WEST POINT, NY -- Enjoying my brief stay here in the beautiful Hudson River valley where the leaves are changing yet the temperature is only dipping a touch under the 60 degree mark.
That's weather we all can live with, no?
It's mid afternoon here, and the Panthers are probably out in the wild, carrying Branislav Mezei up a mountain or pushing a large tractor tire up the side of a mountain. All this is done in the name of team building, and the guys seem to like it (Olli did say the drills in the Finnish Army were harder, but that was probably because he was in the Army when he was doing drills and not getting watered-down-'cause-these-are-pro-hockey-player drills like he is now).
The guys admit to learning about following orders and following their leaders, something I'm sure JM asked the instructors to focus on. Olli says the team went its own way at times -- especially early on -- last season, and the lessons taught here are that if you go your own way, it's going to hurt those around you. If your lazy and aren't pulling your weight, someone else is going to have to do it instead of focusing on what they need to do.
In other words, this seems to be very beneficial.
The team is staying on the West Point compound, which if you've never been here, is huge. Just a sprawling mass of mountain, stone buildings, the Hudson River, and a very nice athletic complex. The hockey rink is very nice, as is the basketball gym where the Black Knights play their home games.
The U.S. Army has been very accommodating to us, although I got jostled a bit when I went into a "secure" area to take some photos. I said the people who read my online column love the pictures, but that didn't get me anywhere. Although it almost did get me taken somewhere I didn't want to go. I know better than to mouth off to Army security you know, so all is well.
Will be back tomorrow, and I'll try to be more discreet when I take pictures.
-- One thing that's hard to miss here is all the history. If you take the time to look around, there is plenty of interesting things that can sometimes be moving.
For instance, just outside the rink/gym is a large piece of cement that looks like an odd bench. Look closer and you see a plaque on it. It's a piece of the Pentagon salvaged from the attacks of Sept. 11. And the Holleder Center itself is named after former Army All-American quarterback and basketball player Major Don Holleder.
A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, as well as the Army Infantry, Maj. Holleder was killed in Vietnam.
-- In Panther news Monday, it looks like Richard Zednik could miss some time after being thrown into the boards (again), this time injuring a shoulder. Zednik was very slow getting off the ice, and hours later was still in the training room getting treatment. JM didn't have a timetable for his return. JM is usually very optimistic about things, but today he was talking about looking ahead as if Zednik might miss some time. Will keep you updated on this.
If Zednik is out for the opener, I would expect to see Stumpel brought up from third line center to be on the wing along with Ville Peltonen. Brett McLean could then center the third line and Gregory Campbell centers the fourth.
-- Steve Montador had a knee surgery today, sounds like he had it scoped. JM says there was something in his knee that needed to be cleaned out, and that it had been bothering him to the point where he took a shot to see if they could keep the swelling down. Apparently they couldn't and decided this was just as good a time as any to do the deed.
-- Rostislav Olesz is back to his usual self, the hand injury suffered last week seemingly to be history. He was taking strong slap shots today, passing the puck and even getting into a playful shoving match with Tomas Vokoun.
-- Olli on his days in the Finnish Army: "I used to be the push-up king,'' he said, apparently why he only lasted a few months.
-- Former Army Ranger J.B. Spisso, who puts different groups through Army-like paces, said Olli was singled out by many of his instructors as showing great leadership skills during the first round of drills.
"He definitely showed the leadership traits of a captain off the ice,'' Spisso said. "I think that's just as important as doing it on the ice. ... I think it's benifical you chose a captain not because he's a good player, but because he's a leader off the ice. He has the work ethic and the warrior spirit.''
-- So what did they do?
"I like to call what we did the premier team building event in the free world,'' Spisso said. "It's identical to what I've put soldiers through. I might tone it up or tone it down depending on who the client is. I gotta tell you, I didn't tone it down for the Panthers last night. It was hard, they got wet, and they can tell ya, it was dark as hell out there. They did a phenominal job.
"I like to throw the X-factor at them. It's dark and they are cold and hungry. You need to find out who steps up and becomes a leader. Then you look at that man or woman, or in this case a player, and it might be a third or fourth line guy, and they've stepping forward and helping a teammate. I think the players have a better appreciation for themselves afterward.''
-- Stephen Weiss told us his group kept getting into trouble in their first day of Army training, and they became the push-up kings of the Panthers. Weiss was joking about how they didn't do to well in some of the drills, mostly because they were forced to the ground for "20" every few moments.
-- So, why West Coast Choppers? Because I ran over to East Coast Choppers just down the freeway from my hotel today. Good times, worth the drive. They have about 25 choppers in there, many of which are for sale (although they were waaaaay out of my price range).
Included in the inventory: A vintage-looking NYPD bike; various Spider-Bikes; the Miami Heat championship bike; the NHL chopper; the yellow Livestrong bike-looking, um, bike; and a bunch of others. In typical tourista fashion, I grabbed a t-shirt on my way out. Least I could do.