As I stood near the ice at the MSG Training Center Sunday morning, Jim Schoenfeld---the veteran NHL executive who currently is Assistant General Manager of the Rangers while also serving as General Manager of the Blueshirts minor league Connecticut Whale---strode past with a big smile on his face.
"Great to be watching hockey again, isn't it?"
Indeed it was. And though the current Rangers were not on the ice, the future of the organization was, and that made Sunday a good day as the Whale took to the ice to open up its training camp about 90 minutes south of its Hartford home.
Two practices sandwiched a scrimmage on Sunday, with head coach Ken Gernander and assistants Jeff Beukeboom and Pat Boller joined on the ice by Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, while Blueshirts assistant Mike Sullivan watched from above, seated next to Schoenfeld. John Tortorella, the Rangers head coach, joined the pair upstairs to take in the scrimmage.
What the Rangers and Whale hierarchy saw during the scrimmage was an impressive performance by the organization's top prospect Chris Kreider. Clearly setting out to make a solid first impression, Kreider was explosive offensively, while also delivering a pair of thunderous checks---including one which lifted 6-foot-7, 250 pound defenseman Brent Henley up in the air before depositing him on his backside.
"This is a learning experience," Kreider later modestly said of his first pro training camp. "I am just trying to learn as much as I can."
Considering the splash he made in his pro debut with the Rangers during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, one might expect Kreider to be unhappy opening camp with the Whale this fall. Instead the humble Kreider is excited for his first pro camp, and his effort Sunday stood out and was exemplary.
Kreider's White Team skated to a 1-1 tie through 40 minutes of scrimmage play against a Green Team that featured Whale veterans Kris Newbury and Chad Kolarik, and top prospects JT Miller and Andrew Yogan. Newbury opened the scoring 6:55 into the first period, beating rookie goalie Scott Stajcer on a penalty shot, before Sam Klassen evened things up for the White squad by scoring a penalty shot goal of his own against Jason Missiaen 12 minutes later.
That was it for the scoring, setting the stage for a fun shootout to determine a winner. After Kolarik scored in the third round for the Green Team, Marek Hrivik and Brandon Segal scored in the third and fourth rounds respectively to lift the White squad to victory.
Kolarik's goal, though, was the highlight of the day. The 26 year-old forward missed all of last season following knee surgery, and his smile following his shootout goal lit up the entire MSG Training Center.
"To score that goal and get that monkey off my back, even though it was just a scrimmage, was exciting," Kolarik said. "It was good to get that one because it's been so long since my last game, and it's been such a process through surgery and rehab coming back from this injury. Today was a good day. It brought a smile to my face."
Two injured players who did not particpate in the first day of training camp were defenseman Dylan McIlrath and goaltender Cam Talbot. McIlrath remains sidelined following knee surgery this past July, while Talbot is out with a foot injury.
"No updates on either one of them," offered Schoenfeld. "Right now they are both out. Talbot would be ahead of Dylan as far as his recovery, but there are no updates to report on either player as of now."
The Whale are back on the ice Monday morning at 10:00. I'll have full coverage here on BlueshirtsUnited.com and on Twitter.
September 30, 2012