As the gleam of pumpkin orange seats filled my peripheral, the slicing sounds of skates beckoned me forward into the Cox Center. After a long, hot, humid, and heat dome filled summer finally neared completion the time for Barons training camp had arrived. Coach Todd Nelson, along with assistants Gerry Fleming and Rocky Thompson, held court like a seasoned veteran in front of well over 35+ of a varied group of men (and a few boys). His gameplan was simple and straightforward, he was here to stock a team that simply needed to be the best. "Last year, we took a step in the right direction by making the playoffs," said Nelson to Darnell Mayberry at the Daily Oklahoman, "But with our early exit, that's unacceptable. Our expectation is to make the playoffs and go after the Calder Cup." And with that type of outlook, camp begins.
The first days of camp were rather uneventful. Opening with many Central League players and low-drafted individuals gives a sense of nostalgia to those that remember the Oklahoma City Blazers. The undersized, underskilled, and overlooked would jockey for a miracle spot on a roster that is nearly predetermined by its parent club. Yet the pace was quick, the drills were often, and the scrimmages at full tilt.
From day one, two returning Barons stood out in the pack of unfamiliar faces. Andrew Lord, the tough as nails former Wheeling Nailer, was all grins as camp began. Referring to his return as a Baron he told the Oklahoman, "I definitely think that the guys that have been here...have to hold everyone accountable." Likewise, potential Barons captain and longtime AHL defenseman, Bryan Helmer was anxious to get his skating legs back with the team and city he now calls home. "They're probably going to go through some growing pains, but hopefully we get those out of the way quick and settle down," Helmer told the Oklahoman referring to the young set of prospects headed to town. "If we can all get on the same page, we should be pretty successful."
Beginning at 10:00am sharp the team would run through a series of conditioning drills followed by more zone entrance training, and blue line defending. For exactly an hour the team would remain at full speed with very few breaks for a beverage and brief explanation of the next drill.
Following the hour long drills, the teams them broke into white and blue for intrasquad scrimmages. Through the first two days the mood was light, but confident. By day four, the teams were hitting a bit more, and each shot hurtling towards net seemed increasingly taught. These intrasquad games were closely watched by Nelson, his staff, and GM Bill Scott from the mid-high section of the Cox Center. Yes, amongst the fans, and very casual.
Each day it appeared that several began to move away from the pack. Cameron Abney, with a relatively early exit from the Oilers, was a hulking he-man compared to those around him. And although the Oilers aren't fond of his skill set at this time, compared to the early week skaters he was a blue chipper.
When the familiar faces of Milan Kytnar, Tanner House, Chris Vande Velde, Philipe Cornet, and Alex Plante graced our presence the herd thinning had clearly begun. However, the 20 or so fans in attendance were more than anxious to see the new faces. Tyler Pitlick, Olivier Roy, Ryan Martindale, and Kiril Tulupov seemed ready and willing to jump into camp with both feet.
Newly signed Barons goaltender, David LeNeveu, still wearing his Columbus Bluejacket inspired helmet, found time to make the camp light-hearted amidst its serious tones. Of his paycheck with the team, he told Scott Munn at the Oklahoman, early on in his career he used that paycheck to buy a nice car, "but now I have a family, a wife and two kids. Now it's all about making sure we have enough money in the bank to get them what they need and what the entire family needs."
Yesterday a few minor, minor leaguers that made the trip to camp were cut. Colton Yellow Horn, Matt Hendrilx, and a handful more were nudged back to previous places of employment. Yet, their outlook was 100% admirable. "The game is a half step quicker and a little more crisp," said Yellow Horn to Tommy Daniels, "I'm trying to show these guys I belong here and I can fit in. I know my next shift on the ice could be my last so you try to do your best and hope you stay."
With the first ever home preseason game Friday evening, the Oilers would cut a few more, and assign to Oklahoma City. Colten Teubert, Antti Tyrvainen, and Yann Danis would shore up the steadily strengthening lineup.
The first week of camp, when compared to last season, was much more enjoyable. Seeing familiar faces, and awaiting new ones, all while taking in a fishbowl tryout session with some of the most promising talent in North America.
- Milan Kytnar wore a red sweater for the duration of camp. A nagging injury, to which I'm not privy, only allowed for light skating and absolutely no contact. When the team went into scrimmage mode, he watched briefly, then headed to the locker room. Friday's preseason game will probably garnish more details on his status.
- Olivier Roy is fun to watch. Having never seen him play live and in person, I was found of his mobility. Much sharper, and dynamic than I had anticipated. He seems AHL ready, but will probably spend the majority of his stay this season in Stockton. However, when the goaltending dynamo in Edmonton gets gimpy, he'll get some heavily watched minutes in OKC.
- Andrew Lord is certainly a minor leaguer, but his quotes and video images are not. As if he knows something you don't, Lord has a way with fans and the media. Check the video at the bottom for his great demeanor during an official interview.
- Curtis Hamilton and Ryan Martindale underwhelmed in the one day I saw them, but given the travel schedule and unfamiliar space, they'll get better.
- The Cox Center is still in preseason mode as sawing, polishing, and fine tuning occurred around the arena as the team practiced. In preparation for the preseason game later this evening, the old barn was getting some much needed cosmetic enhancements.
- Check out the Barons official YouTube channel for the great reports from Chris Wescott. The Curtis Hamilton, Andrew Lord, and Olivier Roy moments are my favorite.
- A note worth pointing out. I'd say that the females watching the Barons training camp outnumbered the men 2-1. The crowd grew each and every day, and as a friend pointed out the crowd was slightly different each day. Not a huge sporting event for downtown OKC, Barons hockey seems to be steadily growing. Last seasons training camp was attended by me, one media member, and a gentleman in a Ryan Smyth jersey. Poetic my kind sir.