The forward lines on the first day of training camp were a jumble of veterans and prospects. Coach John Anderson laughed at the suggestion that he drew names out of a hat, but said it wasn't far from what happened. Maybe Anderson thought Ilya Kovalchuk needed some protection in camp, or maybe it was just good luck, but tough guy Myles Stoesz ended up on Kovalchuk's right wing (Riley Holzapfel at center).
Stoesz and Kovalchuk actually have more in common now than ever before. Kovalchuk had some teeth knocked out recently, making him look a lot like Stoesz, who's had some of his bottom ones gone for a full year. One might assume that this commonality would give Stoesz an opening to chirp Kovalchuk a bit. But they aren't on chirping terms just yet, apparently. I asked Stoesz if he said anything to Kovalchuk about it. "No, definitely not," he laughed.
Stoesz said he was nervous early on today, but not nearly as nervous as last year. "On one drill I messed up a pass that Holzapfel gave to me and kind of dumped it into the corner and then Kovalchuk gave me a tap on the pads and said 'good job, keep going' that kind of thing, so that was nice to hear. That just totally calmed me down. At first I was scared that if I screwed up, he was going to yell at me or whatever."
On playing with Kovalchuk: "He's one of the top guys in the NHL, so to play with him even for a practice, it was a heck of an experience. A lot of fun just to watch him, the way he does things. He does everything at full tempo and even in practice he pumps his fist when he scores -- I love that. He's got passion for the game it seems. It's good to learn from that."
Stoesz plays an up and down grinding game, so the finesse plays from Kovalchuk were not something he was used to. "It's amazing. Any pass from him is good," he said. "Times when I'd be out and down, he finds a way to pull it through and dish you a puck and then you score."
Stoesz worked with a skating coach all summer in Winnipeg. Did he think his improved skating showed in camp? "I feel better, I feel like I can keep up better out there," he said. "I hope it shows. I haven't really heard anything."
In physical testing, Stoesz got a 62 on the important VO2 max test, which measures cardio fitness. This put him middle of the pack. That's an improvement over previous years, but he thinks the difference for him isn't so much a product of better conditioning. "It gets to me in my head," he said. "I psych myself up before I go there and just kind of fall off. That test is all mental. You've got to find the inner strength to push through."
His best fitness event is the pushups. Jimmy Slater was the winner this year with 98 in a minute. Stoesz had 75. "I did 82 in the summer but the guy counting was kind of stingy with a couple of them," he said with a smile. "There's some controversy there -- some guys are mad. He didn't count probably half of them."