NHL training camp is usually straightforward. Show up, do some testing, take a bunch of pictures. Talk with the media. Listen to the head coach and general manager say some words before finally hitting the ice on the second day.
For fans, it’s exciting. But for players, it’s a little boring. Eat, sleep, hockey. No going out for a couple cold ones. All business. Even the preseason games can be tedious for players that are comfortably on the team.
But occasionally, something happens that’s so weird or funny that it sticks with you. And over my 14-year career, I had plenty of those moments.
Like the time Mario Tremblay took a puck off the peaches during New Jersey Devils training camp in 2009. Back then, Tremblay – the former Montreal Canadiens bench boss – was the assistant coach in New Jersey under Jacques Lemaire.
We were on the ice for the first day of training camp, going through breakouts. No big deal. Every team does it during camp. It’s a classic first drill of the day to knock the rust off. Defense picks up the puck. Wingers swing to the boards. Center support down low. Rinse and repeat.
The variable we had that day was a player named Louis Robitaille and the fact that we were short a defenseman or two. Knowing we were in a pinch, Louis – who at that time was the AHL’s premier pest – decided to hop back on defense for a couple shifts. He’d done it before: Louis was a defenseman long before his antics found him better suited to playing forward.
It couldn’t have gone any worse.
The puck got dumped to the far corner, Louis retrieved it, and he wheeled around the net looking for an outlet. One problem: the winger wasn’t along the boards. He was nowhere to be found. And Louis was quick running out of options while traveling at full speed.
The safe play for a defenseman – especially back then in 2009 – was to put the puck off the boards and out of the defensive zone. And that clearly was the best option for Robitaille. But one problem: Tremblay was inexplicably standing in the defensive zone.
I’m standing there in my crease watching it all unfold in slow motion. Here comes Louis around the net. There goes Tremblay trying to skate out of the zone. And before anyone had time to think, Louis fired the puck towards the boards – right off Tremblay’s ass.
I’ve never heard so many curse words in French. The look on Tremblay’s face – sheer pain combined with disbelief – was hilarious. But every player was trying to keep a straight face. No one wanted to be seen chuckling by Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello.
It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed on the ice: I’m just grateful that I could hide the laughter behind my mask.
For all the funny moments, there’s also the ridiculous. The kind that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief. And years later it still seem as stupid as it did at the time.
Like when the Tampa Bay Lightning organization invited two players – both named Sean O’Connor – to AHL training camp by mistake.
Yep, you read that right. In 2008, the Lightning sent the pair of O’Connor’s to Norfolk, Virginia for preseason action with the Admirals. And no one there could figure it out. Admirals brass didn’t know whether to send one of them home. So they both stayed.
It’s not like either Sean was out of place. One was born in 1987; the other in 1981. 1981 Sean was a third-round draft choice of the Florida Panthers in 2000. 1987 Sean had 17 goals and 48 points the year before in the OHL. They both belonged.
But man, was it a cluster the first day of camp when both O’Connors showed up and the Admirals didn’t know what to do. There was only one O’Connor jersey. Tampa was such a mess back then and it was pretty obvious that something got lost in communication.
I actually felt bad for both Seans, because it created a pretty weird scenario. And truth be told, I think 1981 Sean was the one that was likely invited by mistake. He’d spent the previous three seasons strictly in the ECHL and at that point was no longer considered a prospect.
Being invited to training camp gave 1981 Sean false hope. But the team wasn’t about to tell him they screwed up. It was easier to sew another O’Connor nameplate on a jersey and pass out an extra wad of per diem than it was to admit fault.
At that point, I knew it was going to be a long year. Things were already weird. Barry Melrose didn’t last past Thanksgiving as the Lightning’s head coach. We went through several payroll providers throughout the season. Everything seemed a little shady and by 2010, the Tampa Bay franchise had been sold to current owner Jeff Vinik.
It’s funny because as I sat down to write this, I could have told a hundred stories. There’s so many in the vault. But the two situations I just described stood out. A puck off the ass, and a total faux pas by an NHL organization.
Here’s hoping that 2023 training camps go smoothly. But keep your eyes peeled. Something crazy is bound to happen.
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