By Stefan Kubus –
EAST LANSING – With hockey’s demanding nature and the grueling grind of an 82-game NHL regular season, there isn’t much of an offseason for most players.
For a group of former Michigan State Spartans, the annual Pro Camp – held at Munn Ice Arena from Monday to Friday of this week – is the perfect opportunity to not only reunite with old pals, but also prepare for their respective, upcoming seasons.
“It’s always fun getting back here, seeing all the guys and reminiscing on old times,” said Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader. “Obviously, we’re here to get ready for our camps, but at the same time, we’re here to enjoy it and have fun. It’s a fun week, and it’s always good to come back, see the guys, and feel like you’re part of the program again.”
Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver – who joked about his age during the first day of camp – said he always puts an extremely high value on attending this camp.
“One of the first things I did when I got back from summer was call [MSU assistant coach Tom] Newton, and I asked him when the camp was, because that’s always one of those things I want to make it to,” said Weaver, a Florida Panthers defenseman. “This really does help me prepare for the season. You can’t replace what we do out here. It’s pretty competitive out here, and doing some of the drills… you really start getting your habits down.
“On the first day, usually the oldest guy stretches the guys out. When ‘Newts’ told me to get in the middle, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I told the guys, ‘Hey, enjoy your youth, guys, because this really goes by fast.’ I can’t believe I’m 34.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Monday marked Trevor Nill’s first time skating at the Pro Camp. The former MSU assistant captain and St. Louis Blues prospect said he was impressed by the talent gathered together in East Lansing.
“Going back to Michigan State, it’s a great opportunity,” Nill said. “There’s a lot of quality players here. You get stories from these guys, tips, and pointers. It’s a great opportunity for me to come and get some quality ice. Newts and the coaching staff do a great job in making sure we’re ready for the season.
“It’s hard to single out one guy, but you’ve got Weaver, Abdelkader, [Drew] Miller… the list goes on and on,” Nill said. “You could probably field an NHL club with the guys out there, so it’s a great tempo and it’s great to be out there and see the pace that they set.”
For Nill, his next step is heading to the Peoria Riverman (AHL) training camp in Illinois, where he said he would simply work hard and see where it takes him down there.
Another newcomer to the Pro Camp was former Spartan captain and current Boston Bruin Torey Krug. The Livonia native, 21, said it was a much-needed trip to get back on the ice at Munn.
“I absolutely miss this place,” Krug said. “This is one of the reasons why I came to Michigan State in the first place. The alumni base, and I know they came back to the Pro Camp. Hopefully, one day I would be a part of it, and here I am today.”
Krug’s been staying plenty busy in preparing for his first, full professional season, whether that be in Providence (AHL) or with the NHL club in Boston. In fact, he’s been training with some pretty impressive company in Stamford, Conn., where he has been spending much of the summer.
“I’ve been training with a guy named Ben Prentiss up there, and there’s a lot of other NHL’ers there, notably Marty St. Louis, Max Pacioretty, [James] Van Riemsdyk,” Krug said. “They’re all in unbelievable shape. That trainer is very well-known. We’re on a good diet and training regimen. It’s awesome.”
In addition to the aforementioned players, other notable names participating in the camp on Day 1 included Jim Slater (Winnipeg), Jeff Petry and Corey Potter (Edmonton), Dustin Gazley (Elmira of the ECHL).
Abdelkader also said he managed to sneak in an “Honorary Spartan” in Czech defenseman and Detroit teammate Jakub Kindl.
“This is his second or third year,” Abdelkader said. “He’s been here a handful of times, so he feels pretty comfortable now, too.”
Kindl wasn’t the only non-Spartan on the ice, either. With Drew Palmisano the only MSU goaltender returning to campus, the group invited Pat Nagle, former Ferris State goaltender and current Tampa Bay prospect, to skate as well.
The camp runs through Friday, culminating in the Spartans’ annual alumni golf outing. All skates (Monday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to noon) are open to the public.
Full MSU pro camp roster (subject to change):