By GORDON ANDERSON
The atmosphere at the rink was muted and silent, an enthusiastic crowd missing, but the players made plenty of noise with spirit and joie de vivre.
The Grande Prairie Storm held their first intra-squad game of main camp, a 6-3 win for Team Gold over Team Black at an empty and echoing Revolution Place on Tuesday night.
?I thought it was (a good game), a good pace to the game,? Storm General Manager and Head Coach Mike Vandekamp said. ?It?s a training camp environment, so you?ve got 2000-born to 2004-born (players) out there, and it?s quite a variance of experience, but it turned out to be a good game.?
The team had a handful of taxing on-ice workouts prior to the game, but the fatigue barrier didn?t seem to be an issue for the coach, no doubt knowing the group will get whipped into game shape soon enough.
?The (players have) pushed pretty hard since we got together on Sunday, (where) we had a good day with fitness testing,? Vandekamp said. ?We?ve had three good practices and then a game to end (it on Tuesday). No matter how hard you train, it?s (been) a pretty good workload thrown at them. I thought they played well considering they are little bit winded.?
During the second half of the game on Tuesday, Vandekamp sat by himself in the second level, behind the timekeepers box, analyzing and evaluating the goings on below.
?When we opened camp with a meeting on Sunday morning, one of the things we talked about?and I certainly laid out quite a few things?what we would be looking for in a hockey player was passion, spirit and love of playing the game,? Vandekamp said. ?You can see that in a lot of the guys (as) they?ve been pretty excited about getting back on the ice. Everybody was shut down from organized hockey since March and, I think, an opportunity to get back on the ice with teammates, and actually competing again, is what everybody lives for.?
The club will have an on-ice session every morning right through until Friday, followed by an intra-squad game in the afternoon. The exhibition games will consist of two periods, half an hour in length, 18 players per side.
The same schedule will be repeated next week until Sept. 11, when main camp will end, another closed to the public intra-squad game to finish main camp.
Beyond the final tune-up, everything is up in the air as the team will enter a developmental mode, waiting for the Alberta Junior Hockey League season to begin Oct. 16.
With no games in sight, the main theme of this Vandekamp camp is more about ?evaluation? and less about ?preparation.?
?This time of the year is part evaluation and part preparation for the start of the season,? Vandekamp said. ?This year being a little bit different, because we don?t know when exactly the season is going to start, it can be a little more evaluation right now, not quite as worried about the preparation side. We?ve got some time to deal with that.?
At a later date
The Brian Nash Memorial Cup?originally set for this Friday night at Revolution Place?is cancelled, the club opting to play a closed door intra-squad game instead.
?Without the ability to have fans I don?t think it would be fair to play a game like that,? Vandekamp said. ?I knew Brian Nash very well and I?m proud the organization honours him yearly with a game. What we will try to do is something down the road. We have to honour that game with something the fans can be part of. Once we get back to that normal again, then we will do that. I think the games in the community will be part of that.?