by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com
It’s break time during Sunday’s development camp controlled scrimmage, on the top level of the Markin McPhail Centre overlooking the 197-feet-by-94 international-sized ice surface.
“Very successful,” summarizes GM Brad Treliving of the Flames’ 2018 development camp.
“It went really, really well. The whole thing has been a credit to Ray Edwards, Ronnie Sutter and the entire development team.
“A great job.
“They’ve put together a thorough agenda for a compressed amount of time. The guys are going, these are full days. They come in as 40 individuals but there is a method to the madness. They leave a closer group.”
A cross-section of 41 hopefuls hailing from nine countries – Canada, U.S., Ukraine, Finland, Russia, Germany, Slovakia, Norway and Sweden – were on hand Thursday to begin with physical testing.
Some, such as Spencer Foo, already have one foot planted squarely in the big-league door.
Others, such as Juuso Valimaki, are poised on the threshold.
Still others, Wainwright, Alta., left-winger Bobby McMann from Colgate U, for example, arrived on an amateur tryout looking to make an impression.
“This,” says Treliving “is what we’d envisioned three years ago. It is, first and foremost, an information camp. I tell the guys on opening day: This isn’t Making-The-Team Camp. This is Giving-You-All-The-Tools-So-At-Some-Point-You’ll-Be-Best-Prepared-To-Come-Make-The-Team Camp.
“A cross-section of guys who’ve been here before, a bunch who are 17, 18 years old and new to this. It’s about how to be a professional, how to be a Calgary Flame.
“How to eat, to work, to live.”
“It’s a chance for them to get to know us, and vice versa,” says Edwards. “For guys who have been here once or twice before, it’s a time for them to re-connect during the summer and for us to see where they’re at, where we need to help them. Getting to know where their bodies are and helping them in that area – strength and conditioning, nutrition. Some guys have to gain weight, some guys have to lose weight, some guys need muscle mass, some have to get stronger in their legs.
“Normally after every player’s season we get together and put a plan together for leading up to now, evaluating the last two months. Now we put together a plan leading up to training camp, making these next couple of months really important.
“The job of the development team is to make sure they’re staying on course the next couple of months to be able to execute their action plan.”
The work is compact and intense. But all work and no play can make Matthew or Dillon or Emilio a dull boy, so there are outside group sidelights for fun and camaraderie, such as a cooking class.
“I believe the bonding aspect is a big part of this,” says Edwards. “These guys start to formulate friendships and trust now. They may play against each other in their respective leagues but when they get here a second time or at training camp, there’s a ‘Hey, there’s my buddy …’ familiarity. It puts them at ease. There’s not so much nervousness.
“We want to put them in a situation where they know the staff, they know their teammates, so when they come in they can just concentrate on hockey.
“The other part is establishing a culture. You want to establish that as early as possible. Bill (Peters) was able to talk to them one of the first nights and lay down the way we want to play, the type of people we want, those types of things.”
What really stands out at these camps is the fitness level of the players.
“It’s scary good now,” says Treliving. “Used to be the guy that came in July in great shape stood out. Now if you come and you’re not in great shape you stand out.
“We were joking the other day, we had one kid who had 8.3% body fat and of the guys at camp he was 18th.
“These are high-performance athletes at a young age. They take their craft seriously. And they have to because the cruel reality is that if you don’t, you get left behind.
“If you really start doing the math – average 30 kids attending each of these camps across the league which is just over 900 participants. So, okay, you’ve separated yourself into a select group of 900. Out of all the hundreds of thousands of players. Great. An achievement.
“That’s the good news.
“The bad news is that the league consists of only 700 players. So now you’re trying to be one of those. An even more select group.
“It can be daunting.
“This is a way to best help them make that jump, bridge that gap, be one of those 700.
“This camp is an important piece for our prospects in doing just that. And, as I said, our development people provide them with a great map to help them get there.”