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Thursday Practice

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I drove up to Duluth this morning in a driving rain to watch practice with all the new Thrashers. As I crossed under Spaghetti Junction I noticed a major accident way up on the apex of one of the soaring overpasses. It made me thing of this song by the Flaming Lips which I had in the car, but I was actually listening to Death Cab's Transatlanticism album at all. I don't know if we have any Thrashers from Vancouver but they would have felt right at home with all this rain.

This was the first practice I've attended since NHL Training Camp. I have to confess that I just don't find practice all that enlightening usually. I feel that I can learn quite a bit from watching a game, but I have a much more difficult time evaluating players in practice. You never know if they are just going 70% or if they are getting beat to a puck because the other guy is just faster. Some players are famous for being good in practice and bad in games. Steve Yzerman was the opposite. From what I've heard he was a "drill buster" someone who managed to screw up in practice but was a money player come game time.

OK, with that massive caveat out of the way, what meager scraps of information do I have to left to share? Well Zhitnik was shorter in real life than I was expecting, but he appeared to have more of squat tank-like build. He looks very solid on his skates and I can imagine that he is tough to knock off the puck. He looked very confident on the ice and fired shots from the blueline with authority.

Dupuis has something of a lanky build and has a long face. He looked very serious and perhaps a bit nervous. I'm sure all four of the recently traded guys have had their personal lives turned upside down a bit, but of the four he looked the most like a guy who needs to find a friend and an apartment. Dupuis practiced with the Holik line. Dupuis will wear the number 9 but for today his helmet was numberless.

On the other hand, Tkachuk seemed happy as a clam and he and Mellanby were yucking it up a bit. I was glad to see that Kovalchuk seemed to be shooting more and not trying to always hand the puck back to Keith. Sim skated with them in practice so it seems they will be together to start the Ottawa game. I watched the players as they came off the ice and someone noted that Tkachuk was still putting the number 7 next to his autograph. He is either doing that from force of habit or perhaps he intends to wear the number 8 for just a short period of time. Greg de Vries better hope that are no Tkachuk fanatics like in this movie.

The team did just a few drills but they all had multiple steps and it took Hartley quite a while to explain each of them. The first one began with the point men taking shots on net and then shots wide that the forwards tried to tip on net. They then moved to an uncontested breakout, which transitioned into a dump and chase forecheck against three defenders and then went into a contested breakout back down the ice.

The second drill involved practicing controlling the puck along the boards against pressure. I wish I could have heard Hartley explain the purpose of it because it didn't seem that they were trying to create scoring chances, so perhaps it more for the defense to work on attacking the opposition's forecheck.

The third phase involved the team breaking into three groups. The 1st powerplay unit simply worked at passing the puck around the perimeter with Coach McCrimmon in the middle to prevent cross ice passes. Personally, this is the last thing I want to see more of on our powerplay, we pass way too much. Go watch the better teams and you see that they rarely make more than three consecutive passes on the PP before taking a shot on goal. I would rather see them work on rotating around the net or figuring out how to get the puck to a man inside the PK box.

The checkers took over the middle zone and they worked on passing very quickly very close to each other. I'm guessing this is an eye-hand coordination drill and a puck handling drill all wrapped into one. Even for a checking line guy it is very important to have a quick stick so they can steal an opposition pass.

It seemed like a decent turnout for a midweek morning, I would estimate 30-40 people there at any one time. I have no idea how this compares to normal since I seldom go to practice. Two young members of Boulton family were there in the stands. The oldest one (who is still quite young) would yell "daddy" every time he came near him on the glass--very endearing. The irrepressible Jon Sim gave him a stick tap on the glass. During a slow moment Boulton gave him a puck from the ice.