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Training Camp: Building identity ‘right from the beginning’

Friday, September 30th
Training Camp: Building identity ‘right from the beginning’

The countdown to hockey season has now truly begun, with the Steelheads announcing on Thursday that the team’s first practice of training camp will be held at CenturyLink Arena on October 6th. At that moment, the Steelheads’ quest for their third Kelly Cup becomes real, with players battling for jobs and coaches putting months of planning to work.

Of course this season’s training camp will be somewhat different than last season’s launch. Not only is it Neil Graham’s second training camp as the head coach, and first with new assistant Everett Sheen, but the cast he leads should also feel a bit more at home this October.

The Steelheads agreed to terms with seven players from last year’s squad- goaltender Branden Komm, defensemen Zach Bell and Corbin Baldwin, and forwards Kyle Jean, Joe Basaraba, Jefferson Dahl, and Rob Linsmayer. Charlie Dodero, a Steelhead for parts of two seasons from 2013 to 2015, also agreed to terms with the Steelheads over the summer.

While there will be several players attending camps with American Hockey League teams, the experienced players that do trickle into Steelheads camp will play important roles in acclimating the many new faces that have also chosen to call Idaho their home.

“We’re trying to get the guys together to gel as quickly as possible. I think we have an advantage of having a lot of returning players this year, but it’s a matter of getting the new guys up and running and understanding how we do things here in Boise,” said Graham. “It’s a matter of getting everyone acclimated to the way we run things as quickly as possible.”

Speed will be especially important for all ECHL teams this October. The World Cup of Hockey was an entertaining tournament for hockey fans, but certainly has had its effects on the hockey training camp landscape. With NHL players away from their teams for the tournament, training camps throughout the ranks have been delayed, with senior affiliates taking more players for longer looks at their camps. This means more opportunities for young hockey players to show their stuff at the higher levels, but it has also means AHL and ECHL teams will have to work quickly to prepare for their season-openers.

It also means that when the Steelheads announce their training camp roster next week, with several of their contracted players slated to participate in AHL camps, there will likely be several players in Idaho on a tryout basis to battle for a spot. That will make for a very competitive camp.

“We have a handful of guys on tryouts and a lot of guys in who have signed contracts, as well,” said Graham. “Every year, it’s competitive. Numbers aside, these are pro hockey players who are fighting for jobs and for an opportunity. I expect guys to be going extremely hard right from Day 1.”

That competitive environment with a healthy dose of experienced players should serve the Steelheads well in this brief camp, with the season-opener in Utah on October 14th rapidly approaching. Players attending AHL camps in Texas who do return to Idaho will already have done some important homework, and they will prove to be a useful support staff for the coaches.

“The guys who have played for me before know me and I know them. I’m excited to see them, first and foremost, because it’s always important to have good people and leaders backing your message,” said Graham.

“The structure between Dallas, Texas, and here are very similar, with some tweaks in the systems. Our guys that are in Texas, if they don’t stay there and they come here, they’ve already been going over a lot of the stuff we’re going over. Any adjustments for things that are a bit different, players will make those adjustments without a problem.”

That teaching will not conclude with the end of training camp. Players on every team will be refining their systems well into the season. What is most important is to have all the players pulling in the same direction by the end of camp.

“We brought in a lot of smart hockey players with high hockey IQs, and they can make adjustments easily. It’s more about everyone buying in and getting on the same page early,” said Graham. “Everyone wants to get off to a good start and get up and running, but it’s important that our team identity is going right from the beginning of Game 1 this year.”

The Steelheads will hold four practices and two exhibition games during camp. They’ll then have just a couple of days to make final preparations for opening night at Maverik Center. While there will be much work to do in the classroom and on the ice, those are not the only workshops for building this team. During training camp, every moment is valuable for team-building.

“Guys will be trickling into town next week and even for myself I get excited to see them come in. The returning guys, it’s great to catch up and see how the summer was. For the new faces, I’ve been talking to these guys all summer on the phone and now to give them a handshake and formally welcome them to Boise is very exciting for me,” said Graham.

“There will be team meals and early bonding and it’s awesome. What I get excited about is seeing the team come together like that, and it’s my job to make sure they’re all moving in the right direction.”

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