Go East, young man (and notes from a day at the rink)
Sure, it’s a big deal. For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jackets, who happen to reside in the Eastern third of the country and sit in the Eastern Time Zone, will be playing in the Eastern Conference of the NHL. What a concept. But for all the benefits it brings the franchise, in terms of shorter travel, better start times for games, etc., it also brings another dynamic: Teams play a bit of a different style in the East.
Don’t expect that to be a matter of intense focus among the Blue Jackets players, though. When asked about any changes in style of play from conference to conference, head coach Todd Richards said he wants his guys to dwell on their play and what they do best.
“As coaches we talk about it,” he said. “We want our focus to be on our players getting their games individually where they need to be but also our team game where it needs to be. There are some systematic things I think that we’ll see more in the Eastern Conference than we did in the West, which is more of how teams play in the neutral zone and what we should expect. But I would rather have our players focused on us and what we do.”
And don’t expect Richards to dwell on his team’s fantastic finish to last season. Sure, he wants his team to learn from that second-half success, but he knows hockey is a bottom-line business. Either you did, or you didn’t.
“We weren’t good enough,” he acknowledged. “No matter how you look at it, no matter all the good things that you did, we weren’t good enough as a team. We got better as the season went on and we became a good team, but it wasn’t good enough.”
It’s R.J. Umberger’s ninth season in the NHL. Not exactly the time you’d expect a veteran player to be changing his approach to the pre-season. But Umberger did just that, as he tries to overcome last year’s slow start.
“In the past, I’ve probably just gone through pre-season with the goal just to stay healthy and make sure I’m ready for the start of the season,” said the Blue Jackets forward. “I took a little different approach to it this year. I tried to come into training camp and approach it as a rookie, you know, I have something to prove. I want to be going at full speed the first game and start the season off on a good note. So, I took the pre-season pretty seriously, and hopefully it pays off. I had fun with the pre-season; instead of just trying to get through it, I enjoyed the moments. I treated it as, hey, this may be my last pre-season. Maybe it’s not, but just treat it like it is and you’ll enjoy it.”
Will that make him mentally sharper, as well as physically sharper, at the start of the season?
“I’m hoping so,” he said. “My approach is that game one I hope to feel as though I’m in the middle of the season, firing on all cylinders.”
And what about Bob? Where did he spend his summer vacation? Well, Sergei Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, spent several weeks in Austria, doing some intense physical and mental training for the upcoming season. It’s the third year he’s trained there, with a variety of fitness experts. When he was telling us about it, FoxSports analyst Bill Davidge suggested Bob should have a stationary bicycle named after him with all the time he spends on one.
How about The Bobster?