Camp. Bunz. Zahn. Oiler “Guys”. Return Of The Game.

I’ve done two things this week that I’ve never done before.

First, I welcomed a newborn boy into my family. Rather, my wife welcomed a newborn boy into our family. My absence in writing of late has been justified as my family grows a bit larger. Now a family of four, the excitement and adjustment of a new little one is exhilarating, tiring, frightening, and beautiful all at once. What a great thing.

Second, I missed Oklahoma City Barons training camp. The first two camps in OKC were great, eye opening insights into how major hockey players conduct preseason business. And, unless you’ve slithered under a rock recently, all camps in the AHL are increasingly more interesting. Thanks to the lockout, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, and Schultz all found their way in the middle of America that we call Oklahoma. And I hate that I missed it. Glad that I did (for reasons above), but still hate it.

But the season waits for no one, including a guy that is sleep deprived and smelling of pampers snugglers. And in my absence, lots of things are and continue to happen. The push towards AHL opening day (October 12th) is rapidly approaching.

A slew of fans (estimated close to 100 by most) headed to the Cox Center on Sunday to watch day one of Barons/Oilers camp. The usuals were there – Hartikainen, Danis, Vande Velde, Green. But it was the new, but familiar faces, that the fans came to see. Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and to some extend Dan Byers and Teigan Zahn. All made their debut in Barons sweaters. And it was apparently a glorious sight. A quick roundup of what fans saw:

Our good buddy, Eric Rodgers at 1340, had this to say:

The morning started off with Team Blue taking the ice in front of about 100 fans, featuring NHLers Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as well as the Swedes, Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander. With the NHL lockout, coach Todd Nelson benefits with having the players he’s going to have on opening day already here, and he noted that it allows him to start right out of the gate with working on game situations. After starting with passing drills, the players moved into rushing and zone drills.

Newcomer Tiegan Zahn impressed during drills along the board, laying a good back check against Antti Tyrvainen in front of the net to prevent a chance. Eberle wasted no time in showing off his offensive skills in the 3-on-2 rushes, scoring a nice backhand against try-out goalie Ian Keserich. In the same drill, Nugent-Hopkins had a nice move to get the puck past Yann Danis, but not enough to get a goal; and Paajarvi made a great drop pass to Ryan Martindale for a shot that Danis was also able to stop.

On day two, it was more of the same goodness:

During Team White’s session, the orange line of Curtis Hamilton, Cameron Abney, and Josh Green was very impressive as Hamilton and Abney have shown a big improvement from last season. With the lockout moving the depth chart down however, it’s still going to be tough to earn a spot. Also impressing on Team White, and not surprisingly, was Teemu Hartikainen. He seemed to have no trouble at all finding the net during drills.

Systems are being instilled, and the players are taking to them extremely well. The way things are looking, the games this weekend against Houston are going to be extremely fun to watch.

The flexing muscle of NHL caliber players remains a common thread in this year’s Barons team, yet it’s been ramped up a notch. But it’s also to know that players such as Teigan Zahn might end up being solid off season acquisitions that were intended to simply shore up the Barons squad, with little NHL outlook.

Another perspective, this time from Patricia Teter at Artful Puck, had a similar story to share. Mostly in how well these guys gel, and just how sharp they really are:

OKC fans are well aware that this will be a very unusual season, at least for the time being. This morning we watched top NHL players from the Oilers skate on our ice – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz. And as equally important, at least to OKC fans, we also watched our returning players, along with a crop of new prospects who are young and very eager to begin their professional careers. As fans of a farm team, a minor league team, we are in an incredible position to watch future NHL stars develop and mature. We are also very lucky to be able to have access to our team, unlike NHL teams and their fans. OKC, enjoy this moment and this team for they are well on their way to bright careers and futures.

Also visit her site, where she’s packaged the Barons video interviews into Day One and Day Two posts. Very helpful.

As training camp continues, the hype for the season grows infinitely in the hearts of Barons fans (and new curious folk). Simply put, we all want to see just how good this team truly is. Will they compete or will they dominate? Can they produce offense like the league has never seen? Will they stay healthy? Lots ifs and whats, but the murmurs coming out of the first half-week of camp are in step with expectations.

All photos courtesy of Rob Ferguson at www.okchockeyphotos.com. Check out the site. Awesome stuff!