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Intrasquad scrimmage at LCA next up for Wings' accelerated training camp

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — There will be no fans inside Little Caesars Arena anytime soon. But there will be a hockey game, or at least something resembling a game, Tuesday at LCA.

The Red Wings will ratchet up the already-accelerated pace of this shortened training camp Tuesday with an intrasquad scrimmage.

Normally, that would elicit a minor shrug from most everyone, given the slow pace of a normal training camp, but these days during the pandemic are anything but normal.

Defenseman Dylan McIlrath fires a shot at the net during Detroit Red Wings training camp at LCA in Detroit, Michigan on January 4, 2020.

The Wings’ last game was March 10, before COVID-19 paused the NHL season. Many Wings players have since been limited to pickup scrimmages during the autumn when they had the chance.

This will be the first organized game-like atmosphere with Red Wings coaching staff controlling things, and value on the line with spots in the lineup to be won.

And there are no exhibition games this NHL season.

So, with the start of the NHL regular season only days away (Jan. 14), the importance of the first of three of these scheduled intrasquad scrimmages isn’t lost on coach Jeff Blashill.

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“The intensity will be high,” Blashill said in a Zoom call Monday with reporters. “Guys understand we have to use these scrimmages as springboards to get ready for the season and get ready for games and to figure out who will be in what spots. We don’t have exhibition games. The intensity will be higher than one of the red and white scrimmages in Traverse City where you have eight more exhibition games three more weeks (before the regular season begins).

“We’ll treat it as much more serious and get a lot out of it. We’ll use the scrimmage as a good evaluation.”

As NHL camps opened Monday for the 24 teams that took part in the summer’s Return To Play, the Wings — and the six other teams that didn’t qualify — already were on their fourth consecutive day of on-ice practice. The seven teams that didn't qualify were allowed three extra on-ice days.

The pace and intensity has pleased Blashill, who even feels the Wings are a little further ahead than normal in terms of establishing how they want to play.

With no exhibition games, no traveling around, and the coaching staff setting a schedule of scrimmages and practices, the first week has been effective.

“One thing for sure, generally you get into exhibition season and the exhibition games are god but you don’t get enough practice time as a group,” Blashill said. “From a preparation standpoint, if we could normally have this, when you’re not traveling and keeping the group together, it’s easier to implement your systems quicker.

“I do think we’re further ahead. We get to choose when to play the exhibitions (scrimmages) and what makes the most sense, and allows us to implement all of our systems on ice or video, prior to playing the scrimmage.”

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Players are looking forward to the next phase of camp, as well, with these scrimmages.

"It's definitely going to be good to get back into a game situation," forward Vladislav Namestnikov said. "We've been off for so long, and getting something close to a game will be good for us. Everyone is excited about getting back into it."

Namestnikov was part of the Return To Play, having been with the Colorado Avalanche.

Namestnikov has played in front of an empty arena, so playing in front of empty seats Tuesday and possibly the entire season at LCA isn't going to be different.

But it will still be strange.

"It's definitely not what we want, but i played in the bubble in Edmonton, so it's similar to that," Namestnikov said. "It's definitely a weird feeling with no fans, but it's the way it's become now and we'll have to make the best of it and get used to it."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan