MacT's jump start

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

It's Mad Craig MacTavish's Upside Down Camp. It was like no first day of an NHL training camp you've ever seen before.

It wasn't training camp. It was practice.

It looked like MacTavish had three of his lines set for the start of the season. And a pairing or two on defence.

"He had a year to figure it out," laughed player personnel boss Kevin Prendergast.

It's a whole new NHL with new rules, massive movement of players and rust to remove from a year without hockey.

MacTavish doesn't see himself as some sort of mad scientist here.

"To me it's not rocket science. You have to get to it early," he said. "This definitely is not your normal training camp. We are less interested in development. Usually we give the first five days to the scouts and the young players. Not this year. We want to get down to the units and get as much done as possible.

"We're going to use the front end of our pre-season schedule to get up to speed on everything with our veteran players. Then maybe we'll back off a bit. Normally you give Games 1-2-3-4 to the group as a whole and then get down to your veterans for Games 5-6-7-8. It's going to work more the other way around this year," he said of his Upside Down Camp.

Down in Calgary, it looked something similar. Jarome Iginla went right to work with a projected No. 1 line of Tony Amonte and Daymond Langkow and Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold on defence.

In Toronto, on the other hand, it was a traditional training camp mish-mash.

TWO VETERAN GUYS

"I don't remember ever playing with two veteran guys on the first day of training camp," said Ryan Smyth of starting out with Sean Horcoff and Radek Dvorak.

A No. 1 line on Day 1?

"You have to change so much, it only makes sense to get as much confidence playing with each other and the new rules as possible before the season starts," said Horcoff.

"With Dvorak and no red line, I have to get used to looking for him up the ice and getting those kinds of things down," he said.

Michael Peca was centring Ales Hemsky and Ethan Moreau. "You want to get up to speed and make the adjustments now," said Peca. "You certainly have to modify a lot of things in your system. Best take advantage of it in the beginning. It really was different out there today.There was a lot more learning."

MacTavish says anybody who doesn't understand just how "drastic" the rule changes are going to be had better take another long hard look. "It's a different mind-set. We have to adjust to so many different things.

"Our fitness testing was good. We don't have to kill them," he said of the lack of hard skating to open camp. "We're starting out working on the mental aspect and adapting quickly."

Thus tonight's Joey Moss Cup blue vs white game at Rexall Place complete with live play-by-play on 630 CHED, full periods, referees - essentially a full-fledged pre-season game on the second day of camp between Edmonton and the Oilers.

THREE LINES THEY COULD KEEP

MacTavish says none of the lines or defensive pairings are written in stone but admits the first and second lines as well as Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll and Fernando Pisani are three lines they could keep in place to start the season.

Jason Smith and Steve Staios were paired on defence as were the Mutt & Jeff combination of Chris Pronger and Marc-Andre Bergeron, who comes up to Pronger's belly button.

"We're looking for chemistry now, not later," says MacTavish of the lines and pairings he's put together.

"You can tell he has some pairings in mind," says Staios. "It's unique. But it's obvious what he's trying to accomplish."

Staios is buying in. So is Pronger.

"It makes sense to get a grasp on it all early," says Pronger. "You want to get a jump start on the rules and everything else involved. You have guys who haven't played or played together in a year and a half. We don't want to be behind the 8-ball."

The head coach believes there's an opportunity here for the teams which decide to dive in to the new NHL.

"There's going to be a big learning curve at the start of the season. People who aren't prepared for that curve are going to pay the price. We intend to get off to a good start."

Day 2. Game time 7 p.m.


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