Day one of on ice activities is in the book for the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center. It was great to see actual hockey taking place in the Penguins new home, as it was the one thing that had been missing to this point in their transition to the new building. Though it will take some getting used to how things will work in the CONSOL Energy Center, it is going to be an amazing venue to watch and cover hockey in.
Like yesterday, I got a good bit of audio this morning, it will be up for you all later today. In the meantime, I wanted to run through some notes and observations from the first day of camp…
- The fans were out in full force for today’s sessions. Sure some of that might have been to see the new building in action, but a lot of it seemed to be legitimate excitement for this year’s incarnation of the team. The most exciting scene was getting into the building early this morning and looking out the glass facade of the building to see the sea of people that had packed into the area in front of the Trib Total Media Gate. Penguins staffers told us that folks were lined up as early as 6:30 this morning. Both end zones and several of the club sections were filled…several folks even made their way up to the 200 level. Though it was far from being a full lower bowl, it was one of the better populated first days in recent history.
- Crosby Winger Watch – the early moments of camp showed that for as much as things have changed, they have stayed the same. Crosby skated with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis during the scrimmage this morning. Though speculation has been running wild about the fact that Mike Comrie could find himself on Crosby’s wing, the two aren’t even skating with the same group. Obviously they could be get some time together in an exhibition game over the next week. Head coach Dan Bylsma went out of his way to mention that Comrie is a possibility, but he is very comfortable using Crosby with Kunitz and Dupuis.
- When Bylsma was asked about whether Evgeni Malkin’s playmaking ability might take a hit by his impending switch to the wing, Bylsma got a bit chaffed. The Penguins’ head coach pointed out that it will not effect his game at all as he has probably played on the wing “60 percet of the time over the past two seasons, especially in 2009 when we won.” Bylsma pointed out that Geno has always sort of slid in and out of the center position depending on who he was playing with and seamlessly slid over to the wing while Max Talbot took plenty of draws and played down low. He has never seen a drop off in the amount of time that Malkin has spent carrying the puck or making plays through the neutral zone.
- Some players actually complained about the quality of the ice this afternoon, saying that it seemed a bit choppy. Sidney Crosby chalked it up to being the first time it has been used to extensively and fully expects it to get better, while newcomer Arron Asham minced no words in calling it “pretty (expletive) out there.”
- Speaking of Asham, it isn’t going to take him any time to become a fan favorite, especially after folks see and hear him interviewed a few times. First of all, he is a fiery competitor on the ice, which folks here always love, but it is his tell it like it is approach off of the ice that is going to be fun to follow. It already seems like he is going to be a go to quote following most games and he has a very nonchalant way of delivering that entertainment that will add a great dynamic to the “room.” He gave himself and everyone else in his scrum a good chuckle this morning when he talked about the fact that he heard more than a few boos when he hit the ice for the first time. That all seemed to change as the scrimmage rolled on.
- I have some great sound from Zbynek Michalek that you will all definitely enjoy. This kid has a great head on his shoulders and was a very insightful conversationalist. He talked a lot about Pittsburgh being an attractive option based on the opportunity that he will have to win a Stanley Cup, but what was most intriguing was that he might have stayed in Phoenix had their future been a little less murky. He didn’t like the unsteady ground that the franchise in the desert is still very much sitting on…where as Pittsburgh gave him the opportunity to come to an organization that not only offered a chance to win, but stability for he and his family. It was the one quote that really drove home how far the Penguins have come over the past five years. It wasn’t all that long ago that players and fans alike were afraid of losing this franchise, now its stability is bringing folks in. Michalek was also excited by the fan turnout, the media turnout and the fact that the city seemed to care so much about the team… it was a bit eye opening for him to see, as it was a bit different than the “one newspaper writer” who used to talk to them after every game in Phoenix. He also cited Jaro Jagr as his favorite player growing up. Spent time skating with Josef Melichar, who lives in the same town back home, and Melichar talked up Pittsburgh explaining how great it was.
- Though I mentioned Comrie above, there is a bit more to share. He has been very vague in answering questions about his goals and expected role for this season. Sure some of that is just a veteran hockey player watching what he is saying, but some in listening, you get the vibe that maybe has been told that the will have a chance to skate with Crosby or Malkin. He talks about the fact that for him, this was the best fit for being successful. He was specifically asked about playing the 3rd center role today and sort of blew that off as something that wasn’t a strong possibility. Keep in mind that this is my own interpretation and nothing that was specifically said. Comrie spent time centering Evgeni Malkin and Eric Tangradi this afternoon during their practice session.
- Marc Andre Fleury was excited to get this rolling in the CONSOL Energy Center with a new look defense in front of him, but he seemed more than a little sad that there has been such great turnover in front of him. Actually saying that it “is still very sad to see some guys go that I had played with for so long here…” It is also worth noting that when asked if he was exposed too often last year he refused to indict his former teammates. He was quick to point out that he is excited about this year’s group though.
- The scrimmage itself was pretty sloppy. That is probably a combination of the aforementioned “choppy” ice and the fact that today was the first time most of these guys were skating together in several months.
I will be heading down for day two tomorrow morning and will have a ton more for you then and in between… stay tuned… if there are any specific guys on the training camp roster that you would like some coverage of please pass a long the names. Some of these kids might not be back for a while, so let’s get em featured on FTP…