Sykora practices with Elias and Parise
|Sykora with DeBoer. (New Jersey Devils)|
For Petr Sykora, that time was Monday, when he skated on a line with Patrik Elias and Zach Parise.
“I was actually nervous, a little bit, in the beginning of practice,” Sykora said. “But I had so much fun today, I can’t wait for practice tomorrow. If I’m on this line tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy practice tomorrow. I had so much fun today that I can’t really say. It was great.”
So far, the ex-Devil has made a strong impression in his training camp tryout. What began with a hat trick in the camp's first scrimmage has continued into the preseason with a goal, an assist and five shots in two games. In Wednesday’s preseason opener, he centered Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen. On Friday, he got a look with Mattias Tedenby and Adam Henrique.
By Monday, Coach Peter DeBoer had upgraded him to the top six forwards.
“Petr’s come in and created some offense and really hasn’t had the opportunity to play with some of the elite guys yet,” DeBoer said. “I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Sykora was thrilled for an opportunity with the potential PEZ Line.
“With Patty and Zach, two skilled players, you can just see those two guys, they find the holes, they find those open areas,” Sykora said. “Those quick little plays from the wall and those little one-touch plays are there and that makes the game so much easier. It was a hard practice with a lot of battles, but just to be out there with those two guys, I had a lot of fun today.”
But he won’t allow himself to believe he has a spot secured just yet.
“I still have a long way ahead of me and I have to prove myself every day, and I will,” Sykora said. “I’m going to do my best to prove myself every day. For me, it’s just show up tomorrow and try to have a good practice tomorrow, then show up the next day, try to have a good practice the next day.”
All along, Sykora has said goal scoring is what he can bring, and that's evident in his 10 NHL seasons with 20 or more.
“For a team that didn’t score a lot of goals last year, you need those guys that have that ability,” Parise said. “That part would be big for us. He’s good with the puck and that’s what we need him for.“
For the second straight year, a line combo at camp has rekindled memories of the “A-Line.” A year ago, Elias was reunited with Jason Arnott; this season, it’s Sykora. The “A-Line” of Elias, Arnott and Sykora is one of the best in club history and helped fuel the run to the 2000 Stanley Cup championship.
“Chemistry is a big thing, and we always had that,” Elias said.
And that factored into DeBoer’s decision to put them together.
“It’s a long time ago, but sure, it’s something that I think plays into it,” said the coach. “They have a comfort level and a communication level, obviously, that’s real good.”
Good enough to have Sykora thinking about what the season could hold for him in New Jersey.
“This is something special for me today, to be on a line with those two guys,” he said. “It really felt good, I’m not going to lie to you. It felt good. I’m going to do whatever’s in my power to stay here as long as I can.”
Notes and quotes
The first cuts from camp were announced on Saturday and, for DeBoer, the 2011-12 squad is starting to come together.
Monday’s first group featured forward lines of Ilya Kovalchuk-Jacob Josefson-Nick Palmieri, Mattias Tedenby-Adam Henrique-David Clarkson, Rod Pelley-David Steckel-Eric Boulton, with Henrik Tallinder, Adam Larsson, Mark Fraser, Anton Stralman, Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov and Andy Greene on defense. Bryce Salvador and Dainius Zubrus did not skate due to lower body maintenance.
“We’re close,” DeBoer said. “We’re going to move some guys in and out of that group. You’ll have a couple of different faces tomorrow, but we’re definitely starting to get the group together and get some practice time with them.”
The Devils close out the preseason with three games in three nights beginning Thursday in Philadelphia. They return to host the Islanders on Friday, and wrap up the slate at home against the Flyers. Their regular season opens at Prudential Center versus the Flyers on Oct. 8.
With fewer rookies remaining, DeBoer can raise the tempo in practice.
“When everyone’s mixed in together, you’re not going at the NHL pace,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll help. We really spent a lot of time today on keeping our identity in our end of the ice. I’m confident this team’s going to score goals, that the power play is going to be better. We’re only a better team if we can keep that identity and add some offense to it. That’s the goal here the next couple of days.”
Low-tech suits Sykora
Today’s visors provide optically correct eye protection with little distortion thanks to their curved shape. Sykora, who says he has never tried the newer styles, still uses a much older Itech design that's no longer in production. He may be due for an upgrade soon.
“I have one more back in Czech saved in my garage,” he said. “That’s it. No more.”
Sykora says former Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin is the only other NHLer still wearing the same model.