Georges Laraque was dangling, Jason Chimera was hamming it up, Jay Bouwmeester was gliding around effortlessly despite the weight of his wallet and Kevin Westgarth was bleeding.
Nothing says the NHL season is upon us like the opening of Perry Pearn’s Three-on-Three conditioning camp, and so it was today as the first group of NHLers tried to shake off the effects of summer with an on-ice twirl at the K of C Arenas.
Laraque, his braided locks approaching Kelly Malveaux length, barged around with the puck as he tends to do at these things. Who’s going to take it off him?
Chimera, the local boy who has found a home and a nice contract in Columbus since the Oilers gave up on him too soon, staggered around on the side boards to emphasize a hit he’d taken, looking a like he’d forgotten to take his skate guards off.
Bouwmeester, who never looks like he’s forgotten his guards because he’s the best skater I’ve ever seen for a guy who is six-foot-four, sashayed about as he does, then proved again he’s the worst interview in the NHL.
As for Westgarth, a minor league tough guy, he took a wayward puck near the right eye, leaving the session to look for repairs. He wanted Super Glue, but settled for a fix out of a first-aid kit and returned to the ice.
It’s hockey season, alright.
The Fight Club
Laraque, who is part owner of the Body By Bennett gyms in Edmonton, has spent the past several months showing fellow tough guys Zack Stortini and Steve MacIntyre of the Oilers the ropes in training sessions both on and off the ice.
If Stortini and MacIntyre want to be at the top of their game, and in their job description their careers and NHL pay cheques depend on it, then they’re learning from the best — even if Georges does all his damage from the port side.
“We did a lot of fighting this summer,” Laraque said. “A lot of technique and a lot of strength stuff to get everybody to be better. It’s just giving a couple of tricks and pointers.
“Those guys work out at my gym. If they’re tough guys, I’m going to train them to be tough guys and train them how to be better at what they do. I do everything I can so they can be as strong as they can be and do well.”
For those who weren’t exactly big fans of Stortini during his rookie season and chimed in on the Huggy Bear handle before he opened up last season and led the NHL in fighting majors, Laraque has a message.
“First of all, Zack is a really good player,” Laraque said. “He’s a good skater and he can play hockey. He’s not a one-dimensional tough guy.
“It doesn’t matter what people say about his style of fighting. When you fight heavyweights, big guys like me, you have to know how to defend yourself. The goal in a fight is not to get punched because you don’t want to get knocked out.
“It depends what guy you’re fighting. Some guys you fight are bigger than you. You can’t fight open against guys that are six-foot-nine and outweigh you by 30 pounds. You’ve got to be smart and fight smart. Fans have no reason to criticize the way he fights.”
As for Laraque, he’s looking to overcome a herniated disc that kept him out of the line-up too often last season. A bad back is particularly problematic for somebody Laraque’s size, but he’s putting himself through a demanding off-ice regimen, including yoga, to remedy the problem.
The Oilers never got a crack at Bouwmeester, the most sought-after UFA this summer, because he and agent Bryon Baltimore opted for a stack of cash from the Calgary Flames before hearing offers from other bidders, including the Oilers here in his hometown.
So now Bouwmeester, a sweet skater but a brutal interview, will wear the Flaming C in the Battle of Alberta.
“It’s different,” Bouwmeester said of trading the beaches and obscurity of Miami for Calgary. “Only because hockey is more a focus here. In Florida, it’s a battle to get people out to the games.
“Hockey-wise, it’s exciting because people get it and they’re excited about it. There’s stuff that goes with it, but you just kind of deal with it. You’re not the only guy in that situation. It is what it is.”
Out of sight and out of mind in the hockey hotbed that is Florida, it’ll be interesting to see how Bouwmeester handles all the media attention he’ll get in Cowtown.
It’s not that Bouwmeester dislikes the media per say, but he’s less than comfortable when cornered by notepads and microphones. The feeling is mutual — choosing between interviewing the immensely talented blue liner and poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick is a toss-up.
UFA Mike Comrie is playing a waiting game when it comes to where he might sign. The former Oiler could end up back in Ottawa, but that will depend what happens with Dany Heatley.
“When you’re in this situation, you have to be patient,” Comrie said. “There’s still a few deals that need to get done, so it’s not really a rush until you find the right place.”
For now, Comrie and agent Ritch Winter will keep tabs and see what their options are. Cap space, or lack of it, is a huge factor in player movement these days.
“When you get to be a certain age, you realize you want to be in a better position rather than jump at the first or second opportunity,” Comrie said.
“I want to be in a good spot, get a chance to win and play some important minutes.”
I’d be keeping an eye on Los Angeles.
This and that
UFA Blair Betts, considered by some an answer as the checking centre the Oilers need, didn’t skate today but is registered at the camp . . . others on the ice in the first session included Stortini, Brian Sutherby, Matt Kassian, Jason Strudwick and Kyle Brodziak.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.