Long gone are the days when elite hockey talent could afford to take the summer off, relaxing in anticipation of a conditioning or training camp to work themselves back into shape.
Still, it is truly not until the first of August hits that the calendar marks the unofficial kickoff to hockey season, as athletes both locally and right across the country really start gearing up for the launch of a new season.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will try and catch up with as many of the juniors and older, those who are not likely to call Sudbury home this coming winter. Drafted in the third round of the 2016 OHL draft, number 44 overall, by the Saginaw Spirit, Valley East native Damien Giroux is chomping at the bit to begin his second campaign in the league.
As a rookie, Giroux racked up eight goals and 17 assists in 53 games for the Spirit, totals that he hopes to exceed in 2017-2018. "For me, it's just about developing, on and off the ice," said the 17 year old product of the Nickel City Sons.
"It's about prolonging my shifts, being able to keep that high intensity, high pace that our team likes to play with, for a longer period of time, increase those shifts from 25 to 30 seconds to maybe 45 to 50 seconds. Hopefully, I'll be able to capitalize on the opportunities a bit more from there."
"On the ice, it's everything, from skating to explosiveness to working on your shot, every little detail. For me, I want to be someone that the team, the coach can rely on, that the coach feels safe putting me out in every situation, penalty kill, power play, thirty seconds left and we're up or down a goal."
"My goal is to be able to play in all of these situations, be really reliable," Giroux added. "Hopefully, I can bring my game up to that level this season." To do so, he will have to convince yet another assessor of hockey talent.
Spencer Carbury, head coach of the Spirit for Giroux' rookie year, accepted a role as assistant coach with the Providence Bruins of the AHL (American Hockey League) this summer, with no announcement yet as to who the replacement will be in Saginaw.
Not that the local product is particularly concerned. "If you play at a certain level and you play consistently, your bring your game day in and day out, you shouldn't have any trouble proving yourself to new coaches."
Also looking to make a positive impression, come the end of the month, is 6'6" blueliner Ethan Lavallee, a fourth round pick (#79 overall) of the Sarnia Sting, also in 2016. After not cracking the OHL roster last fall, Lavallee returned to Sudbury, producing at better than a point per game clip (13G-21A-34PTS in 32 GP) with the Nickel Capital Wolves of the Great North Midget League.
"I would say I have improved a lot, especially my play with the puck," said Lavallee recently. "I got to play with the puck a lot, get a better feel for having it on my stick, and that's helped me a lot."
Yet that is only part of what the local defenceman who has always garnered attention for his size must show in his second camp in Sarnia. "I really noticed the amount of compete level that I have to have," he said. "It didn't go my way last year, but I am going back there with a good attitude this year, competing for a spot, as best I can."
"They said they wanted to see me play tougher, and that's basically what I am going to do," Lavallee continued. "I'll be as tough on the puck as I can and make it hard on the forwards. That's all I am going there to do."
Now rounding a 225 pound frame nicely into his hulking size, Lavallee noted that what seemed like a sure-fire advantage wasn't necessarily always the case. "Because I am bigger, it's taken me longer to grow into my body," stated the 17 year old who is spending five days a week on off-ice workouts with personal trainer Brock McGillis.
"My body hasn't really changed much, but I definitely feel a lot stronger. It's looking good for me - they had older defencemen last year that they're not keeping this year, so there's a few spots open. I am going in there with the attitude that I am going to compete for a spot and make the team. Hopefully, it works out."