by Ron Knabenbauer
CENTENNIAL, Colo.--The testing is over. Now it's time for just hockey, a welcomed change for many members of the Colorado Avalanche.
After a grueling medical and physical testing day on Thursday, the players opened training camp on Friday with battle drills and tough skating. It didn't get easier for them on Saturday as the practices at Family Sports Center were more of the same before the day ended with one final skate test: six sets of three around two nets that were separated by 150 feet.
"It was definitely a leg burner," said Rocco Grimaldi. "You definitely had to pace yourself at the beginning or your legs would be fried for the last five [sets]. It was tough, but it is good to be done with it now."
After completing the laps, the players slowly made their way across the ice to the Avalanche's dressing room, the relief on their faces noticeable after completing two strenuous days of camp.
"It was a really tough two days for us," said Nail Yakupov, a newcomer to the club after signing as a free agent over the summer. "We're battling. We did so much conditioning and it wasn't easy, but I think we made it. [It was the] final day today with all the skates, and I think now we're going to focus on hockey."
Yakupov said the last three days had been one of the hardest stretches that he had been a part of since he was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft, and several of his Avalanche teammates agreed with that assessment.
"It's definitely been tough the first couple of days," said Matt Nieto, who joined Colorado midseason last year after being picked up on waivers from San Jose. "Definitely the hardest camp I've been a part of, but it's a good thing. For us, it's about finding our work ethic going into the season. We have to be a team that is hard to play against from the start."
The skating tests and other physical exams didn't take any of the Avs by surprise. Head coach Jared Bednar told his players exactly what to expect entering this season so they could plan their summer training accordingly and be ready to compete with one another.
The drills were all designed to make the squad better come crunch time, whenever that may be.
"It's just to make sure that they put the time and work into the gym, and it should be a fun, competitive thing," Bednar said. "From talking with some of our veterans, yes, they're hard, they're hard tests, but they're competitive guys and to get them working against each other and trying to finish ahead of each other I think is a positive thing. Especially when it works, it's going to help over the course of the season."