EL SEGUNDO, CA — National Hockey League teams hit the ice for the first time during their 2015 training camps on Friday, but for the Los Angeles Kings, remnants of a bitter aftertaste remain after they missed the playoffs last season, just one year after they won their second Stanley Cup Championship in 2014..
With their 2014-15 season ending on April 11, 2015, it has been a long, drawn out five months for the team to reflect on what went so very wrong. Despite that, thoughts turned quickly to learning from their mistakes, and how to move forward and build success from failure.
“It was a disappointing, long summer,” said forward Marian Gaborik. “It was a bitter feeling after last season, for sure. Hopefully, we’re not going to have that feeling for years to come. But at the same time, it was a long time to prepare ourselves for this year, and I think everybody worked hard this summer and got ready for this year. We want to bring it to a different level. We’re ready to go, we’re excited to go.”
“You don’t dwell on it,” said forward Dustin Brown. “You don’t sit there for five months thinking, ‘what if.’ It’s an opportunity to get yourself better, but if you don’t look at what you did last year, and what wasn’t successful, then you’re not getting any better. You’re not learning from it.”
“Individually, collectively, we had a lot of time to get better off the ice, physically and mentally,” added Brown. “The other aspect is learning from our mistakes last year. There was plenty of time to think about that.”
Defenseman Drew Doughty agreed.
“We’ve learned a lot,” he emphasized. “We were embarrassed that we didn’t make the playoffs last season. We were pissed off. I haven’t seen our team come into camp more determined than we are this year, so I’m really looking forward to getting the season started.”
“The mindset is that we’ve got to learn from what happened last year,” he added. “We’ve got to learn that we can’t wait until the last minute, the last few games of the season, to try to get into the playoffs.”
But as Brown noted, the players know that they cannot dwell on what went wrong last season.
“It’s always in your mind, but I’m pretty good about forgetting about hockey when I go home during the summer,” said Doughty. “I’m fine with just hanging out with my friends and family, and not even thinking about hockey for a couple of months. But once you start getting back on the ice, and back in the gym, you’re working towards getting back to where we were. That was in everyone’s mind the whole summer.”
Kopitar also noted the added motivation the players have coming into training camp this time around.
“I don’t think the mindset is any different,” he said. “It’s just that the guys are a little bit more hungry and eager to come back, just because we had all this time on our hands.”
“You start to miss hockey after awhile,” he added. “It’s nice to be back now. It’s that time of the year when you’ve got to get ready for the start of the season.”
The other side of the coin is that Kings players were able to use the long summer to rest and recuperate after three straight seasons with deep playoff runs.
“[I] just [relaxed], at first,” said center Anze Kopitar. “Really rest my body because over the course the last five seasons, we’ve played quite a bit of hockey. To have an extra month, or two months, off, it’s nice.”
“We played a lot of hockey games in the last four years,” Doughty noted. “We really played a lot of hockey games. We’re [always] going to say that we’re not tired and that we feel good, but eventually, it does take a toll on you, and I’m not saying that’s why we didn’t make the playoffs, but it was good to get that rest, [get] rejuvenated and [get] ready to go.”
“During the summer, you have time to prepare slowly, and probably in more detail than you would [after] a short [summer] like we’ve had the last few years,” Kopitar explained. “Rest is big part of the preparation and the off-season training, too. That helped us a lot.”
As Kopitar alluded to, players also took advantage of the long summer to devote more time to getting themselves into tip-top shape, physically.
“The boys have put a big emphasis on coming into camp in amazing shape,” said Doughty. “If you come into camp in amazing shape, all you have to worry about after that is sticking to the system, working hard on the ice, playing hard, and working well, as a team. Everyone made sure to do that in the off-season. Everyone looks great, and now it’s just up to us to get back to where we were and make the playoffs again.”
No one looks better than Doughty.
“All the guys were kind of laughing at me,” he said. “They haven’t seen me looking this good. I feel good out there. I worked really hard this off-season. I had a lot of time, obviously, to workout. It was beneficial to me. I feel good, and I’m really looking forward to the season.”
Indeed, Doughty looks so good, he even has “six-pack” abdominal muscles.
“I’ve had it before, I just kind of lose it as the season goes on,” he noted. “This year, I’m really going to try to focus on improving my game on the ice, and on getting into the gym a lot more throughout the season, keeping up my strength.”
Doughty will need that strength as the Kings’ ice time leader, even if that decreases a bit this season.
Last season, he averaged 28:59 per game, second in the NHL behind Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who averaged 29:03 per game, just four seconds per game more than Doughty.
“I’m sure there will be a few games where I get close to 30 [minutes],” he said. “Knock on wood if there’s injuries, or someone’s not playing well, or something like that. But for the most part, I think my minutes are going to come down. I’ll be in that 24-25-[minute] area, which I know the team thinks is better for me, because I’ll have more energy, shift-by-shift.”
“I worked hard to get my endurance up,” he added. “My endurance has always been one of the best parts of my physical abilities. I’ve always had really good endurance, but I definitely tried to make that better this summer.”
Last season, Doughty said, on numerous occasions, that he liked all the ice time he was getting. But he isn’t likely to complain about a reduction this season.
“I’m OK with it,” he said. “Whatever the coaches think is best for the team. They know best, that’s why they’re our coaches. However many minutes I play, I’ll be happy.”
“We have five other defensemen who will be in the lineup every night who are very capable players and are capable of playing big minutes,” he added. “Whatever they have me playing, I’ll be happy, and I’ll play my best during those minutes.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (foreground), fights off forward Milan Lucic during a drill on the first day of the team’s 2015 Training Camp on September 18, 2015 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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