The New Jersey Devils Optional Practice of 2/13 - Pictures & Thoughts

Jacques Lemaire instructs the Devils at today's optional practice at the AmeriHealth Pavilion in front of a crowd of Devils season ticket holders. (Picture by John Fischer)

The New Jersey Devils opened up today's practice those who renewed their season tickets early.  While it was an optional practice, there was a "meet & greet" session with all of the players on the main concourse of the Prudential Center.  So if you wanted to be in a mob of people wanting to see Zach Parise or Martin Brodeur, you were able to do exactly that.

Personally, I was more interested in the practice itself. Just as Tom Gulitti reported this morning, it was mostly the fringe players on New Jersey save for Anton Volchenkov (still suspended), Johan Hedberg (one of two goaltenders available), and David Clarkson. Still, the drills were fascinating to me, since I've never seen a NHL practice before. I took several photos at the AmeriHealth Pavilion.  I'll showcase a few of the usable ones after the jump. 

Before that, I would like to point out that this was a big event based on how many showed up. Even if it was closed to those who renewed their season tickets, the entire AmeriHealth Pavilion was filled.  Just filled.  The bleachers were packed, the seating above the bleachers were packed, fans lined up all around the glass, and even into the penalty boxes.  Clearly, there was a lot of interest for the fans to come out and see a practice and see the current roster up close and personal.   The time definitely helped, too.  It was a Sunday late morning with no other sports going on locally; it's not like there was much else going on.

At the same time, I can see why practices aren't open just yet.  Because the Rock and all of it's offices are connected to the AmeriHealth Pavilion, security is a legit concern.  While I can't imagine that at least a thousand people will show up at every practice if it were open.  The factors of timing and the "meet & greet" afterwards cannot be ignored.  However, it's simply going to take extra money and personnel to prevent any issues with fans walking about in the complex and going to where they don't belong.

Plus, with today's event, I think the Devils underestimated how many people would show up.  While there was food available with about 15 staffers, lines were incredibly long nonetheless.  Late in the practice, I overheard security telling people that was no room left in the practice facility (there really wasn't).  The concourse was mobbed with people after practice.   It's great to see a big crowd, evidence that there is interest in practices. But big crowds presents additional challenges. 

I know Jeff Vanderbeek said at the very first Jersey Tour stop that there are plans in the works to make practices open.  I can see why they haven't yet.  I'd like to think they eventually will; usually the owner gets his way if the owner insists on it.   However, I have a better understanding that opening up practices not as simple as just opening up the doors and having a couple security guys around.   Still, I hope the Devils organization looks to do this more often in the future.   I would suggest to make the next time a practice-only event just to gauge interest in that alone before going through opening up further practices.

Anyway, enough about the logistics, let's get to the pictures. Please be forewarned that I'm a total amateur at photography, so these aren't going to be the best shots in the world.   They should still convey what's going on.  One final note, do take note of the people in the background.  You'll notice more and more people as practice went on.  That's exactly what happened today.

Practice Warm-Up

When I came in at about 10:45, Johan Hedberg stepped out on the ice.  The skaters, Mike McKenna, and the coaches followed out afterward.    The skaters took a few shots and skated about to loosen up, as did the goaltenders on the side.

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The goaltenders both wore black jerseys.  The defensemen - Anton Volchenkov, Mark Fraser, Anssi Salmela, Mark Fayne, and Jay Leach (I believe he was #33 on his helmet) - also wore black as did Adam MairVladimir Zharkov and Rod Pelley were in white jerseys; while David Clarkson, Nick Palmieri, and Mattias Tedenby wore red jerseys. The coaches were clad in Devils tracksuits and Devils caps. 

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As a quick aside, Gulitti reported on McKenna's new mask this afternoon.  I didn't get a good look at the front, but as he stretched along the glass by where I was sitting, I got this nice picture of the back of it.

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After some time, Jacques Lemaire blew his whistle and everyone took to center ice.

