There was an air of excitement inside Bakersfield Ice Sports Center on Monday morning as the Condors hit the ice for the first time with the opening of their American Hockey League training camp.
But mixed in with that excitement is a lingering bitterness of coming up just short in the playoff race the past two seasons.
“Not making the playoffs, it’s a terrible thing,” said center Josh Currie, who had a breakout season last year with a career high 22 goals. “All summer you sort of sit there and think about not making it. This year I think we’re motivated. I think we’ve got the pieces to do a lot of damage in this division.”
Two of those pieces, goaltender Eddie Pasquale and right wing Mitch Callahan, were among several players who have yet to arrive but will be a big part of the team.
“Mitch Callahan and Eddie Pasquale both just won the Calder Cup (with the Grand Rapids Griffins). Currie noted. “Bringing those guys in was definitely huge.”
As was Currie inking a two-year AHL deal after his contract expired at the end of last season.
“It’s a good opportunity for me,” Currie said of coming back to Bakersfield and the Condors. “I like the organization. I like the staff. I’ve got tons of opportunity to play over the last two years so for me it was kind of a no brainer. In hockey, job security is a big thing so two years was definitely huge. Something I don’t have to worry about next summer.”
Condors coach Gerry Fleming put his charges through a brisk 50-minute workout and afterward said he was happy to have Currie back in the fold.
“He brings pretty much everything (to the table),” Fleming said. “He’s a versatile guy, can play in all kinds of spots. We even used him on the back (defense) today. We’re excited to have him back and he’s excited to be back.”
Fleming said reaching the playoffs is always a goal at the start of the season and the two near-misses (two points two seasons ago and five points last season) just makes all involved hungrier.
“We want to do it for the city of Bakersfield,” Fleming said. “We think it’s important that we get in the playoffs this year. (Fans have) been supportive, they’ve encouraged us so it would be nice to reward them with a playoff berth”
Braden Christoffer was also among the handful of players from last year on the ice Monday and said the upcoming season is a big one, individually and collectively.
“I’ve got to be in the lineup every night, bumping and grinding, taking the puck to the net … doing all the little things I need to stabilize myself in this lineup,” said Christoffer, in the final year of a three-year entry level contract. “I’m going into a contract season and it’s going to have to be a big one for myself.
“But it’s going to have to be a big one for the Condors. We missed the playoffs by inches the past two years and we’re going to have to make the playoffs.”
Twenty-nine players were on Monday’s training camp roster but only 21 were on the ice as many players are still en route from Edmonton.
“They’ll start to trickle in here shortly, there’s still a couple of guys up in Edmonton,” Fleming said. “We’ll start to see guys float in as the week goes on.”
The missing bodies (there were just five D-men) likely reduced some practice options for Fleming, who said it was all about basics in preparation for Thursday’s preseason game at home against Stockton.
The Edmonton Oilers fielded pretty-much an NHL lineup on Monday night at home against Carolina and are expected to have an AHL-heavy lineup when they face the Hurricanes again on Wednesday in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on Wednesday.
It is likely more players will be assigned to Bakersfield after that game. Edmonton’s final preseason game is Saturday.