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Live from Calgary: Banff practice, Vigneault, game preview

Alain Vigneault speaks to the media after being

Alain Vigneault speaks to the media after being introduced as the Rangers head coach during a press conference at Radio City Music Hall. (June 21, 2013) Credit: Getty

Well, didn’t need more than a few hours to ascertain that Banff, Alberta and the surrounding area is absolutely gorgeous. Will surely be back for a vacation.

But today was work. First time following any sport I’ve had to drive through a national park to cover a practice.

Cruised west out of Calgary this morning, with a golden sunrise in the rear-view mirror and Ryan Adams (alone and with the Cardinals) in the CD.

Along the way, about 70 miles on the Trans-Canada Highway, is Canmore, where the Canadian Olympic ski and biathalon teams train. The terrain is quite rugged, with pine forests climbing up jagged mountains. The views are easily comparable to Colorado and parts of Europe, although the Alps are far steeper. Unlike Colorado, I’m told, residential and commercial building is strictly regulated.

There was some construction/repair underway, limiting access to one lane, near Bow Valley Provincial Park and Dead Man’s Flats. Tough luck, had to slow down to absorb the scenery. Sarcasm intentional.

Had to grin about 30 miles outside Banff, because with the peaks in the background, rises a beach-scene billboard selling real estate with the slogan: “Maui on My Mind.”

Downtown Banff (well, one main drag) is filled with ski-resort style small hotels and, I hear, quality restaurants that serve everything from Italian to local game.  The Fenlands Recreation Center, where the Rangers have been practicing, has wood-beamed high ceilings and two rinks, just across the railroad tracks. About 40 locals watched the practice, many of whom know President and GM Glen Sather, who has long maintained a home here, and one or two spoke with Saskatchewan’s Derek Dorsett.   

I hope you’ve been reading my Twitter dispatches @stevezipay because there’s some line changes for tonight, and probably at least one tomorrow.  Jesper Fast is flanking Brian Boyle and Marek Hrivik. Vigneault told me he wants to see Fast, who he likes, with a vet like Boyle, rather than Oscar Lindberg, who was with Danny Kristo and Taylor Pyatt. 

Have feeling J.T. Miller, bothered by a hamstring all camp, will play Tuesday. He skated on the left of  Dom Moore and Derek Dorsett.  (Going into a lot of detail here, I was the only writer around).

Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin wore red no-contact jerseys, but took line rushes, which is another good step. They were with Monday’s non-game group; some of those guys, including Martin Biron, will face Edmonton.  Hags rotated with Pouliot on a line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. Callahan had at least several shifts with Haley and Yogan. I wouldn’t read much into that except that there hasn’t been any setbacks for the two rehabbing forwards.

On the invisible Ranger, Derek Stepan, who is still absent due to a contract dispute,  I was told, “Nothing yet”. As I wrote the other day, have sense that Stepan  will be back in the fold sometime before opening night.

Rangers president and GM Glen Sather told me that players spending time in the high-altitude (4,700 feet) training “is good for them, even if some of them don’t know it.”

More on that from Alain Vigneault below.

 “I do know quite a few of our players found it harder as far as practices” in the high altitude, head coach Alain Vigneault said as the team prepared to face the Calgary Flames in their third per-season tilt on Monday. “I don’t know whether it was more challenging for them to breathe…we had some comments on that. Research says the second day is the most challenging. That’s what happened to us on Sunday; it was tough for the guys, that’s what they were saying. We worked real hard and Reg (Grant, the team’s strength and conditioning coach) had a lot of hard stuff off the ice. It might be beneficial, we’ll find out.”

The team, which arrived here last Wednesday, won’t have much time to practice this week, visiting Edmonton Tuesday, facing former head coach John Tortorella’s Canucks on Thursday and the Los Angeles Kings in Las Vegas on Friday.

 But Vigneault and his staff will carve out time to decide who stays and who goes, as the countdown to the final roster, which must be submitted Sept. 30, continues.

 “There are some guys who are going to get a chance to play three of the four (games), because we need to make decisions on them,” said Vigneault. “Most of our veterans are going to play three of six, some are going to play four. Some guys who are fighting for a different role will probably get four of the six, some might even get five.”

Besides a team dinner, a charity golf outing organized by Sather, who has a home here, for victims of the area floods this summer, and a school visit by Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle, the Rangers also spent hours in the classroom.

 “We’ve been doing a lot of video work that we want to carry through on the ice,” Vigneault said. “Some guys pick up things quick and other guys need more sessions.”

 One player on the bubble is Swedish rookie Jesper Fast. The wing has been skating with center Oscar Lindberg through most of camp, but Vigneault broke them up Monday. Fast was with Boyle and Marek Hrivik. “I’ve liked him,”  said Vigneault. “I’ve seen a lot of good puck protection, a lot of smarts on the ice; I wanted to see him with a veteran player like Brian to see what he can do there.”

On Tuesday, Vigneault will likely let his assistants run the bench and observe from upstairs.  “Behind the bench,  you’re focused on coaching the team; there’s a couple guys who need evaluation, sometimes you get a better read up high.”

More from the Saddledome in a few hours with lines, d-pairs the scene from the catwalk/press box.

Keep clickin’, kids…


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