John Davidson, the Blue Jackets’ newly minted president of hockey operations, spoke to the squad in the locker room before the start of their first official practice of the shortened 2012-13 season Sunday. Davidson had one message, ‘we will never be outworked.’
The players had no questions for their leader, only answers.
“He said he came here for a reason, to win games” Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky said about Davidson’s locker room speech. “He wants to help this organization win games and he felt that organization was headed that way and with the commitment level they had and the moves they made over the summer. He felt good about the organization.”
The players then marched to the Ice Haus to begin their quest of sending the Blue Jackets to their second Stanley Cup Playoff appearance in franchise history and participated in a hard-fought 75-minute practice. When defenseman James Wisniewski stepped onto the ice, a crowd of 1,200 that crammed into the tiny practice arena roared and chanted ‘let’s go Jackets.’
Shortly before practice, they heard from head coach Todd Richards. Richards had his interim tag removed over the off season. The soft-spoken coach words resonated with the crowd who were hungry for NHL hockey after a four-month long lockout. Richards and Davidson were unsure how fans would respond to a long lockout. They got part of the answer Sunday.
“Great crowd and as I said when I addressed the crowd before we skated, ‘it surprises me but it doesn’t surprise me,’” Richards said. “It surprises me because of what we went through and what we’ve read with some of the anger. When we get into some of these situations, you really don’t know what to expect. It is like going into opening night in Nashville, you just don’t know what it will be like.
“But it doesn’t surprise me because having living in the community and being around the community, I know what people are saying to me.”
This was Davidson’s first camp as the leader of the Blue Jackets’ hockey operations. He will play a very active role as he said every hockey related decision has to go through his desk.
“We had a real good conversation this morning about what is expected,” Davidson said. “That is to carry themselves in a very professional sense on the ice and off the ice, we are not going to get outworked, period, we are going to have lots of energy, and we’re going to stick together as a club. We are going to play a heavy brand of hockey. And for the first day of camp, we were very impressed.”
The first day of camp was energetic. Unlike a typical camp where there are over 50 players with most of the participants returning to either the junior or minor levels after camp, only two of the 25 in camp will be cut. Despite most of the jobs being settled, the checks were hard and the tempo was fast.
Players practiced like they had something to prove. And according to some, they do.
The Blue Jackets enter camp with very low expectations by national experts. The club is minus its captain and leading scorer from last season Rick Nash after finishing dead last in the league. But the additions of Nick Foligno, Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov mean that the club will look for scoring by committee.
Dubinsky was part of a trade that shipped Nash to New York. Dubinsky played for the East Coast Hockey League’s Alaska Aces to stay sharp during the lockout. His time there was shortened by a broken hand. The hand has healed and he is ready to make his Blue Jackets debut Saturday at Nashville.
“With a short training camp, it is all about who is ready the quickest,” Dubinsky said. “With only have four or five days to get prepared, I thought we were in a good spot.”
With the lack or proven goal scorers, Davidson is looking for a squad that plays well on the back end while keeping the puck of the net.
“Having four games a week, you are going to need both goaltenders to play well,” Davidson said. “You’re going to need a team that is going to have depth.”