JPat: Optimism abounds as Canucks wrap up on-ice portion of summer development camp

Photo credit:@canucks via X
Jeff Paterson
7 days ago
For 51 weeks of the year, the National Hockey League is a ruthless place. Everything – absolutely everything – is about winning at all costs. The stakes are high in professional sports and every decision and every action taken by an NHL team is done with an eye to incremental improvement that will ultimately lead to a Stanley Cup championship.
But summer development camp is different. Oh sure, there is a long game at play to help prospects in the system improve so that years from now they can be part of the cut-throat world that exists in all of those other weeks each year.
At summer development camp, however, optimism abounds and there is actually a relaxed look and feel to what takes place at and away from the rink. Don’t for a second mistake that as a fun and games environment. This is still serious business for those involved. But nowhere close to the level on display through a training camp, the preseason, the 82-game marathon that is the regular season and then, of course, the playoffs. 
Despite being put through their paces by the entire Canucks development staff, players are able to strike the balance between intensity and enjoyment, knowing that mistakes in the first week of July on a sheet of ice at the University of British Columbia don’t have significant consequences. In fact, those miscues can serve as teachable moments that allow the prospects to learn and grow their games. 
“It was another great camp, I learned so much throughout the week,” 2023 sixth round draft pick Aidan Celebrini said after Thursday’s scrimmage, which served as the final on-ice session of the five-day event. “Everybody looked good. You can tell guys picked up on things throughout the week that they tried to incorporate. It made for a great experience.”
A big part of the approach this week was an increased coach to player ratio on the ice to ensure maximum benefit to the players involved. The Canucks had 24 skaters and four goalies in camp – 17 of the attendees were drafted by the organization. The players worked daily with new Abbotsford head coach Manny Malhotra, Player Development coaches Mike Komisarek and Mikael Samuelsson, Hockey Hall of Famers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, new Canucks assistant coach Yogi Svejkovski and the club’s new skills coach Jason Krog. Abbotsford goalie coach Marko Torenius was also on the ice daily to help the netminders.
The smaller camp size seemed to go a long way to helping the Canucks provide far more individual coaching to the participants than they had in the past.
“What’s the purpose of a really big camp? I don’t really know,” Samuelsson said. “I only see upside with a smaller group. Not too small, but I don’t think we had too small of a group.”
“Yogi and Manny are giving these guys a ton of nuggets to chew on,” Komisarek added.” We know it’s not going to happen overnight. The coaches are giving these kids different ideas and they’re chewing on them, wrestling with them, trying to incorporate them. It’s not going to happen this week, but I am certainly confident that a week like this moves the needle to helping these guys get closer not only in the locker room but with that jersey on out on the ice.”
Development camp will wrap up Friday with the annual Grouse Grind. And this year it will be conducted in sweltering temperatures adding to the challenge. But like the camp itself, players will embrace all obstacles placed before them knowing that this isn’t a week about wins and losses. It’s about personal growth and an opportunity to learn from coaches that have been where these guys want to go.
For 2023 first rounder Tom Willander, this was a second experience at development camp. A year ago he arrived in town with his head still spinning from the draft in Nashville only days earlier. This year, he came to Vancouver a few days early, found his comfort level and was among the standouts in camp – as expected.
“I think it was a lot of fun, a bit smaller group and I think for me, personally, that was a lot more fun,” Willander said. “I got a bit more time with the coaches, just one on one to talk about details and stuff but also to get closer with the guys so that was good.”
Willander, like all the prospects taking part this week, will be better for the experience. They may not know how much better until they apply all they learned at camp in their various leagues at the start of next season.
When games begin, intensity will ramp up again and wins and losses will matter.
This week wasn’t about that. This was the one week on the hockey calendar each year where players can just go out and play. And everyone comes away from a week like this feeling better about themselves. It really is a rarity in such a bottom line business.

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