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03-10-2008, 08:52 PM
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Seth Lake
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Sharks Off-Day Practice Report (in Nashville)

Call it pregame scouting...I showed up to watch the Predators open practice today only to arrive to an empty parking lot in the back, but thankfully I still went in and was told that the Sharks were to practice starting at 1 PM...so I stayed and watched...

The Sharks arrived at Centennial full dressed in their gear minus the skates. Guys carried their own gear and stepped into a locker room and finished dressing before they hopped on the ice.

G Evgeni Nabakov, D Christian Ehrhoff, and F Mike Grier were noticeably absent from practice today.

Lines ran as follows:
Michalek - Thornton - Cheechoo
Clowe - Roenick - Brown
OPEN - Marleau - Setoguchi
OPEN - Mitchell - Rissmiller
Shelley - Plihal - Goc

Semenov - Carle
McLaren - Rivet
Ozolinsh - Vlasic
Murray - Campbell

Boucher

The first person on the ice was Sharks head coach Ron Wilson, quickly followed by assistant Tim Hunter. Wilson grabbed the bucket of pucks and dumped them out into a pile just inside the blueline and began alternating with Hunter sending them down the rink trying to hit the net. As the Sharks players filed out of the locker room they skated around to loosen up and began shooting and passing the pucks around by themselves before practice officially began. With a quick whistle and instruction by Hunter practice started with a 3 man weave while asst coach Rob Zettler warmed up Boucher at one end of the rink. As soon as Boucher was ready, the Sharks went into a simple shooting warmup drill starting at the far end and skating across the rink to receive a pass from the second line (in the other corner) then carrying the puck down the wing and snapping off a shot from the tops of the faceoff circles. They then progressed to a 1 on 1 drill that started with a shot from the point with a tip before taking off down ice, then they moved to 2 v 1, then 3 v 1 before stopping for a stretch. This entire portion of practice was run by Hunter with Wilson shooting pucks in the corner while observing and the other coaches simply skating around. In total there were four coaches on the rink at all times (same as the Preds), besides Wilson, Hunter, and Zettler there was what appeared to be a goaltending coach, however after the death of Warren Strenlow last season I am unaware of who it would be (a search of their website reveals no goalie coach listed).

After the stretch the team went through a 5 v 2 breakout/regroup flow drill that they had to modify for only having one goalie. The drill starts with a pair of defensemen at each blueline and a line of forwards standing across the red line in the neutral zone. The forwards dump the puck into one of the end zones and breakout from that side before usually gaining the neutral zone and throwing the puck to the second pair of defensemen and regrouping to attack back at the same end of the ice that they just dumped into. The next forward line would dump into the other end and they alternate sides. However, due to only having one goalie, the Sharks regrouped in the neutral zone with the same defense set that they just completed the breakout with before finishing the drill with an attack against the second pair of defensemen. This change in the drill made for some interesting regroups early in the drill (which was good to see as it just goes to show you that even pros can struggle with a change in a drill - coaches have some patience with your players!) and as the drill progressed the regroups became interesting once again as it became obvious that the players had become a little unfocused as it was towards the end of practice. The only player that noticably screwed up the drill more than once was Cheechoo who not only had a couple poor regroups, but he was also the only player to lose track of how the drill was working and throw the puck to the wrong set of defensemen on the regroup - which got a raise from his teammates. This is a drill that is very common at Predators practices as well and really works on going through the different types of options for the defense to move the puck up (quick up, wheel, d to d, reverse, etc) and also serves as an opportunity for the forwards to run through the breakout and regroup options with their linemates to reinforce positioning and encourage good passes/flow on the movements.

At this point of the practice all of the team and line work was done for the day and after a quick stretch (where Roenick went around patting everyone on their butt with his stick while giving each a word of encouragement - however it almost looked like he was playing "duck, duck, goose") the team broke into two groups - forwards and defense. The forwards were with Coach Hunter (who is a former long-time NHL forward and whom runs the forwards - our version of Horachek) and the defensemen were with Coach Zettler (another long-time NHL defenseman who runs the defense and who really does some interesting work with video as a teaching tool live on the bench in games - if you get the chance to sit close to the bench during the game, look for him to have a little screen where he will show players actual video of their last shift as a tool to teach in game - Zettler is our version of Peterson). The forwards worked on another drill shooting off the wing where they started at the middle of the blueline facing Boucher in net, took off in a big loop around the back of the forward line, and took a pass from the next player in line right as they crossed the blueline before going down the wing and shooting around one of Boucher's sticks that they had propped up with a traffic cone. Zettler had the defense working on getting their feet moving when they had the puck at the blueline prior to shooting. They worked a couple of drills for this, however the focus was clear in that they want their defensemen to keep there feet moving when they get the puck in order to open up shooting lanes to get the puck through to the net. The units continued to work through this before they began skating off individually.

