Ok…well, maybe the summer isn’t exactly “over” just yet. But it’s sure beginning to feel that way to me given what is on schedule for Thrashers fans…indeed for the fans of all NHL teams…over the next couple of weeks.
The last time we saw the Thrashers skate in a game was last April 11 when they were smackin’ the Buh-JEE-zus out of Tampa Bay 6-2 to end the 2008-09 campaign. Like many of you, I just wasn’t ready for the season to come to a close given the way the team had played down the stretch. But…the hockey gods only give 82 regular season games each year and…barring a trip to the springtime tournament for Lord Stanley’s Cup…to the offseason ye shall go.
Since that time we’ve watched as Sidney and The Crosbiteers skated away with the cup…welcomed the re-signing of centerman Marty Reasoner…applauded the acquisition of new Associate GM Rick Dudley…cheered as Don Waddell used his 4th overall draft pick on Evander Kane… said hello to veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina, while at the same time saying good-bye to Garnet Exelby…greeted with excitement the news that Nik Antropov had signed a 4-year deal to play in Atlanta…realized Ilja Nikulin was jilting us yet again…got a nice mid-summers hockey tease with prospect camp…learned of several depth players being brought in…waved bye-bye to Eric Perrin who set sail to the KHL…sweated out yet another lonnnnnnnnnnnnnng August…and now, with the Thrashers prospect’s 5-4 shootout win bringing to a close their participation in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, we are heading full steam into training camp.
That’s right dudes and dudettes… looks like we are at the brink of season number ten of Thrashers hockey!
This weekend many of us will make our way out to the Ice Forum in Duluth to help welcome the team back as training camp officially gets underway. There we’ll again feel the cool rink air…listen to the shouts of coaches as they bellow out instructions…hear the sweet, melodic sound of blades slicing through the ice and sticks slapping puck against the boards…and greet fellow Thrashers fans and friends, many of whom we haven’t seen since last we gathered in Thrasherville’s main cathedral of hockey…Philips Arena.
Ahhhhh…for hockey fans, this is our spring!
Of course, one of the players that we’ll have a sharp eye on is Mr. Kane. This past week in Travers City the 18-year old took yet another step in proving himself worthy of the status that comes with being picked so high in the draft. In four games played he scored five goals, at least one in every game, and finished with six points. He scored twice Thursday against Columbus, the second time with but 9 seconds left to tie the game…then scored on his shootout attempt…as the Thrashers beat the Blue Jackets 5-4. The six points scored overall tied him with Andrew Kozek, (3 goals and 3 assists), for the team lead…they were both one point off the overall pace of seven points achieved by Columbus’ Matt Calvert and St. Louis’ Aaron Palushaj. The five goals scored and 20 shots taken by Kane tied him with Calvert for the tournament high in both of those stats.
Kozek had 18 SOG, which tied him with Carolina’s Brandon Sutter for the second most.
As is the case every time this season, some questions surround the Thrashers as they head into camp…can Kane make the squad or is another year’s worth of development in order?…What’s the story with Kari Lehtonen’s back?…What about the penalty kill?…Can this defense operate to the level that will allow the team to have at least an outside shot at the playoffs?
And ya know, speaking of the defense… given how I feel the offense will do this year, the blueline doesn’t necessarily have to function at the level of a finely tuned Swiss watched every night… just as long as it doesn’t more resemble Swiss cheese.
And of course…the mother of all questions going into training camp…can Waddell actually get Kovalchuk to ink a deal before the season starts?
This will all unfold before us as the next few weeks play out. But for now…
The offseason’s end draws nigh.
Training camp is upon us.
Preseason starts Thursday and the first home exhibition match is the Monday following.
The puck drops on a new season three weeks from tomorrow.
My fellow Thrashervillians, our long summer offseason is over!