By Kirk Luedeke
WILMINGTON, Mass.– The Boston Bruins prospects continued their on- and off-ice workouts at the Ristuccia Memorial Arena Saturday in front of a large crowd that saw them conduct situational drills practice, followed by a second consecutive day of grueling power skating.
“I’m real sore,” defenseman Ryan Button said just before he headed to the team weight room for an off-ice conditioning session held by strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides. “But that’s a good thing. It means that we’re working hard and hopefully going to see some results.”
Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney, as has been the case every day since the team came together on Thursday, led the team through its paces along with Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy and goalie coach Bob Essensa. After another productive hour of drills to build individual skills and get the players comfortable with some of the hallmarks of what the Bruins like to employ against the opposition (speed, backside pressure, puck pursuit), skating coach Besa Tsintsadze ran the youngsters through another grueling session of power skating work.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have Paul Vincent, John McLean and Victor [Teleguine], some guys that have certainly helped us and it’s just an opportunity to explore a guy that brings a little different look,” Sweeney said when asked about the move to bring the new skating instructor into the fold. “He’s worked with a lot of NHL players and had, obviously some success and where he has been. It’s kind of a fresh approach. We felt that we could tap into a resource there and obviously primary focus will be here as well as Providence but there’s no reason why guys up here in Boston couldn’t use it too, because he’s got some kind of neat things that take you outside your comfort zone, which is a good thing for us.”
Center Ben Sexton, a seventh-round selection of the Bruins in 2009, echoed Sweeney’s thoughts about the benefit of the skating sessions.
“I thought it was neat,” Sexton told New England Hockey Journal. “Working on different edge and things you don’t really think of while playing in a game, so I thought it was good.”
Button saw the long-term benefit in what the team was doing with the skating work.
“The funny thing about it is that you probably won’t use any of those skills in a game,” he said. “But at the end of the day, they really do make you more of an athlete, which is going to help you skate better. A lot of it’s significantly different than a normal skating stride, but again as I said, it’s going to help us skate a lot better at the end of the day.”
Tsintsadze employs a different, even radical approach to traditional power skating instruction, emphasizing not only the edgework and attention to technique that is the foundation of any skating platform, but by placing a heavy emphasis on integrating pucks into the drills and forcing players to conduct movements that are alien to them. One such drill occurred when he had the players skate backwards while hopping over their sticks from blue line to blue line.
“I think deep down, the next drill coming, you don’t know necessarily what it is and you can be the one struggling,” said Sweeney. “There’s some ribbing going on, I’m not going to tell you, there’s guys that are like, ‘Can I send you a manual for that one?’ Because, I mean it happens. Everybody is feeling that way and one might click for you, but you might be embarrassed in the very next one, so I think that’s the beauty of that and he’ll find something during the course of the time here, I’m sure that you won’t be able to do and you’ll be challenged.
“I love the fact, to be honest with you, I love the fact that guys are falling down, guys are really trying to do the things. There was no one mailing something in out there in the course of the past couple of days from the power skating side of it that weren’t really trying to be like, ‘Wow, this is kind of neat stuff.’”
Button wasn’t the only one feeling sore, which underscored the point Sweeney was trying to make. An informal poll of six players in the locker room afterward all admitted to feeling their bodies’ protestations at the frenetic physical pace that the B’s staff has put them through in a short amount of time. If you looked closely at the way some of the players executed the skating drills towards the end of the second session, you coud perhaps see some of that soreness creeping in.
If it wasn’t the skating and the weight work that was causing some physical pain (especially in the hip flexors and groin areas) for some of the prospects, it may have been the paintball session that the team participated in Friday after their on-ice sessions ended. In a battle between the junior players and the collegians, the young Bruins came together in the woods of Maynard, Mass. to fight it out for bragging rights. Tyler Seguin jumped into the fray, joining a lot of his development camp mates from a year ago in the team building exercise.
“We went CHL guys versus the college guys and we smoked the college guys,” Jared Knight said. “It was basically a free-for-all. I think me and Koko (Khokhlachev) were hiding the most and screaming like little girls, but it was fun.”
Dougie Hamilton added that at one point, three Bruins hopefuls caught Button out in the open and let him have it with a three-on-one exchange. The red welts he had on his shoulder and arms served as evidence that while paintball is fun, getting hit multiple times by those projectiles traveling at rapid speed will leave a mark.
“Definitely not Buttsy,” Knight said when asked who he would want to be in a foxhole with based on Friday’s wargame. “I think he had 17 or 18 welts if you look at his back.”
“You gotta some have guys like me who go in and some guys like Knighter who stay back and wait for their team come to them,” laughed Button when apprised of Knight’s assessment of his paintball performance. “All fun aside, it was a lot of fun. I just thought I would I’d run in there on the last one and see what would happen. Obviously, it didn’t work out great.”
Day 3 standouts
Justin Florek: The rising senior at Northern Michigan University was active and involved in the practice session drills, at one time unloading a bomb of a shot that beat Mike Hutchinson high to the far side, ringing off the crossbar and drawing a collective gasp from the crowd. During the power skating work, he showed off impressive coordination and athleticism, especially during the cone and puck drills and in hopping over his stick while moving backwards.
Steve Spinell: There might be something here with this defender from Miami University, who is in Wilmington as an invite, but might be worth a free agent deal when his season ends. He moves well and plays a solid two-way game, but today he played snarly during the drills. At one point, he knocked Sexton into the net during a battle for position in front of Lars Volden. Spinell played briefly with Tommy Cross on the USHL’s Ohio Jr. Blue Jackets before that team folded and he went to the Fargo Force. The soon-to-be junior is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds and he plays like that. With just two goals in two seasons for the Redhawks, the offensive upside isn’t there, but with his mobility and edge, the Illinois native is worth considering as a depth addition.
Tommy Cross: The smooth-skating Cross is playing with confidence, but also asserting himself as a leader on and off the ice with this young group. At one point, he was actively directing his defense partner, Dougie Hamilton, on where to position himself to best execute the drill. Cross looked in control, but was also positionally sound, filling gaps and refusing to allow forwards to gain body position or beat him to the outside. It was another solid outing for the third day in a row for the Boston College captain and second-round pick in 2007.
Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight: Again, these two are the most advanced of the forwards at camp. Both bring two completely different skill sets, but are more confident, physically mature and clearly benefited from seeing time in Providence at the end of the year and in their off-ice conditioning to get them to this point. Spooner’s high-end offensive skills bring people out of their seats, while Knight’s lightning release and constant drive in looking to find the back of the net makes him a dangerous player anytime he has the puck on his stick.