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Drill #1: 2-Man Rush

This drill consisted of two players. They start across each other along the boards, they make a cross-ice pass up ice, they turn around at the blue line, make a second cross-ice pass going forward and taking a shot.  After a few iterations, one of the coaches stood in the middle on the return for a little pressure for that second pass. The skaters were split up for both ends of the rink, so both goalies were involved.   I was on the end with McKenna in net, so I got to see the defensemen do this drill.

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Here it is with a coach acting as a defender.

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After some more of this, everyone reconvened at center ice for instructions from Lemaire on the next drill.

Drill #2: Outside 1-on-1

An attacking player would line up at the far blueline near the side boards and skate forward. A coach would play a pass for them in the neutral zone and they would rush ahead with the puck.  There is a player on defense, so it's a one-on-one drill.  For the defender, their job is to keep the attacking player on the outside and to stop them. For the attacker, it's to get around (or past) the defender and get a shot on goal. This happened at both ends of the rink, so both Hedberg and McKenna were involved.

Here are two close up shots of the one-on-one battle involved in this drill.  The first appears to be Zharkov and Fayne; the second is

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Here's one from the far end.

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Again, after several runs, Lemaire blew his whistle and everyone gathered on the end of the rink away from the entrance.

Drill #3: Sideboard 2-on-1

This drill was done in two ways. For both, the forwards - Mair included - would line up in each corner with the puck.   A forward would be out as a defender with a coach in the circle closest to the corner.  The attacking player would pass it to a defenseman at the point.  For the first way, after the pass, the attacking forward would cut to the middle for the pass and then take a shot at the goalie. For the second, the attacking forward would remain on the sideboards for the pass from the defenseman.    In this photo, Mair (on the right) is the attacker, the white jersey is the defender, and there's a defenseman at the point.

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The defending forward's job was to keep their position, have their stick out, and disrupt the play.   Occasionally, the starting forward will just drive to the middle with the puck if they felt they had enough of a gap between the coach and defending forward.  The goalies were switched out from time to time for this drill. I did notice a little more instruction from the forwards, notably catching assistant coach Adam Oates showing Tedenby a few things about where his stick needs to be when backchecking.

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There was some instruction given in the middle of the drill.  Here's Oates showing Tedenby the importance of keeping his stick out so he can block the passing lane.

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There were some nice moves put on, both by the forwards and the goaltenders.  Like this one:

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In my opinion, this was one of the more fruitful drills.  It emphasized decision making both both defender and attacker and it involves the real-game situation of what to do coming out of the corner with the puck on offense.  Again, after some time, Lemaire blew his whistle and the skaters and goalies separated for the next drill.

Drill #4: Behind the Net Drill (for skaters); Dump-In Practice (for goalies)

This took place at the far end, so I couldn't get a great view of what was going on.  A defenseman would start with the puck behind the net. He clears it around the corner to be picked up by a forward. Two skaters would then converge on him to get the puck back.  I assume it was a breakout drill. 

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They didn't have any goalie in net for that drill.  Hedberg and McKenna were at the other end of the rink with Chris Terreri working on dump-ins.  I don't think anyone was surprised that was a drill today given Moose's sketchy puck play outside of the crease.   The goalie's job is to stop it and then clear it around to the goalie on the sideboards.  

Here's Terreri about to fire one in deep:

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Visual evidence that Hedberg can handle a dump-in properly

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McKenna took part in this drill as well.  The first one caught him by surprise and he jumped into the boards to stop it; but he got it done and did the rest of the dump-ins without a problem.

Drill #5: Attacking Drills - Breakaways, 1-on-1s, and 2-on-2s

At this point, a series of attacking drills were done.  For the breakaways, there was a little competition: the black jerseys versus the red and white jerseys, with the "losers" needing to do a lap around the rink at the end of the drill.  First, they were simple breakaways on the goaltender.  Here's the first one, where Salmela beat Hedberg with a sweet shot.

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Believe it or not, the black jerseys (defensemen plus Mair) put more past Hedberg than the forwards did against McKenna. The only person to beat McKenna on a breakaway was Adam Oates, which drew a cheer from the crowd.

