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Some things we hear before and during every training camp—it’s part of the fun

I guess I’ve been aware of hockey training camps for more than fifty years. Now, I can’t honestly say I was intently following the progress of the Leafs every September when I was five, six and seven years of age back in the late 1950s. But by and large I was one of those kids (and then teenager and young adult) who spent considerable time reading about my favorite team when September and hockey season finally rolled around.

Fans all know that, in what we fondly call the “olden days”—even into the 1980s, I would say— hockey players used training camp as a time to “get in shape”. They might have gained a few pounds in the off-season, some (like Montreal great Guy Lafleur) smoked, so the idea come September and training camp was to round into shape for the beginning of the regular season, or thereabouts.

It was a bit different for rookies or those fighting for a spot. That’s often why, in those days, a relative unknown would stand out in the first few days of camp. They were amped up, fighting to get noticed, and were simply in better shape than just about everybody else.

As time passed, the “vets” got going and would usually re-establish their precedence in the team pecking order.

These days, everyone come into camp in excellent shape. (Keith Tkachuk, a few seasons back, being a notable exception, as was former Leaf speedster Kyle Wellwood with the Canucks a couple of seasons back.) No one smokes. Drills are high-end and intense from the get go and players are expected to perform right away. Anyone that doesn’t stands out and is usually highlighted— either by a coach or the local media.

In the new cap world, most roster spots are spoken for, so a player coming out of nowhere and earning a spot is more than a little unlikely, though I suppose it could happen. (If anyone can think of recent examples, jump in with a name or two.)

From a reporting standpoint, what is predictable (and largely understandable) these days, though, is that you can rest assured that the beat reporters, who have to write a story or file some kind of audio or video report every day, will trot out basically the same types of stories at every camp.

For example, in Leafland we are already hearing that both Kadri and Bozak have (as they were both told to do) changed their diet and bulked up over the summer, in terms of weight and strength. The theory is this will help them play more effectively against bigger NHL-caliber opponents.

The funny thing is, we may hear next year that these same players will change their approach again, having perhaps found that they were too muscle-bound the year before, or too heavy and now need to focus more on, say, flexibility. That will trigger a number of media articles on that subject. (You see that at baseball spring training every year as well. One year a player puts on “muscle” so he can hit more home runs. The next year he wants to get faster and leaner and hit for average. One year you need to “pull the ball” more, the next year a new batting coach tells you to “go the other way” with the outside pitch.)

Then there will be the guys who spent the summer losing weight, or at least reducing body fat, so they are leaner, as it were. Their objective may be to get faster, which is the other big thing in hockey. (What do we always hear when juniors make the move up to the pro ranks—the players are “bigger, faster, stronger…”)

Or, we will hear over and over about how much better condition a guy is in this camp than he was last year: the whole cardiovascular improvement story line. That is, the player realized last season that he needed to work on his endurance, that he was getting tired as the long season went on, that he was running out of gas.

It’s usually one of those three things: players want/need to get bigger/stronger/heavier; they need to get faster; or they need to get in even better cardio condition.

You can take it to the bank that the beat writers/reporters will produce one or all of those stories throughout camp, about any number of players, in Toronto or at other NHL training sites.

Oh, I should add other one that comes to mind: The story line about the guy who worked all summer on his skating. In other words, he realized he needed (or was nudged) to take power skating lessons, or something along those lines, to improve some aspect of his balance, strength or agility on skates.

But that’s all part of the fun of training camp. It's a time for hope.  Players come in wanting to be better and more prepared than ever before.  As fans, we all want to see a new story every day and those are the tried and true angles that reporters can easily dish up.

At least training camp isn’t six weeks long anymore.  It's easier for everyone.

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