It was 8:00 AM Thursday morning and Alain Vigneault's first training camp as head coach of the Rangers was officially getting underway at the MSG Training Center. Only thing was, Vigneault was not even on the ice! And in fact AV never once stepped foot on the ice Thursday, though that doesn't mean he was not watching closely.
With the players taking part in conditioning tests, Vigneault did not see reason to be on the ice---instead leaving the business of running the skating drills to Adam Graves, Scott Arniel, Ulf Samuelsson, Daniel Lacroix, Jeff Beukeboom and Pat Boller.
Over the past few years the Rangers held conditioning tests the first two days of training camp, but this year the tests are done after one day so Vigneault will be out on the ice conducting three separate practices on Friday, and then on Saturday will coach two practices and one scrimmage. Whereas players took part in Thursday's conditioning tests grouped by position, they will be broken into three "teams", or groups, for the rest of camp starting on Friday.
All of the players except for goaltender Martin Biron took part in the opening day of training camp Thursday. Biron was back home with his family due to personal reasons, but the head coach said that his backup goalie was expected back in New York by evening, and hopefully on the ice with his teammates on Friday.
As for Johan Hedberg, the veteran NHL netminder in camp on a PTO, he said after practice that he was taking a day-by-day approach in regards to any opportunity with the Rangers.
"I thought this was a great opportunity I wanted to explore, and I have no more information than that," stated Hedberg, who is lockering next to fellow Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "(Playing at a high level) is what I hope to do and what I know I can do. When this opportunity occurred I felt it was a great chance to come in, get a good camp, and see where it takes me."
While Biron was the only player to miss action on Thursday, J.T. Miller was the only one not able to finish his conditioning testing. According to Vigneault, Miller left the ice early with a "tweaked" hamstring, though the head coach said the original diagnosis was that the injury was not a bad one, and that the 20 year-old forward should be back on the ice Friday.
In the "For What It May Be Worth" department, Vigneault mentioned Swedish rookie Oscar Lindberg---without prompting---when discussing the opportunities for younger players to make an impression during training camp. Coming off an MVP performance and trophy in the Swedish Elite League playoffs last spring, as well as a five-goal, seven-point outburst at the just-completed Traverse City Tournament for prospects, it is clear that Lindberg is front and center when it comes to which prospects will get a long look in Vigneault's first New York camp.
One veteran who took center stage Thursday was Brad Richards, who spoke openly about his frustrating 2013 season in which he admittedly underachieved on the ice and lost confidence in his own game.
"I lost myself a little bit last year, and I think the confidence of the coach, which doesn't help," explained Richards. "It was tough, an uphill battle. It wasn't fun out there. Now I have to regroup. It's a new season and I have to put it all in the past."
Richards maintained that his confidence is back up and, in better shape physically as well as mentally, he can recapture his game in 2013-14.
"It's all up to me."
When told of Richards' comments, Vigneault shook his head and said with a slight smile, "Is he talking about last year? I told him not to!"
"In Brad's case I told him to turn the page as much as he can and not answer questions about last year because it has no significance to now," explained Vigneault. "He has to stay in the moment. Today I watched him during the testing and he was the first guy in line, you could tell that his skating was really good, and he has real positive energy."
Positive energy, good vibes, clean slates.
On to Day Two of Camp AV on Friday.