Kevin Fiala spent much of the NHL’s four-month hiatus in Sweden, skating and working out with few coronavirus-related restrictions. Many of his teammates remained in the U.S., some unable to do much of anything related to training, depending on where they were and what they had at their disposal.
So it would only make sense to see rather large disparities in fitness level and sharpness between Wild players when training camp opened this week in St. Paul.
But that hasn’t been the case.
“You know what? No. Honestly,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “And there’s a few guys that we know that weren’t on the ice but for a handful of times, and they look the same. … It doesn’t look from our vantage point that there’s a huge separation between guys.”
Which is a welcome sight for a team that is just a couple weeks away from stepping into a playoff series with Vancouver. Even Fiala said he felt “way better” Monday than he expected. That’s not to say the first two days of training camp at the TRIA Rink in St. Paul have been physically intensive. Evason said the team has tried to achieve a “good pace” for maybe 20-25 minutes each day, before slowing it down.
That pace has been achieved.
“I’ve been in a lot of practices over my career, a lot of games, and I think both practices were designed well for the layoff that we’ve had and getting up to speed,” veteran Wild center Eric Staal said. “But as far as the pace and the energy … I mean, the energy I assumed would be there, just because of the time and everybody has that excitement to get back out there, but the pace has been what I have been impressed (with). Even the execution has been better. … As far as these first two days have gone, I felt like it’s been going really well.”
Evason said the Wild will get into more systematic work Wednesday, and Staal said it will be telling how guys feel physically after the fourth and fifth days of camp. Minnesota’s first intrasquad scrimmage is set for Saturday. Evason said strength and conditioning coach Sean Skahan monitors the players at each practice and gives full reports. And the coaching staff has kept open lines of communication with the players.
Evason was adamant that it’s not a bad thing if players tell him a certain drill or practice was particularly challenging, as adjustments can be made as necessary. But that hasn’t been the case thus far.
“So hopefully we can continue as a staff to continue to do the right things,” Evason said, “and go like this (upward trajectory) as far as not getting those serious bumps and bruises and pulls and what have you and soreness in order to get going for (our first game on Aug. 2).”
That’s not to say he’s taking it easy on the team. There were multiple occasions Tuesday in which things weren’t being executed properly, and the coach let his players know about it.
“We do it constantly, it’s just an attention to detail. If we ask them to get their skates on the blue line and they don’t, then we stop it and we do a little over and back (skate),” Evason said. “It’s just details, dialing it in and attention to detail. That’s no different than your practice when we first took over. … We stop it, and we do it right. I think most coaches do that. Those two situations this morning, we’ll continue to do that. But we were out there an hour, and only to have that happen a couple times is pretty good already.”
Staal said that mind-set of holding everyone accountable is what players want in a coach.
“It was a good second day,” Staal said. “We’ll keep building and be ready again (on Wednesday), and we’ll just keep our group focused on what we’re trying to accomplish when we head out to Edmonton.”