The Growlers were back on the ice at the Paramount Fine Food Centre in Mississauga on Wednesday for Day Two of Training Camp.
Today was going to be a slightly different day compared to yesterday. Gone were the team practices, replaced by a full three-period run time scrimmage, pitting the Growlers hopefuls against each other in a Team White vs Team Black battle.
Before the scrimmage began, the goaltenders took to the ice with Growlers assistant coach Darryl Williams, goaltending coach Marek Benda and video coach Paul Dagg for a quick warmup.
I traded in my broadcaster hat for a coach’s hat for the goaltending session as Benda requested that I run his camera in the stands in order to capture footage of the goaltenders for further scrutiny and analysis.
As I watched the coaching trio work through puck handling drills, lateral movement drills and more, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the Toronto Marlies’ goaltending prospect (and possible Growlers Opening Night starter?) Maksim Zhukov.
He executed the various drills almost flawlessly and showed signs of poise. You know that quality that, say, Carey Price has, where he makes the goaltending position seem effortless because of next-level positioning and skill? There were definitely flashes of that same quality – so get excited.
After a half-hour of acting as a human tripod for the coaching staff, it was time to scrimmage. Growlers Head Coach John Snowden requested that I run the clock for the game, as the club set out to emulate a real game experience, complete with ECHL referees.
Happy to oblige and further help the coaching staff, I gingerly trotted across the freshly-flooded ice to the timekeepers booth and quickly learned the buttons to press to add time to the clock, change periods and add goals.
With Snowden and Williams perched in the stands and Dagg and Benda running the benches, scrimmage began and let me tell you, the pace and skill was evident from the opening puck drop.
Sure, the hockey was a little raw, which is understandable given that this group had been assembled just days earlier, but the compete level was through the roof and even saw some physicality, especially from Waterloo, Ontario native Jimmy Soper, who attended Growlers camp last season and appeared in two regular-season contests with the club.
Again, as I mentioned yesterday, I am by no means an expert in player evaluation, but I don’t mind sharing my thoughts about the guys who caught my eye.
It should come as no surprise that St. John’s native Zach O’Brien stood out among his peers. The reigning ECHL playoff MVP looked ready for opening night and impressed me most with his footwork and mobility, casually striding into the slot for several Grade ‘A’ scoring opportunities.
Growlers captain James Melindy appeared back to his old self, providing a smiling, steady presence on the blue line.
Among the new fellas in the lineup, I’ll admit that my eye was drawn toward the play of diminutive rookie defenseman Mac Hollowell. Signed to an NHL contract with the Maple Leafs and standing at just 5’10”, 170 lbs according to Elite Prospects, he oozed hockey IQ and showed incredible skating ability that would make Paul Coffey take notice. It looks like the Leafs have a future gem in Hollowell.
Once the scrimmage was over, I had a brief moment to attempt to warm myself (the rink is MUCH colder at ice level than I’m used to in the broadcast booth) before meeting with Head Coach Snowden for our first official interview of training camp.
Snowden, entering his first full season as head coach after having taken over from Ryane Clowe midseason last year, was radiating control and confidence. A championship run, plus his summer experience working with the coaching staff of the Maple Leafs and Marlies at their training camps has only elevated his ‘game’, which bodes very well for the club for the upcoming season.
We chatted at length about his (very) short summer, his experience working with Mike Babcock, Sheldon Keefe and the rest of the coaches in the organization and his expectations of the Growlers, both in training camp and into the regular season. That interview will be available on the Growlers’ social media pages for those who might be interested.
As the players finished their post-scrimmage workout, it was time to conclude Day Two of camp and head back to the hotel for some much-needed rest and relaxation.
For those of you who read yesterday’s blog, you may remember I gave props to Justin Brazeau’s sick Raptors lid, and today I’ve got to give a shoutout to another player wearing a unique article of clothing to the rink.
Camp invitee Sean Kacerosky, a 25-year-old SUNY-Potsdam grad from Kendall Park, New Jersey, strolled into the rink wearing a faded yellow Celine Dion concert t-shirt celebrating her 2009 tour.
He caught me chuckling at his unique wardrobe, so I had to ask him why he chose to wear this particular frock today.
A former teammate of his was French Canadian and obviously a Celine fan and he said he stumbled upon the relic at a thrift store, making the shirt an instant purchase. And what a purchase it was. Kudos, sir.
And that was Day Two at Growlers training camp! Tomorrow’s sessions are scheduled to shift back to full team practices, so make sure you stay locked in on the Growlers' social media channels for all the updates.