GLENS FALLS — The first day of the Adirondack Thunder training camp was its usual mix of new and familiar faces, from the coaching staff down to the players.
But with only 10 forwards, five defensemen and two goalies on the ice Monday, when new head coach Brad Tapper blew his whistle during drills, it meant one thing.
“Don’t have a lot of bodies, so you definitely get a lot of reps, which is good at the start,” returning defenseman Kevin Lough said.
By the end of an intense practice before about 20 onlookers at Cool Insuring Arena, the players were winded and sweaty, but both they and Tapper felt good about what they achieved.
“The conditioning isn’t exactly what it should be, but you can skate as much as you can in the summer, you can do as much as you want in the weight room, but once you get into a full practice things change and you find yourself winded at times, but that’s just the nature of the sport,” returning forward James Henry said. “Everybody was working hard and executing.”
“We had limited numbers out there today, so we had to change some of the drills,” Tapper said. “It was a really good start. We did go through some good habits and detail today. Any numbers are welcome, (but) it’s not about numbers, it’s about having structure and good guys in our room.”
One thing Tapper made clear to his players was that giving up on the puck will not be tolerated. At one point he yelled out, “We want every guy on this team to want the puck. Go for it!”
“If that puck is in the scoring area,” Tapper said after practice, “why stop the drill and put the guys back in line? You keep going for secondary chances at the net. It’s important guys have good habits stopping at the net and you fight for loose pucks.”
There also were several drills that were meant to develop the players’ skill in tight quarters.
“You can play any system in the world you want, but we want to see what guys are going to do in small areas with the puck, and that’ll come out even more with the (preseason) games on Friday and Sunday ‘til we get down to our team.”
Part of the reality minor-league hockey teams live with at the beginning of camps are fluctuating rosters, and several hours after the 17 players finished, the roster went up to 21, as forwards Tim Harrison and Pierre-Luc Mercier, along with defensemen Desmond Bergin and Tim Boyle were released from their tryout deals with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators and sent to Adirondack. The roster that the Thunder has to submit to the ECHL happens on Oct. 11, three days before their first regular-season game.
The first action the team will see is Friday’s 7 p.m. home preseason game against Reading. The teams will then play at Reading at 5 p.m. Sunday. The Thunder open the regular season home on Oct. 14 against Brampton (7 p.m.).
For the veterans who were used to last year’s head coach, Cail MacLean, Tapper didn’t seem that different.
“Each coach has his own style, but for the most part coaches are getting the same message across,” Henry said. “For now, it’s all about our effort and how we approach each day.”
“Coach Tapper is really knowledgeable about the game, and he preaches hard work and dedication to the team, which is a lot of the same things Cail was always preaching,” Lough added.
Likewise, Tapper came away impressed with his veterans and newcomers, predicting that when final roster cuts have to be made, “we are going to have some very tough decisions,” noting the solid first-day efforts of Brian Ward, JC Campagna, Henry and Lough.