By Surly Jacob.
The smell of hockey is in the air again in Los Angeles as the Kings laced ‘em today for the first day of training camp. Though that smell might be what kes so many in our silly city away from our great game. More for us.
As Group C took the ice, there was more than just hockey being played, there was fun being had. Led by the five Kings locked in to a spot on the team (Frolov, Handzus, Simmonds, Doughty and O’Donnell), young hopefuls like Andrei Loktionov, Nicolas Deslauriers and Jordan Nolan got a taste of what it is like to be a King. A taste they are here to make linger as long as possible.
While skills were on display, mostly from beloved veteran forward Alexander Frolov, the more interesting part of camp today was the attitude on the ice. One thing was remarkably clear amongst the Kings’ players, they actually like each other. We have all heard General Manager Dean Lombardi go on and on about changing the hockey culture in Los Angeles, and oftentimes it can give us sudden aneurysms when he talks in such vagaries. However an up close look at the players makes one start to believe that the very serious man pacing behind the glass, fiddling with his pockets and smacking his gum, is succeeding in this crucial, but elusive issue.
During a series of drills lasting just under three hours, the team’s veterans joked and bantered, sometimes at the expense of the rookies. Sean O’Donnell (pictured to the left), who was nearly twice the age of almost everyone on the ice, showed leadership in a different kind of way, throwing random and playful body checks at various youngsters when they were least expecting it. In one moment that had the excited crowd emitting a group giggle, O’Donnell skated by an unsuspecting Loktionov and pinned the diminutive Russian into the bench, with a follow up friendly face wash. Clearly training camp is inaugural in more ways than one.
O’Donnell put on similar displays throughout that seemed as much for the fans as for his teammates, particularly with Drew Doughty. Paired with O’Donnell, Doughty was as serious as he was entertained. The bond of mentor to student still running strong, get excited about Johnson and Doughty on the power play, because this couple doesn’t look to be going anywhere. In his own right, Doughty had a strong practice with crisp passing and the smooth skating we have all come to know and love.
There to let everyone know that this is not a drill was tryout Radko Gudas. Having already caused a bit of a stir with a strong performance during the developmental and rookie camps, Gudas played with a physical edge that was unmatched. While there was no open ice hitting, Gudas demonstrated that he earns his paycheck along the boards; practically stapling it to the opposing forward’s back along with his stick. Though Gudas was consistently physical, the biggest hit of the afternoon belonged to David Meckler, who made Loktionov check for blood behind the net.
Quiet, but virtually mistake free was 2009 3rd round draft pick defenseman Nicolas Deslauriers. He looks to need a bit more time in the oven, but he is one of those players that make you curse the AHL age restrictions.
Getting pelted were goalies Erik Ersberg and Martin Jones. Ersberg seems primed and ready to kick off the season, making several crowd pleasing saves and looking agile as ever. At the other end of the ice was Martin Jones. While clearly skilled, Jones relies heavily on his size (6’4”) and strong positioning and could use some work on his lateral movement. A curious case that is finally bearing whatever future intrigues it has to offer is the appropriately termed “Legend of Juraj Mikus” (see link: The Legend of Juraj Mikus).
Unfortunately, the tree looks pretty bare for now. Mikus obviously has offensive talent, but it remains to be seen how he can adapt to our rougher brand of hockey. His play along the boards leaves something to be desired, and he is often caught looking around a little too much. He strikes me as a loner, both in his personality and style of play. Of course, he is young and not used to much of anything in Los Angeles, let alone the hockey. So he could grow out of it throughout the course of the season if he remains in North America. It was nice to see fellow Slovakian Michal Handzus stay several minutes after practice to talk with Mikus, as well as Gudas. In the same vein Frolov spoke with Loktionov a few times in between drills.
Fourth line center hopeful Trevor Lewis had a solid outing, as did Alec Martinez. Manchester staples Marc-Andre Cliché, Gabe Gauthier, Scott Parse and David Meckler were not terrible, but they might all have the curse of chronic AHLism, but hey, that’s why it’s not a one day camp.
Boys and girls, hockey is finally here.