DULUTH, Ga. — Ron Hainsey stood in a hallway at the Atlanta Thrashers training facility Sunday, with the door cracked enough to see some of his teammates still skating laps.
“They’re still skating?” the Thrashers defenseman asked out loud, nearly 30 minutes after he had been off the ice and showered. “Man, I’m tired just watching that.”
After opening the first two days of camp with scrimmages, and a couple of failed attempts to practice chipping the puck off the boards, new head coach Craig Ramsey put his team through its paces.
Coming from Boston, where playing pucks off the boards was the Bruins’ bread-and-butter, Ramsey is instilling the same mentality in his young Thrashers squad.
“Using the boards is an important part of the game and is actually a play,” Ramsey said Sunday. “It isn’t a panic throw off the wall, its an indirect pass and its about putting the puck where you can get it back. Chipping it off the wall is something I really believe in. Just look at the middle of the ice and all the people standing there. Trying to make a pass through there doesn’t work.”
Yet during both of the scrimmages his team kept forcing passes up the middle of the ice, causing turnover after turnover, the very reason Ramsey stresses using the boards.
“We’ve found a lot of these players are not used to [using the boards],” Ramsey said. “It cuts down the turnovers while increasing scoring chances by getting in footraces, which we think we can win.”
His players, while clearly exhausted after the nearly three-hour long practices are already seeing the benefits.
“Its tough right now, but it will help us later in the season if it’s hard now,” defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “It’s more upbeat and things are really organized and we’re moving in the right direction and you can see it during the scrimmages. It’s intense and if you’re intense with your own teammates you’re definitely going to be intense with the other teams and that’s a really good thing for us.”
When the Thrashers take to the Philips Arena ice tonight at 7 p.m. against the Columbus Blue Jackets for their first pre-season game, expect to see a different style of Thrashers hockey than in years past. Expect lots of board play, lots of speed, lots of shots and to see the defenseman get involved in the play.
And with a backline that includes offensive defensemen Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom and former forward Dustin Byfuglien, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
“I’ve liked what I’ve seen with the defensemen,” Ramsey said. “They’ve done a good job so far of getting involved offensively.”
Little, Peverley to switch positions
Last season the Thrashers second line consisted of Rich Peverley centering Bryan Little and usually Max Afinogenov. This year, with Afinogenov back in Russia, Little and Peverley have flipped positions, a combination Ramsey hopes will stick.
“I think they can both play center but I see Little as more of a center with his size and quickness and it would be nice to see him the middle of the ice,” Ramsey said. “Peverley has been very good at finding people on the wing and he’s a guy that can get in and out quickly. They can always go back, but we would like them to stay where they are.”
Ramsey hopes the switch will help Little offensively, as he had a 21 point drop from 51 two years ago (31 G, 20 A) of 34 (13 G, 21 A) last season.