Skate blades scraping the ice. Sticks making contact with pucks. Pucks hitting the boards, or the goal post and crossbar. Players and coaches barking instructions or simply whooping with delight. Players flying up and down the ice.
All of these are the sights and sounds of hockey, and they were on display Thursday morning at PNC Arena as the Hurricanes hit the ice for their first practice of 2021’s training camp. While things are not all the way back to normal, this training camp looks and feels as normal as hockey has since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
For the first time since then, interviews were conducted in person instead of via Zoom. With the Hurricanes being fully vaccinated, players and coaches don’t have to wear masks in the facilities, and can spend more time together.
“It’s been nice,” said Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal. “It’s nice to see you guys. It’s nice to have those loose protocols and it feel a little bit more like a normal season. Hopefully it continues to go in that direction and we can have a full season with fans.”
The team’s training camp roster is split up into two groups: Team Attitude and Team Energy. Team Attitude practiced first, and it’s a group made up pretty much entirely of players expected to be on the opening night roster, plus defenseman Joey Keane and goaltender Patrik Hamrla.
This training camp, which is on a normal schedule for the first time since the fall of 2019, will take on added importance with the Hurricanes having added a number of new faces: Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo, Jesperi Kotknaiemi, Brendan Smith, Tony DeAngelo, Ethan Bear and Ian Cole all took part in their first Hurricanes’ practice on Thursday morning.
“For sure,” Brind’Amour said. “The good news is we have a real training camp as far as time wise, so I don’t feel like ‘Oh, I’ve got to get this in in a week, because we’re going to start playing right away.’ We’ve got some time. But there’s no doubt, we’ve got potentially eight or nine new players on the team, so that’s a lot for them to just get it, whereas last year was a little different. So that’s a challenge, but I think we’ll be fine.”
The amount of fresh faces is a new challenge for the Hurricanes, but the team is well positioned to make that transition smoothly. Under Brind’Amour the leadership group of Staal, Jaccob Slavin and Jordan Martinook is back, and with them returns a culture that the team has been creating for the past few years.
The Canes lost some pivotal guys but have brought in some new ones, and now it’s about taking this training camp to make sure the entire team is working as one.
“It’s just about getting the guys on the same page as quickly as we can,” Staal said. “We’re still creating that culture of what we want to do and what we have been doing recently. We’ll continue to push each other and hold each other accountable, and hopefully all of the new guys can jump on as quickly as they can.”
Among the new players for the Hurricanes are the two goalies, as both Raanta and Andersen joined the team this offseason to man the pipes for Carolina. It’s a unique situation for the Hurricanes to have to introduce an entire new goaltending room in one camp, but it isn’t one that’s a huge concern for Brind’Amour.
“That’s probably less of a concern for me because they’ve just got to stop the puck,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s not systems. It’s not them figuring out where to be all the time. It’s just stop the puck. I think we’re pretty confident that they can do that.”
While Brind’Amour may be simplifying it, his point remains. The goalies are in Raleigh to stop pucks, but they’re also getting acclimated with a new team.
“Stopping the puck is good,” Andersen said. “That’s what we’re here to do. But I think that creating good chemistry and good camaraderie with the new teammates is important, so it’s just having fun at the rink.”
Thursday was just day one of training camp, as the new-look Canes have a lot of time ahead of them to get on that same page Staal mentioned.
But even with that unknown territory of so many newcomers Carolina’s goals are as high as they can be, something that’s obvious to even the freshest of faces in the locker room.
“There’s a clear-cut mission of where we want to go,” Andersen said. “I think that’s obvious to everyone. We want to build towards a championship, and we all know that process starts today. We’ve got to keep building every day.