Because of the wonderful, always effective rules implemented by the NCAA, college coaches aren't allowed on the ice with more than three players at a time until a certain date. Players are allowed to practice on their own though, so for the first couple weeks of a college season (up until this time of year), all you go through are captain's practices.
Anyone see a loophole yet?
That means that coaches have the option to get together with their captains and assemble practice plans if they so choose — for the most part, however, I think everyone is aware that the drills are just killing time until the guys get to scrimmage, which is all they want to do. (Canada vs. the world is your most common match-up.)
This makes for a fun day on the ice, but captain's practice means different things to different people.
For freshman, they're just about as important as anything they'll go through during their first month at school, even though they mean jack squat. After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and you're making it on the people you're about to be spending four years with, on and off the ice. If a team captain gets a bad impression of your skill set, they'll inevitably communicate that to the coach when he asks how everyone is looking, which they often do.
You really don't want the first time your coach is on the ice with you to include him looking for the deficiencies that were mentioned to him buy the couple of guys he trusts most on the team.
The other thing for freshmen is that you never really have any idea about the pace of play at the college level until you actually get on the ice and have at it. It can catch you off guard, speed-wise, in that it's a massive jump from junior (especially once you get into conference play). I vividly remember my first steps onto the practice sheet with my new team in my new jersey, and taking a few hard strides to make sure I didn't come off as slow. I had the throttle wayyy farther down than the likes of Curtis Glencross just to keep up while cutting laps.
But for the older guys, captain's practice couldn't mean anything less. This creates an interesting tempo during drills and scrimmages, with some guys bombing around and others loafing.
As a captain, you try to get the team to run through the drills "you've" thought of to start the day (not an easy feat). After a summer of straight shinny, it's almost refreshing to get back to this. Or rather, it would be, if there weren't so many drill wreckers. It always seems like the summer off turns hockey player brains to mush.
By the time you're a junior or senior, you've usually carved out your spot out on the team, so you can just work on fine-tuning your mitts before the season. You've seen the drills before. You know coach isn't watching. You know you don't have to impress anyone.
That leads to a slower stride and smarter decisions, while the young guys' legs are moving like hummingbird wings, and they're squeezing their sticks like they're trying to draw blood from a stone.
(This is a nice position to be in until you notice that hey, that freshman right winger is good. Hey, that freshman right winger is really good. Dammit he could take my job, I may want to start taking some harder strides.)
It's a fun time of year for guys. The future for the team is bright — you haven't lost a game yet. You're back with your buddies. You don't have to feel great for a captain's practice, so you can go out the night before if you like. There's just a lot of excitement in the air.
But before you know it, real practices come screaming up the schedule along with more workouts, new classes and genuine stress. It's the calm before the storm.
So while captain's practices are different depending on your place on the team, it doesn't matter who you are. Things are about to get real in a hurry.
Ed. Note: If you follow JB on Twitter, you know Friday is his last Puck Daddy post, as he's taking over the hockey blog at The Score (our old Puck Daddy Radio stomping grounds). He's been an asset to this site and provided a unique perspective on things, but we couldn't be happier that he's getting a chance to build his own happy corner of the hockey world on the Interwebz. So wish him well because he's also getting married and obviously has no idea what he's in for. Sucker.