While the forwards continued their drill for what seemed like forever, the defense broke up with Craig Rivet teaching newly acquired teammate Brian Campbell tips on how to fight. Rivet was trying to teach him to get ahold of the shoulder pads with his left hand to get a grip on the player (common technique) and then he wanted Campbell to throw quick jabs using the left hand at the players upper chest and as high as the throat before picking his spot to throw the right hand. He also showed him how to defend himself with several moves, but kept going back to those quick jabs and encouraging him to keep his opponent off guard with those quick thrusts before throwing his right hand. As soon as Rivet picked up his equipment, one of his gloves was thrown over the netting into the stands by Zettler during this "fight" - it was returned - the gloves came off again as Alexei Semenov and then Jody Shelley began exchanging tips with Rivet. Semenov actually punched Shelley in the face at one point by accident and heard an earful for it. You could tell Semenov was afraid of the reaction of Shelley as he immediately threw up his hands and began apologizing depsite having about a 4" advantage.

Zettler set up a square with his two gloves and two water bottles in the neutral zone that he had Matt Carle working around with different skating drills before Semenov joined in and alternated with Carle. As this was going on, the forwards were still running that same drill at one end with Boucher and two forwards (I didn't catch the numbers on their helmets - maybe Rissmiller and Goc) put on the 3-point harnesses for a Speedster lightning cord system (essentially two three-point harnesses with attachments to be connected either to the front or back - one player is hooked by the lightning cord (bungee cord) to the front of his harness and the second is hooked in to the back of his harness). This is a power skating drill that works both on resistance and overspeed training. The player hooked in back is the lead skater and takes off down the ice while his partner stays still on the goal line. As the cord is stretched, the lead player is working on stride strength through the resistence of the cord. As soon as the player in front begins to reach his limit, the player hooked by the front (trail player) releases and starts flying down the ice as the cord pulls them much faster than a normal stride speed. The trail player is working on quickening his stride through overspeed training provided by the rebound of the cord. For more info on this, look up "Lightning Speed" under the "Hockey" section of the Speeder Training System site here (http://www.speedster.com) - sorry couldn't link to the exact article. They did this drill several times before practice totally broke down and the players left the ice on their own accord.

This team is incredibly hot right now and has a lot of confidence. There was a noticeable difference in the mood at practice and culture surrounding the team. The Sharks truly represent the Californian Surfer Dude atmosphere right now with their constant joking and good natured ribbing of each other. The team was very vocal throughout and almost every player had a smile on their face. You could tell that this was really an off-day practice late in the season where they were simply getting in a skate rather than working on really refining anything, however it was clear that the attitude is that they are going to have fun while doing their work and honestly it didn't seem to affect them today. They got their work in, some hung around and chatted as they waited for their teammates to board the bus and then they left. Never was their a voice raised in anger, nor was there even any correction by the coaches on anything that I could notice. Certain players clearly used the opportunity to work on some things, but the majority of the team was just out there for a skate and that's how it went down.

With the level of confidence the Sharks have right now, there is no doubt in my mind that we MUST SCORE THE FIRST GOAL TOMORROW and play a full 60 minutes, never taking a shift off or giving them any unnecessary opportunities to gain any momentum. Regardless of the score, the Sharks will have a ton of confidence that they will find a way to pull it out and they will come hard every shift. They know that Nabakov is a Vezina candidate in nets and also have confidence in Boucher after he made his debut with a shutout of the Blues last week. They know that they have to score a couple of goals to win and play solid defense throughout to win and they have complete confidence in their netminders that if they make a mistake in front of them, the goalies are going to erase it more often than not. This confidence also allows the team to tap the goalie on the pads and go out there and pickup the goalie should he allow a bad goal. Just clearly a difference in cultures shown today...one that being near the top of the standings and on a nine game winning streak is bound to bring on.

***NOTE TO MODS: Please merge this into the GDT tomorrow***

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