With the start of the Lightning’s training camp this weekend, the summer hockey break is officially over. Thousands of fans showed up for team practices and scrimmage matches at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum on Saturday and Sunday, everyone excited to get a look at the new team, its new uniforms, and its prospective players. The Lightning have a majority of the same players as last season, with a few new additions, and a few open spaces yet to be filled. The competition for those open spaces is intense.
The scrimmages focused mainly on the newer and younger players, particularly on Saturday, with only a few veteran players such as Pavel Kubina and Marc-Andre Bergeron in the mix. Sunday’s scrimmage mixed up the players a bit more, including veteran players Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Steve Downie, Adam Hall, and Victor Hedman for Team Blue and Vinny Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson, Eric Brewer, and Dwayne Roloson for Team White. Both days’ scrimmage matches were fast paced, high-intensity competitions with Team Blue winning on Saturday 3-1 and Team White winning in overtime on Sunday 1-0.
The prospective players that stood out the most were Cory Conacher, Brett Connolly, Carter Ashton, and Blair Jones. Cory Conacher, who just signed a one year AHL contract with the Norfolk Admirals in July, played aggressively both days, moving quickly, and finding open spaces on the ice. He had some good scoring chances during both games, but wasn’t able to get any goals through. During Sunday’s game, he played on a line with Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos and was able to hold his own. Since Conacher’s scheduled to start this season in the AHL, we won’t likely see him playing for Tampa Bay in the NHL this season, but he’s a player to watch for in the future.
Brett Connolly was probably more impressive at Prospect Camp than at Training Camp this year, but he has the potential to be a good NHL player. Being drafted in the first round in the 2010 draft (6th overall), there are high hopes for Connolly to become a strong offensive player for the Lightning. Prior to being drafted, he was healing from an injury sustained in the WHL that has slowed his progress. This year he is stronger and healthier. He is smart with the puck and good at setting up scoring chances and taking strong shots. Like Conacher, Connolly also played on a line with Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos on Sunday. However, Connolly was not as successful with the higher speed of play.
Carter Ashton and Blair Jones both stood out during both days’ of scrimmage matches for Team White. Both were the most impressive players on that team. Ashton is a very fast skater with impressive puck handling skills. He is good at getting to loose pucks. He is a very aggressive player and puts a lot of effort into moving the puck. He had some decent scoring chances, too. His speed and intensity are impressive. His effort and persistence are easily visible.
Blair Jones played in 18 games with the Lightning last season, but a majority of his time was spent with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL. His play during the last two days shows he really wants a position with the Lightning. He played well offensively and defensively in these matches. His overtime winning goal against Goalie Pat Nagle was a great effort and an awesome winning end to Sunday’s scrimmage.
Training camp was our first look at new goalie Mathieu Garon, signed during free agency from Columbus. Garon looked confident and had good saves both Saturday and Sunday. He was well aware of the puck at all times and did a good job covering the net. He should hopefully be a consistent back-up goalie to Dwayne Roloson this season.
Another new player acquired during free agency this summer was Ryan Shannon. Shannon played well in yesterday’s scrimmage, managing to get a goal for Team Blue. He didn’t play in Sunday’s scrimmage. He should be interesting to watch this season as a replacement for Sean Bergenheim or Simon Gagne.
The Lightning’s training camp wraps up this afternoon. Tomorrow, the team plays its first preseason game in St. Louis against the St. Louis Blues. They will then play the Blues again on Wednesday in an exhibition game in Orlando, Florida.
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Topics: Adam Hall, Blair Jones, Brett Connolly, Carter Ashton, Dwayne Roloson, Eric Brewer, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Martin St. Louis, Mathieu Garon, Nate Thompson, Pavel Kubina, Ryan Shannon, Steve Downie, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Teddy Purcell, Victor Hedman, Vincent Lecavalier