Practice 3/22 – Durzi Skates, Fiala/Vilardi Updates + Kings Talk NCAA Tournament

Practice Day, Insiders!

A stretch of four days here in between games and the Kings are managing their time here over that stretch. A team off day yesterday, a practice today and a rinse & repeat scenario over the next two days.

“We had an off day, we practiced today, we’ll have another off day tomorrow and let them get their batteries recharged, we’ll have a good skate on Friday,” Todd McLellan said earlier today. We don’t get the morning skate on Saturday, so that’s where things change a little bit. We play Saturday, Sunday and then it’s every second day from that point on until basically the end of the season.”

Opting for a pair of off days, the Kings held a hard team skate here today.

McLellan detailed that today’s skate is one that did not focus a ton on special teams or the more detailed, learning and watching parts of the game. A lot of today’s drills had the legs moving and working, both in smaller settings and in full-ice, 5-on-5 settings. With some scrimmage elements and battle drills to finish practice, it was a hard-working day for the group.

“We didn’t spend any time on special teams today, we spent a lot of time on 5-on-5 stuff and fundamentals,” McLellan said of today’s skate. “We don’t do a lot of 1-on-1, 2-on-2 stuff in the open ice and we took care of that [today]. We’ve done some faceoff stuff and then when we got to the group stuff, we tried to put a full shift together with different elements and then we scrimmaged a little. Just to keep them sharp and remind them of certain things that you need to do in certain areas of the rink.”

With all of that detailed, here is how the Kings aligned this morning –

Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Lizotte – Kaliyev
Grundstrom – Kupari – Anderson-Dolan – MacEwen

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Edler – Walker
Spence – Durzi (R)

Copley / Korpisalo

Regarding Durzi, McLellan called today a positive step forward as he rejoined the group for the first time since he sustained an injury on March 6 versus Washington. Durzi had been skating on his own and had progressed toward this moment. McLellan is hopeful that tomorrow will present another step forward.

“Very encouraging, I think he’s going to take another step forward tomorrow, everything went well today on the ice,” McLellan said of Durzi. “I haven’t seen him since, but all indications are that he’s progressing the right way.”

Regarding others who are presently injured, McLellan confirmed that forward Kevin Fiala skated on his own earlier in the day, while forward Gabe Vilardi is scheduled to skate on his own tomorrow. Good signs for both players as they work their way back from injury.

Talkin’ Tourney
The 2023 NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament kicks off tomorrow morning and we’ll have a full, tournament preview here on LAKI regarding the three Kings prospects who are participating, as well as an interview with University of Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo, who was recently acquired via trade from the Buffalo Sabres.

For four current members of the Kings, however, the tournament will include their alma maters.

Blake Lizotte was a St. Cloud State Husky, while Trevor Moore was a Denver Pioneer and Pheonix Copley and Matt Roy were both members of the Michigan Tech program, though not on overlapping years.

Starting with Lizotte, he was able to rattle off his team’s schedule in the tournament, noting they begin play tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM.

“It’s always a fun time of the year when your team is in the mix,” he said. “I’ll be rooting for them, I’ll be tuning in tomorrow.”

Lizotte said that he stays in touch with the program, following records, wins/losses and stats throughout the course of the season. If it’s a big game for St. Cloud, he’ll try and tune in to watch as the Kings’ schedule allows for it and he joked that there’s a lot of banter in the room, especially between him and defenseman Mikey Anderson, whose Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs play in the same conference as St. Cloud State. Anderson is a two-time national champion himself, though his school did not reach the tournament here in 2023.

For Roy and Copley, their current attention is a bit different.

Roy played in the NCAA Tournament twice in his collegiate career, in 2015 and 2017, with the former being Michigan Tech’s first appearance since 1981. Michigan Tech has now reached the tournament five times over the last nine years, including Roy’s two appearances. While not always thought of as a national power, Michigan Tech is a three-time national champion and Roy has been excited by how well the program has progressed over the last ten years.

“The past 10 years, it seems like they’ve been in and out,” he said. “When I was there, we had a few good years and it was a lot of fun, it was super exciting for the town and for the college itself. I know the guys are excited and all of the alumni are excited.”

Roy said he does his best to keep tabs on his school and though it can be difficult with the hectic NHL schedule, he noted that he talks regularly to one of the assistant coaches on the Huskies and is still in the loop when it comes to the program.

While Roy and Copley did not play at Michigan Tech at the same time, both players have connected here with the Kings on past teammates, the campus and memories from the program. For Copley, he admitted he hasn’t followed the program quite as closely as perhaps Roy or Lizotte have, but still expressed some excitement that his alma mater is back in the dance.

“I know Tech is in there, so I’ll be watching to see how they do, but I don’t really follow it too closely,” he said.

With the University of Denver, Moore won a total of three tournament games throughout his collegiate career, advancing to the regional finals in 2015 and the Frozen Four in 2016, where he and the Pioneers eventually bowed out in the semifinals. Moore, similar to Lizotte, indicated that he still follows along with the program there despite being a few years removed.

“I follow them, it’s always fun when they do well, Dave Carle is doing a great job,” he said. “It seems like every year they’re competitive, which makes it fun.”

Moore indicated that he’s planning to watch their first-round game, assuming it does not fall when the Kings are either practicing or playing. With a 2:30 PM puck drop tomorrow, falling on a team off day, he should have the opportunity to catch his former program in action. Moore played at Denver under Head Coach Jim Montgomery, who is currently the Head Coach of the NHL’s Boston Bruins. He highlighted the strong culture that Montgomery established, which he feels has continued in the years that followed.

“Unbelievable program, I still talk with the coaching staff there sometimes,” Moore added. “It’s awesome the culture that they’ve built, starting with [Jim Montgomery] when he was there and other guys have carried it on. Credit to them, they’ve done a great job.”

Moore also has someone who you might think would be an unlikely supporter in the room alongside him – Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan.

Though he missed out on being teammates with Moore by a season, McLellan’s son Tyson played four seasons at the University of Denver from 2016-20. McLellan has said in the past that he was able to watch the majority of Denver’s 2018-19 season in person, after his tenure in Edmonton ended and before he joined the Kings that April. What’s funny enough is that while he said he has a soft spot for his former junior programs – Saskatoon as a player and Swift Current as a coach – it’s Denver that he perhaps roots for the most as a fan.

“College-wise, go Pioneers, that’s where Tyson played and we watched a ton of games there,” McLellan said. “I think it’s different when you’re a parent and you’re watching one of your children play in that environment, versus having played there yourself. I feel a little more attached maybe to Denver even than those other teams, but maybe time does that to you too.”

McLellan admitted that he and Moore rub it in when they can, around the locker room, but they’re a little cautious right now with the tournament just starting. Denver is the defending national champions and if the moment calls for it, that caution might just change.

“If and when they win, we’ll let the others know about it.”

Off day for the Kings tomorrow, Insiders, before what should be another spirited skate on Friday heading into the back-to-back set this weekend. We’ll have those articles on the NCAA Tournament and Portillo, of the University of Michigan, as well as full coverage from Friday’s practice here in El Segundo as well.

Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

via St. Cloud State Athletics

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