As of Thursday Penguins training camp officially commenced in Washington County at the team's practice facility known as Iceoplex at Southpointe.
It's your typical run of the mill practice rink that serves as the home for the college hockey of Washington & Jefferson. The lobby area is a very nice and inviting area that leads you to the rink or the fitness facility. The ice tends to make things a bit cold once you've entered the rink as folks are also greeted with a mini-arcade of sorts with several games to play. The steel bleachers don't make things much better as if you're wearing shorts or long sleeves it can tend to get quite uncomfortably cold.
At any rate it is the location that most of the Penguin faithful gathered for the treat that is skating drills, scrimmages, stretching in a circle at center ice, paying attention on one knee to what Coaches Therrien and Yeo have to say. For the hockey purist and die-hard fan training camp is bliss. Snapping pictures of Sidney Crosby yacking away with Jordan Staal in between drills can be quite a time. Focusing on who's playing well with whom and penciling in mock line formations can be the event of the day. All of it for no charge. Given how costly being a hockey fan can be it is a nice change of pace to see the guys preparing for the season and others battling for jobs at no extra cost. I'm sure that most of the people who attended the camp would pay a small amount for admission but the fact any person can go to the Iceoplex and see the team for nothing is a nice thought.
For anyone who has never been introduced to the game of hockey training camp should not be the first place they're brought to. It can get very repetitive and for some as boring as having a staring contest with a mannequin.
As for watching the team today it is hard to gauge an opinion on the 2007-08 Penguins. Given that only Petr Sykora, Darryl Sydor, and Dany Sabourin were brought aboard (Ty Conklin should probably look into a realtor in the Wilkes-Barre area) it's hard to see many jobs being open on this team. Sure GM Ray Shero states that there is always jobs open but can any fan logistically see the coaching staff picking Jonathan Filewich over Max Talbot or Tyler Kennedy over Jarkko Ruutu. Any fan would love to see a minor leaguer coming into their own and taking the league by storm. The simple fact however is that a team with 47 wins and 105 points doesn't have a need to drastically improve. The only difference to the defense this season should be Sydor and Letang. Ryan Lannon is waiting and Alain Nasreddine is a guy with a tremendous heart and is wise to the game but it's tough to see them making the trip to Raleigh on October 5.
With that said I will say that Tyler Kennedy looked good today. Intra-squad scrimmages aren't going to win him a job but seeing his performance made the realization that he will be an NHLer in the not too distant future. The 06-07 team had such great chemistry that it's hard to root for anyone from W-B/S to possibly come in and disrupt that. With injuries a fact of life in the NHL Tyler Kennedy and Jonathan Filewich should be the first to be called up. Filewich's speed is deceiving, not someone you expect to be the first on the puck but was most of the time. His scoring touch in the AHL is well evident and it seems as though it'll convert nicely to the NHL.
Dany Sabourin and Ty Conklin played solid. John Curry can say the same. Marc-Andre Fleury was Fleury and he didn't appear to be in much of a rush to break a sweat out there. I will say that he looked like he added a good deal of muscle over the off-season. Unless it was just the padding I think the days of him being uber lanky are over as he definitely seemed to be covering more of the net with just natural size.
Ryan Whitney was fun to watch today. Not so much anything he did with the puck but just the way he handled the practice. He had a presence, one of a number 1 defenseman. While it's not shocking given he was a 5th Overall pick it is a treat to witness. The Sporting News has Sergei Gonchar listed as the 4th best defenseman in the league with Whitney as 7th. I have a feeling, if first impressions are worth anything, that those numbers could be reversed this time next year.
As for the fans in the building it was the typical mix. Kids who are in awe of every player who comes within breathing distance of them. The girls who more readily discuss who has the nicest back-side on the team as opposed to who should be playing on Crosby's wing. The dedicated fan who have stuck by this team through the losing these past few seasons. The people wearing their Steeler clothing seeing what all the hoopla is about surrounding this team. They all were represented and it was so crowded there was barely any room to walk. It's nice to see and tickets couldn't be selling any more briskly for the organization. I, however, had the fun task of checking into available tickets on the road since all 43 home games are accounted for.
Monday the team begins a back-to-back preseason war with the Montreal Canadiens. It should be interesting to see what the lines are, who gets the time in net, if Angelo Esposito is met favorably by the crowd there, and whether Crosby plays one, both, or no games.
It's a breath of fresh air to have this team back in season.