There was no bag skate at the second day of Vancouver Canucks training camp. Instead, it was replaced by something much more fun: a scrimmage.
The first and second groups faced off, with pride and a few laps around the rink on the line. Well, that and a potential spot in the Canucks’ lineup for those looking to earn their way onto the roster. Let’s take a look at a few of the stories coming out of day two.
Game situation: fans in the building
The Canucks were clearly happy to be in a game-like situation, buoyed by the thousand or so fans in attendance. It was a welcome return to some semblance of normalcy.
“It smelled like popcorn,” said Jack Rathbone. “I think I was more excited about that, knowing that fans were back.”
“A little bit of not-fake noise is nice,” said Tanner Pearson of the return of fans. “It's good to have some normality back that's for sure. Hopefully, it keeps on going in the right direction, and we can get Rogers back rocking.”
While it may not have been a real game, it was close enough.
“It's good to kind of get back into game reads,” said Rathbone. “You can practice it all you want and do two-on-two, three-on-three, four-on-four but once you start to get back into the flow of an actual game, I think that's when you start to be able to grow and develop and actually work on some stuff.”
There was something special about the atmosphere, particularly with dozens of children with their signs, banging on the glass to get the attention of their favourite players.
After the second on-ice session was over, Tyler Motte took to the ice with a couple of other players recovering from injuries — Carson Focht and Guillaume Brisebois — and made a beeline for a group of kids, carrying an extra stick. He pointed at one lucky kid and tossed the stick over the glass to him.
A moment later, Zack MacEwen did the same.
That, to me, was the biggest highlight of day two.
Klimovich and Plasek made an impression
Canucks head coach Travis Green will answer questions about players during training camp and give his opinion but it’s rare that he volunteers a name. But, when asked if any players had surprised him at camp so far, Green offered up some rare praise.
“Our young draft pick from last year, second-rounder, [Danila] Klimovich has looked good,” said Green. “He's a big kid, skates well...I thought [Karel] Plasek had a pretty good game today. Again, a young guy, it's not always easy to stick out but I liked his energy and he looked like he can make a play. Yet it's still hard for a young guy to come in and make a lot of plays, so you're kind of projecting with some guys.”
Klimovich certainly stood out on the ice, wiring several hard shots during drills with an impressive release. With his size and skating, he was able to push back in battles and create space for himself.
“I love all the battles, I love the speed, I really enjoy the small ice,” said Klimovich via translator.
As for his shot, Klimovich is setting his sights high: “I'm trying to compare myself in the future with Kucherov and Ovechkin.”
Plasek was a pleasant surprise. His speed immediately jumps out, but he showcased some slick hands that left some of the defencemen on the ice scrambling to adapt as he cut inside on the rush.
Plasek hasn’t produced much in the Czech league but it’s clear from watching him why the Canucks signed him to a contract. He has the tools to put together an NHL future. Certainly, he’ll need to add a bit more strength — Jett Woo buried him against the boards on one particular drill — but the potential is there.
DiPietro on the goaltenders' “bag skate”
All eyes may have been on the skaters during the infamous bag skate on day one of training camp but the goaltenders were hard at work on their own version, which featured rapid, repeated movement around the crease.
When it was suggested their “bag skate” was as tough as what the skaters had to endure, Mikey DiPietro didn’t hesitate.
“My hips would agree with you,” DiPietro said with a grin. “Hips seizing up and everything like that. It's a goalie bag skate, so I think I'm gonna coin a phrase — we got Clarkie'd out there.”
The future of DiPietro’s season seems pretty well laid out: he’ll start for the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL and play as many games as possible, hopefully making up for playing barely any games at all last season. DiPietro, however, isn’t looking too far ahead.
“I'll just take it day by day. Sometimes, when you have plans, things happen,” said DiPietro. “If anything, that's what this past year has taught me — to just enjoy the moment.
“Had a good practice today, got another practice tomorrow, and then we'll take it day by day.”
Halak's tribute to Pavol Demitra
Jaroslav Halak is just the fourth Slovakian player to suit up for the Vancouver Canucks. Two of the three other Slovakian players, Jozef Balej and Lubomir Vaic, combined for just 10 games.
The third, however, is one of the greatest Slovakian hockey players of all time, who played 97 games for the Canucks: Pavol Demitra.
Halak played with Demitra at several international tournaments, most notably the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where Demitra led the tournament in scoring with 10 points in 7 games.
Tragically, a plane crash took the life of Demitra and his Lokomotiv Yaroslavl teammates in 2011. Halak will pay tribute to his teammate this season with the backplate of his mask, which features Demitra's name and number.
This isn't the first time Halak has paid tribute to Demitra. In 2011, after the plane crash, Halak changed the backplate of his mask to a painting of Demitra celebrating a goal in the 2010 Olympics. Halak was playing for the St. Louis Blues at the time, with whom Demitra played eight seasons.
"Obviously it’s always hard to talk about it," said Halak to Sportsnet 650's Brendan Batchelor. "It’s been 10 years, but I just want to have a tribute to him and his family…people know him here and how great he was."