CALGARY — After three days of practice, Thursday is a regular game day at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Two morning skates at 10:30 and 11:30, and then the teams will play a scrimmage at what should be a sold out Saddledome.
Puck drops at 7 p.m.
“As much as we’re evaluating players, I find over the years, when the puck drops for the games, that’s when you find players,” head coach Mike Babcock said.
Jarome Iginla and Sidney Crosby have been split up for the scrimmage, though left winger Rick Nash stays on Crosby’s wing. The intensity of this game should fall somewhere between an All-Star game and a preseason game.
Guys all want to have a good showing, but no one wants to get hurt with National Hockey League training camps around the corner.
“They want it to be competitive, but how we practice against each other during the season,” Iginla said. “You’re in the heat of a season, you know how to play against each other as teammates. We’ll be battling.”
“He’s picking a handicap and he says, ‘Well, I can shoot around 100.’ But then he says, ‘I can shoot 79 too, but that’s a good day,’” marveled Iginla, who is a two handicap. “We’ve played quite a few rounds over the years, and we always fight over strokes.
“Well, through 12 or 13 holes, he’s got 11 pars. He says, ‘Hey! I beat ya!’ And I’m like, ‘Well…”
“Because he’s super-A-type personality,” said assistant coach Ken Hitchcock. “He’s a very focused, intense individual, and he doesn’t move on anywhere until it’s done. If it’s not done right, he doesn’t care what the name is on the back, what your number is, where you’re from, who you play for… He treats everybody the same. You gotta do the job.
“When he says you gotta play on 200 feet, you gotta play on 200 feet, and when the discussions on the personnel come, he’s going to be very determined that his voice is going to be heard. He wants to trust players. Because the way we want to play, the game we want to put out there, has a lot of pressure in it, a lot of skating in it, and it’s got a lot of focus in it.”
Iginla said the players have learned to review the drills pre-practice.
“At our practices, we’re expected to get it and to go,” he said. “We go over [the drills] a little bit before, and then you get out there and it’s very crisp. You’re supposed to know where you’re going. There is not a lot of relax time. You’re out there to work, and to think.”
“I know how Marty is, and I knew that would be his answer anyways,” Luongo said of Brodeur’s willingness to listen. “I remember Patrick [Roy], when he played with Colorado. It was a Game 7 in Detroit, and he just got shelled. It was like, 7-0. That stuff happens. But he came back the next year, and he was playing as good as he has ever played.
“The timing of it was horrible. But those things are going to happen.”
Brodeur’s season ended on a cruel note as well, when the Carolina Hurricanes blew two pucks past him in the final two minutes of Game 7 of their opening round series. Eric Staal’s winner was a fine wrist shot, but not the kind of goal Brodeur usually gives up in the clutch.
“I wish I could get them back, but that’s not the way it works. We’ll move on,” Brodeur said. “There are lot more bitter defeats than that one. It was the first round — we had to beat three other teams to win the Stanley Cup.
“For me, losing to the Rangers in ’94 sticks out in my mind a lot. Losing to Colorado (in the ’01 Final) — here and there you have losses that hurt you. This one was… a bump in the road.
“It’s a long career. He’s going to have more of that, I’m going to have more of that. Just for me, it’s probably shorter. I hope, for him anyway.”
The coaching staff is adamant that he plays in the middle, and thus far has played mostly with Nash and Iginla, though Martin St. Louis subbed in on Crosby’s right side on Wednesday.
“For me it’s really important he plays centre because of his speed,” Hitchcock said. “If you’re going to play a 200-foot game, the guy in the middle has to be an active player. You can’t play the way Mike [Babcock] wants to play and play a slow-down game. The guy can’t be a trailing player, a guy who comes in late all the time. He’s got to lead the charge.
“[Ryan] Getzlaf plays like that, he’s a bull in the china shop.”
Mark Spector is the lead columnist for Sportsnet.ca