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(I missed his "shrug" celebration, which was cool.)

The audience seemed most impressed with the breakaways, with some "Moose" calls for Hedberg saves, and applause when there were goals.  Two men breakaways came up next, and as you would expect, there was plenty of passing. This was also black vs. white/red jerseys, with a single breakaway at the end for both sides.  Since they lost both competitions, Tedenby, Pelley, Zharkov, Clarkson, and Palmieri had to do a lap twice today.

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Then they rotated 1-on-1 drills (attacker versus defender and goaltender, attacker then becomes the next defender) and 2-on-2 drills (two attackers versus two defenders and goaltender, attackers are then the defenders).  During the 1-on-1s where Leach took a puck to the face and lost some teeth, as Gulitti reported earlier today.

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The whistle from Lemaire was blown one more time, and players were split up for what would be the final drill of the practice.

Drill #6: More Shooting - One-Timers & Slapshots

The skaters were split up again for this one. At the far end, most of the forwards were shooting at Hedberg at close range. 

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Hedberg left early for this one, leaving the forwards just to work on one-timers at an empty net. Nothing much there, but a lot of passes sent back. The drill was just as much for the passer as it was for the shooter since a good one-timer requires the pass to be placed perfectly.  Those that weren't led to some ugly shots sent wide.

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Over on the near side, defensemen were lined up at the corner of the point.  They would drift out towards the center of the blueline, get a pass from a coach who I believe was Larry Robinson (first from the sideboards, then along the blueline), and take a slapshot (usually off one touch) on net.  At least, hitting the net was the goal.

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Mike McKenna first faced these shots on his own.  Notice the blur below the "PruCenter.com" sign. That's a puck after a slapshot is fired.  Notice how McKenna's facing the puck but he's not doing anything because it's sailing high and wide.  Nothing but glass on that one.

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Then he had to contend with Rod Pelley standing in front of him looking to tip those slapshots into the goal. 

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Eventually, McKenna left and so Pelley and coach Larry Robinson just looked to tip them towards the empty net. 

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This went on for a few more shots.  It ended when a slapshot by Fraser hit Robinson in the hand.  It was nothing too serious, though, they appeared to share a laugh over it.  At that point, with both goalies out and it having been over an hour, that was really the end of practice.

End of Practice

Eventually, practice wore down after all of this and those remaining players just shot around.  The crowd began to leave at this point, the players stepped off the ice, the coaches left, and there were three skaters remaining: Mair, Palmieri, and Tedenby. They were messing around with some attempted volleys and other shots on an empty net.  Just a little after-practice fun.

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Tedenby fell trying to attempt to volley a puck that was behind him, but he was OK. It drew a bit of a laugh.  Eventually, the threesome cleaned up the last set of pucks and at 12:20 PM, that was really the end from the Devils. There was a "meet & greet" to have at the Rock and a youth team looking to take to the AmeriHealth Pavilion ice.

Concluding Notes

I've never been to a NHL practice before, so I was really fascinated by what went on. It would have been nice if it was a full practice. If only so I can at least see what in the world the power play looks like in practice, since it seems the Devils do it so much.  However, I was very interested in what I did get to see.  I saw the coaches talk up the skaters, notably Tedenby, during the drills.  I got a sense that the purpose for many of them had to do with offense; knowing where to make a pass, how to get by a defender, and getting a shot off.   The breakaways I think were done more for fun, and it was.   Tedenby's skills with the puck and his speed definitely made him stand out, as was his small stature.

I didn't stick around for the Meet & Greet session. I've met most of the players before anyway back before the season at the season ticket holder's event then.  So I don't have anything from then to show off.  Though do check out what Ryan Lucas found: something to (at least) smirk at.

If you were at today's practice, then let us know what you thought about it in the comments. If you weren't, feel free to talk about it all the same.  The pictures are amateurish; after all, I am an amateur. I hope you enjoyed them all the same.  Thanks for reading.

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