Today was the last day of the New Jersey Devils development camp. They ended the camp with a intra-squad scrimmage between a Red team and a White team. This event was open to the fan base, with season ticket holders and the public able to get into the AmeriHealth Pavilion to see the scrimmage for only $5. I can't remember exactly the last time they opened up the scrimmage to the public, but in years past, the Pavilion was packed. Today was no different with fans filling up the bleachers and surrounding the rink. What they saw was a fast, up-tempo, sloppy-at-times, and very fun exhibition.
Players hit the rink at 3 PM for a 15-minute warm-up. Head coach John Hynes talked on the microphone to thank the fans for coming out and to explain the rules of the scrimmage. There would be two halves lasting twenty five minutes. The first twenty minutes would have a running clock and the teams would play each other 5-on-5. The last five minutes would have the clock stopped for stoppages in play and the teams will play each other 3-on-3. Instead of penalties leading to power plays, whoever was fouled would get a penalty shot. At the conclusion of the second half, there would be a shootout.
Roster sheets were handed out to all who attended. The Red team had fewer players listed than the White team, as Reid Boucher was out for personal reasons and Graham Black was out hurt. However, there were four members of the White team not present for other injuries: Wojtech Mozik, Joe Blandisi, Reece Scarlett, and Brandon Shea. I wouldn't say either team had an edge on paper, though I would say Red had more of the team's tantalizing young players in Pavel Zacha, Steve Santini, and MacKenzie Blackwood. They also had the lone NHLer in camp, Damon Severson.
Before getting into who stood out, a quick recap of the game: it was quick, it was energetic, and it wasn't always pretty. Plenty of players missed on passes, didn't see who was in front of them that would deny them a play, or coughed up the puck. It wasn't so much poor play as it was just sloppy at times. Both sides had some good opportunities, and the game really did open up a lot more in the 3-on-3 sections. Rules were fairly relaxed. There weren't any linesmen so there some missed offside calls, and teams were allowed to change on icings. There weren't many penalties, but the penalty shots had a twist. The penalized team had a chasing player, presumably to deny the shooter if he was taking too long. The first half was scoreless, the second half, on the other hand, had all kinds of goals. The White squad would end up winning the scrimmage portion, 5-2, and the shootout, 2-1.
The scoring opened when Ryan Rehill went bar-down to convert a penalty shot on Ken Appleby, goalie of the White team. Brett Seney finished a mess in front of the net that Blackwood had no chance at stopping to make it 1-1. Darcy Murphy made it 2-1 shortly thereafter. After an uncalled offside play, Pavel Zacha fed Damon Severson for a beautiful slapshot that picked the corner to tie it up 2-2. After a few minutes, White just went off on Blackwood. Miles Wood set up Raman Hrabarenka for a scorer to make it 3-2. In 3-on-3 play, Sergey Kalinin was about to go off on a breakaway but he was fouled in the neutral zone. During the delayed call, Alexander Kerfoot took the puck and scored on the breakaway Kalinin was about to go on. Alexandre Goulet quickly made it 5-2. Zacha was very close to pulling Red within two, but Josh Jacobs blocked his shot - and labored in pain after the block. The score held at 5-2. In the scrimmage, Appleby stopped everyone except for Tyler Kelleher. Blackwood was beaten by Kerfoot and Kalinin.
At halftime, Ken Daneyko and Sherry Ross interviewed John Quenneville and Pavel Zachafter the scrimmage ended, Damon Severson was interviewed on ice by Daneyko. Both Red and White posed together for a team photo at center ice. Some players signed pucks and tossed them into the stands for the fans. A lovely end to a fun afternoon. The exhibition game was entertaining. It won't tell us who's closer to any kind of contract or a roster spot, but that's fine. It's July. I think a little hockey is all that is needed. Judging by the crowd of fans, I'm not alone.
That said, there were some standout players that I would like to list:
- While he was on the losing side, Damon Severson was a cut above everyone else. As he should be. He is a NHL player, after all. They had him paired with an invited defender, Casey Fitzgerald; but as time went on and the score got worse, he got paired with Steve Santini - who was quicker than I thought, he did well - and was more aggressive in his overall play. The scrimmage was just for fun, but Severson took it seriously. And I appreciate that.
- Zacha literally stood out. He wasn't just one of the bigger players on the ice, but he was defintely one of the strongest. One of the shifts of his that stood out to me was in the first half. He kept an attack alive by backchecking, knocking the puck away to deny an exit, and moved it to a teammate to keep on offense. A bit later, he was back by the blueline with the puck. While a smaller player hit him, it would've been expected to see the puck get knocked away just from reaction. Zacha no-sold it, curled and just progressed forward with the puck like nothing happened. He was close to scoring twice, his assist to Severson was nice, and the play picked up when he was out there.
- Tyler Kelleher is small, not heavy, fast, and brave. He was in constant motion the moment the play went to offense. He wasn't necessarily smart, as he would skate into defenders at times. That didn't end well, but that didn't deter him from continuing to try. However, he provided a jolt to the tempo when he would have the puck on his stick. Without the puck, he wasn't terribly noticeable, but overall it was hard to not notice him. Especially in 3-on-3.
- Colton White was very active in the first half. Sometimes to a fault, where he would put the puck into a bad spot or make a bad read. But he was constantly moving, looking to get a stop or make a breakout pass. I think he did better in the first half than in the second, though.
- Rehill did score the game's first goal. Prior to that, his big moment was hitting two players on White in open ice at the same time. It was right in front of me, so I was certainly impressed. That said, he does not really get to places quickly as he should.
- Kerfoot was very active on offense, as was his usual linemates of Matt Lorito and Kalinin. He scored in both the scrimmage and the shootout. The goals helped, but Kerfoot was firing well and true. Off the puck, I liked what I saw. I think he could be a legitimate prospect.
- Josh Jacobs blocked a nasty shot by Zacha that certainly smarted. But Jacobs was White's best defender. He was a constant presence cleaning up plays and helping the play go up ice when present.
- Miles Wood and Blake Coleman had similar performances from what I saw. Both Wood and Coleman won quite a few pucks, exerted themselves physically and smartly, and made a few good plays themselves here and there. I wouldn't say either jumped off the page, but it was encouraging to see that they didn't necessarily have to have the puck to be positive for their teams.
- Among the goalies, I liked Ken Appleby the best. While Anthony Brodeur and Colton Phinney pitched shutouts in their halves, I think Appleby had tougher shots to deal with. He came up with more stops, particularly in the shootout. Blackwood got lit up, but I would say only one or two of those goals was really his fault.
I would doubt any of these performances will matter long term. Whether or not any of the invited players becomes a part of the organization in some capacity will likely be based on what they did all week. The coaches have been keeping track of that. In fact, the Devils' official Twitter account tweeted that Miles Wood "won" camp for all the points he picked up during the week. And maybe not even that matters, depending on what they do with their respective teams. So I would take all of this with a grain of salt. It was a fun afternoon at the AmeriHealth Pavilion and really not much more than that.
I hope the turnout convinces the Devils to make this an annual affair and maybe open things up more often. There was a referee with a GoPro camera and the team's Twitter account was tweeting Vines, pictures, and more from the scrimmage. So that's encouraging from an opening-things-up-perspective. Every fan I spoke too and overheard raved about the event; hopefully the team heard the same thing.
I'd like to personally thank David from Talking Red. He had an extra ticket and so that's how I was able to attend. Did you attend the scrimmage? If so, who stood out in your eyes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the scrimmage in the comments. Thank you for reading.