts, so a couple hours before the game I’ll check out the roster and memorize some of their numbers. So it won’t be until pregame that I’m going to know this stuff.
Q: Want to give me a more serious answer?
Ness: I think both teams are pretty even tonight. You never know until you jump on the ice. We didn’t get the chance to watch them at all this week because they were on the ice when we were in the gym and vice versa so it will be fun to see what they have. It should be a good game.
Q: How is your team’s chemistry?
Ness: It’s been good. There have only been a couple practices so we’re kind of jumping right into it. I think we worked hard this week. I think we’re ready to jump out there and into a game situation.
Q: Mark Katic said he was going to try the knuckle puck during the skills competition. Do you have any hidden skills or surprises up your sleeve?
Ness: No, I don’t have any moves. I’m more of a shooting guy. I’m just going to go down, shoot as hard as I can, close my eyes and hopefully it goes in. I don’t know what a knuckle puck is, but we’ll see.
Q: You have the mentality that you guys are going to win tonight?
Rakhshani: That’s not our mentality. That is what’s going to happen. We’re going to win. The biggest concern for them right now is do we want to just beat them or do we want to embarrass them. Because I think that’s what it comes down to. We’re all friends and we’re all Islanders here, but at the end of the day, where do we stop? Do we stop at three goals? Five goals? A ten-goal lead? That’s important for us and that’s what we’ll be talking about – how much we want to beat them by. It will be fun. We’re excited to work on some moves out there and work hard.
Q: When I went into the other room, they were more sizing up the competition and you guys are a little more comedic in your responses. Why do you think that is?
Rakhshani: That’s because they’re worried about us. They’re very worried.
Q: So you guys are worried, not at all about the other team?
Rakhshani: No. You respect all opponents, but you fear none. We’ll respect them enough not to completely embarrass them.
Q: Skills competition, do you have any moves planned?
Rakhshani: I don’t know. We’ll see what event I’m chosen for. Everyone tries to have fun out there and has some fun moves or will pull something crazy out of their sleeves, so it should be fun.
After a long week of Mini-Camp anticipation, it's finally the day of the Blue & White Scrimmage and Skills Competition.
Today will run just like a normal game day. The Blue Team had their morning skate at 10 a.m., followed by the White Team at 11:00 a.m. After the skate, the players will go back, relax, have lunch and maybe take a nap before coming back to Nassau Coliseum for a competitive, yet fun Blue & White Scrimmage which will be followed by a Skills Competition.
Blue Team Lineups:
37 Kirill Kabanov - 8 Ryan Strome - 25 Nino Niederreiter
62 Tyler McNeely - 53 Casey Cizikas - 56 John Persson
64 Ben Thomson - 28 Johan Sundstrom - 61 Mitchell Theoret
42 Max LeSieur - 54 Tony Romano - 6 Max Capuano
* Will rotate with seven men
3 Calvin de Haan - 63 Scott Mayfield
71 Mark Katic - 41 Robbie Russo
33 Benn Olson - 58 Bennett Schneider
50 Teigan Zahn
52 Chris Rawlings (First period)
34 Nicola Riopel (Second period)
White Team Lineups:
18 Justin DiBenedetto - 45 David Ullstrom - 49 Rhett Rakhshani
58 Anders Lee - 11 Brock Nelson - 56 Cody McNaughton
63 Danny Linell - 38 Corey Trivino - 62 KJ Tiefenwerth
61 Dan O'Donoghue - 37 Ben Rosen - 64 Stephen Alonge
* Will rotate with seven men
24 Aaron Ness - 29 Matt Donovan
42 Andrey Pedan - 41 Brenden Kichton
33 Art Bidlevskii - 6 Mike Marcou
50 Mei Ushu
34 Cody Rosen (First period)
52 Anders Nilsson (Second period)
“It was my first time on the ice here at the Nassau (Coliseum),” Strome said. “It’s good to kind of get that under your belt and get the first one out of the way. It was good to get back on the ice. That’s what we’re here for and that’s the fun part. So it was great.”
Even though the campaign for a new arena is in full swing, Strome still thought it was cool to be skating at the original Coliseum, where four Stanley Cups were won.
“It was cool,” Strome said about skating at the Nassau Coliseum. “It could be a big part of my future. Hopefully it is. It’s great to have that first experience under your belt. It was very exciting and little nerve racking at first, but it’s just hockey and I had a lot of fun.”
|Ryan Strome takes a shot on Anders Nilsson during a on-ice session at Islanders Mini-Camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.|
“He’s been up for a couple of games in the NHL and he knows what it takes,” Strome said. “I’ve been talking to him a little bit, giving me a little advice and I’m just trying to following in his footsteps and learn everything I can.”
