With Group A about to get underway, down under, in Melbourne, Australia, training camp is officially underway back in the states. Groups B and C took the ice for the first time in preparation for the 2023-24 season, as the day consisted of a separated skills-focused practice for each group and a 40-minute scrimmage between the two in between.
Both practice sessions were run by the Ontario Reign’s coaching staff, led by Head Coach Marco Sturm, and right out of the gate both speed and intensity were focal points. Sturm and his staff focused and speed and skill to begin the sessions with full-ice line rushes and quick puck movement. As the sessions progressed, in-tight, offensive-zone scenarios played out with 2-on-1’s and point shots a focus of the first day together. The fast-paced practice sessions each lasted about 35-40 minutes with the scrimmage sandwiched in between.
As for the scrimmage, two, 20-minute running time halves played out and the production was heavily led by the veterans. New signees Mikhail Maltsev and Charles Hudon both stood out during the scrimmage sessions. Each with NHL experience, the duo have combined for 190 NHL games in their careers and are coming into this camp as two of the most experienced players on the ice. Looking at the Kings prospects, both Alex Laferriere and Francesco Pinelli to continued to build off of an impressive Rookie Faceoff in Las Vegas last week. Pinelli, made multiple plays with the puck during the scrimmage event, slashing through the zone and moving the puck to his open teammates. Laferriere on the other end continues to put himself in offensive scoring situations.
With plenty of opportunity to showcase their skill and growth over the summer in the first few preseason games here in the states, plenty of players can make a statement.
Pinelli on his gains this offseason
I think I focused on getting stronger and bigger a lot. I think the biggest thing was more of my lower body and strengthening my legs. So I focused on that. I wanted to improve my center of gravity and being able to be strong on the puck. Overall, I definitely feel stronger on the ice.
Pinelli on what he took from the Rookie Faceoff
The impact of just my speed, having confidence in my game and then just playing my game. You know, like I said, we’ve got great players here, we have a great coaching staff as well. So they’re teaching us the systems, helping us understand how they want us to play and it’s clicking.
Laferriere on being in LA over the summer
Being here this summer has helped a lot. I mean, being with the strength staff for an extended period of time in the summers, as well has been huge. Not only are you building relationships with them, but you’re also learning from them. And obviously, the guys in the gym are pushing each other with the top players in the world. So being pushed by them is pretty special. It’s motivating for sure.
Laferriere on getting some professional experience at the end of last year
I think just having that little taste last year showed me what I have to work on over the summer, the skills that I needed to focus on. Having that experience led to me improving my game over the summer and I think that will correlate well [into training camp].
While Pinelli and Laferriere began their preseasons at the Rookie Faceoff in Vegas – at which both players were standouts – players like Akil Thomas opened his training camp earlier today.
For Thomas, the road has been long and grueling to this point. Finally, he is back and healthy, having had work done on both shoulders, and then some, over the last two seasons. Thomas, who has been plagued by shoulder injuries specifically since he turned pro back in 2021, has been impressive when healthy. After a healthy offseason, Thomas looks to make in an impact in the organization after re-signing on a one-year deal this summer.
“I’ve been working out for so long, things like my jumps have improved, things I wouldn’t normally work on,” he said. “My conditioning has definitely improved, that’s something I wanted to get better at over the last few years. Obviously, I’ve had a long time to work on that. So, that feels really good, the first day felt good.”
Lastly, an update regarding defenseman Brandt Clarke, who could not make the trip to Australia due to injury. The rookie blueliner returned to the ice without a red no-contact jersey for the practice session and was a full participant during drills in today’s skate.
Clarke was deemed out for 7-10 days of no contact, but that timeline was as of now a week or so ago and the young blueliner has be cleared for the drills portion of practice. Sturm commented on Clarke’s situation.
“Hopefully he can return to full play soon,” Sturm said. “I don’t know when though, probably not this week, but maybe next week. Maybe he can join the group playing group and then we go from there, but you know, it’s frustrating for him, he’s frustrated. We feel for him, but now he just has to make sure he’s going to get healthy first, because he has a job to do and he wants to grab a spot on the Kings lineup this year. So just got to make sure he’s healthy enough to do so.”
For Group A, they are set to hit the ice in about 10 minutes at Rod Laver Arena. Today is an open practice, meaning there is a large crowd of hockey fans watching the skate from the historic venue. A special skate, but one the Kings are hopeful it’s still a day in which they will get things accomplished from the perspective of training camp. Full recap to follow later in the day!