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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet says training camp is not like the (good?) old days



Pretty fun conversation with Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet after the morning skate about the differences between training camp and preseason games when he played compared to now.

In a nutshell, he said, "I hate to use the word, but it's a little more civil, I think."

Before we get into more of that, Tocchet said the team likely will make more cuts on Thursday. The camp right now has 47 players.

But back to the new environment of camp. Used to be, Tocchet admitted preseason games were as much a proving ground of one's manhood than if you could actually play the game. I have to admit, I used to buy into the promised violence of preseason games back in New York, attending games simply because you knew, especially when the Islanders played the Rangers, there was going to be some kind of incident. I was not often disappointed.

"The rules have changed," Tocchet said, one of the game's toughest guys when he played. "You still have the rookie games where there are some fights and stuff, but I think players now are showing that they can play the game. Is it nice to have a guy who is tough who can play the game? Yeah. But I think nowadays a guy realizes he has to play the game. You go knock some guy out in an exhibition game, but he can't pass the puck or doesn't do anything. You might have a roster spot for that guy back in the day, but in a (salary) cap world, you really have to have a guy who's your 12th guy who can play."

That's not to say preseason games are some sort of ballet. Just ask Lightning free spirit Zenon Konopka, who once said the only two guys on the Lightning he would not fight in order to win a job were Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier. It will be an upset, I think, if in tonight's preseason opener against the Stars, Konopka doesn't throw down the gloves.

But as Tocchet said, "You're not going to evaluate if you have 15 guys fighting. But if you have competitions and have battle grounds, people fighting for position in front of the net, you have abrasive guys on the ice, you can't back down, either. But I think for the most part, most teams want to see what guys can do under pressure, power play, penalty kill, and guys who are willing to go into traffic areas. If there's an odd fight, there's nothing wrong with that."

What will Tocchet look for tonight against the Stars?

"I take it seriously," he said. "Not so much the wins and losses, we have guys who are fighting for jobs. You want to put them in positions -- can Dana Tyrell kill penalties? Can Steve Downie be a power play guy? You want to put them in positions to see how they do in circumstances that are not scrimmages or practices. I've seen some really good scrimmage or practice players, once the national anthem is played, where are they? They can't play under pressure."

Tocchet also admitted he feels a bit of pressure to find his legs as a coach.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's funny, you take three or four months off, it's fast back there (behind the bench), it's really fast. You have to get your rhythm. So, yeah, it's training camp for me, too. I have to be sharp back there." 

Another difference for Tocchet is the structure of camp.

"It was almost three or four weeks of training camp and we played 12 to 15 games," he said of his time as a player. "I remember played 11 out of 13."

Is it better now?

"Yeah, it's better," Tocchet said. "I wish I had these training camps. Twelve games? But you're 18, 19 years old, you can do that."  

[Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 12:15am]


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