He’s also received a bit of mentoring from fellow Mississauga native and first round pick, John Tavares. The two even shared a few text messages yesterday, with Tavares asking Strome how he’s doing.
“(Prior to the draft) we kind of joked about it (being on the same team) a little bit,” Strome said. “It’s reality now. He’s a good role model and a good guy to look up to. He works so hard. He’s such a professional and we all know how good he is. So it’s great to kind of learn from him and see what he does every day, just go under his wing a little bit and learn everything I can. He’s a good guy and he’s helped me out a lot.”
Tavares, the first overall selection in 2009, made his transition from Junior to the NHL rather quickly, playing pros the very same season he was drafted. Niederreiter, drafted fifth overall in 2010, played nine games last season and is hoping to make the Islanders roster straight out of Training Camp this year.
So if Strome wants to follow in his teammates footsteps, he said, “This is work time. I want to make the team and this is the first time. So yeah, this is exciting and it’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, but it’s down to business now. They’re (management, coaches and scouts) all watching, they’re all watching 24/7. So it’s definitely time for work.”
Fans will get to see Strome’s talent first-hand on Saturday night when he and the rest of the prospects gear up for the Blue & White Scrimmage and Skills Competition.
“That’s what we’re all here for, to play,” Strome said. “Hopefully the fans get a good look at the future and what the Islanders have here. I think it’s a bright future, so I’m very excited.”
The White Team took the ice for their first on-ice session at 10 a.m. while the Blue Team were completing their first off-ice session with Islanders Strength & Conditioning Coach Jesse Demers. Coaches consisted of Islanders head coach Jack Capuano, Islanders skills coach Bernie Cassell, Islanders goalie coach Mike Dunham, Islanders player development personnel Eric Cairns and Geoff Sanderson, and Sound Tigers assistant coach Eric Boguniecki.
The group did a couple warm-up laps before meeting again at the center circle as Rhett Rakhshani and David Ullstrom led the stretches.
While the White Team skated, a cloud of Islanders personnel sat in the rafters of the 200 section, including Islanders General Manager Garth Snow and a slew of scouts. If the prospects weren't nervous prior to the start of camp, they could be now.
The White Team:
Stephen Alonge, Justin DiBenedetto, Brett Gallant, Anders Lee, Danny Linell, Cody McNaughton, Brock Nelson, Dan O'Donoghue, Rhett Rakhshani, Ben Rosen, KJ Tiefenwerth, Corey Trivino, David Ullstrom
Art Bidlevskii, Matt Donovan, Brenden Kichton, Mike Marcou, Andrey Pedan, Mei Ushu
Anders Nilsson and Cody Rosen
"It was pretty busy with all the phone calls and everything, but it’s kind of slowed down now," Mayfield said. "I just started getting ready for camp right away. I wanted to train and be ready for the ice part too."
Strome added, "It’s exciting and I wouldn’t want it any other way."
Both of the guys plan to take this week in stride. The coaches and management will be looking at them closely, but more importantly, this week is about becoming familiar with the organization, management, coaches and staff, as well as bonding with their fellow Islanders prospects.
"It’s great. I’ve been waiting for it since the draft," Strome said. "To come down here and get a taste of the future, hopefully, and meet some of the guys and all the staff is good. It’s been great so far. Everyone has been welcoming and I just can’t wait to get things started and get on the ice. It’s like a big family here."
Mayfield said, "I’m just trying to have a lot of fun with it. I think it’s a great experience. Not a lot of kids get to do it. It’s nice meeting all the guys in the organization. That’s what I want to take from it."
On Day One, the guys had their physicals and fitness testing before taking off for a deep sea fishing adventure. While fishing is sure to provide some fun memories, it's definitely not everyone's favorite day. Most of the guys, are looking forward to getting out on the ice and playing in the Blue vs. White scrimmage at the end of the week.
"I’m looking forward to the game," Mayfield said. "I think it would be cool to compare myself on the ice to some of these guys. I’ve played against some of them, but not all of them so I think it will be a lot of fun."
Islanders Strength & Conditioning Coach Jesse Demers said that fitness testing is done by every team at the start of camp so that management can asses the returning players improvement from the previous year, but also so that they can show each player their progress and areas that could still use improvement. For the new players, it allows management to see each player's fitness level as well as give them a reasonable goal for when they come back for Training Camp in September.
Demers noted, it also helps stir a little healthy competition amongst the players.
The tests each player will undergo include:
- Body Fat, Height and Weight
- Vertical jump (Power)
- Triple long jump (Power and endurance)
- Hexagon drill (Quickness)
- Pull Up (Upper body and muscular endurance)
- Medicine Ball Throw (Upper body power)