After practice Thursday, the Zamboni was idling in its port at the Knickerbacker Ice Arena, a subtle nudge in the backs of the stragglers who were milking as much as they could out of their ice time for the day.
On the far end of the rink, Albany Devils right wing Cam Janssen was sparring with defenseman Alexander Urbom.
Teaching young players the finer points of the sweet science on ice is one good use of the veteran’s time during this assignment to the AHL, his first stint in the minors in five seasons, but it also was just another excuse to be on the ice as long as possible.
Since New Jersey loaned him to Albany on Jan. 31, Janssen has enjoyed far more ice time than he’s become used to in eight NHL seasons.
“I’m getting a lot of ice. I haven’t got a lot of ice time in eight years,” he said. “I’ve been in the NHL the last eight years, getting two to five minutes a night, and it’s somewhat hard to remember what kind of player you can be with some ice time. It’s good to get ice, and it’s good to work on some things.”
He has played in 311 NHL games, but totalled just 1,483 minutes in ice time. He also has totalled 750 minutes in penalties.
While speaking of building his confidence with each shift in Albany, Janssen said the three-in-three on his first weekend already had him rolling, “Big time,” in the right direction.
“The first game, it was good. Your adrenaline is taking over,” he said. “The second game was a little tougher, two-in-two. But then the third game, you’re getting more comfortable with the puck, you’re getting more comfortable skating and getting that regular shift. It’s tough. You can skate all you want in practice, in the summer time you can skate all you want, but until you get in a game situation, it’s hard to develop. So yeah, I’m getting used to it. I’m taking advantage of every shift I can.”
He skated with Darcy Zajac and Chris McKelvie for two of those games, and was excited about their chemistry and the scoring chances they created.
He also was enthusiastic about helping players learn how to fight, as he was with Urbom on Thursday, more in an effort to protect them than encourage them.
“It doesn’t matter how big you are, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to get caught,” Janssen said. “In order to become a better fighter and be able to protect yourself, you’ve got to have somebody that knows what they’re doing, who’s been there before, to show you the ropes a little bit. It’s better for somebody like me, in practice, to show him what to do and what not to do than for him to try to figure it out on his own. You take a couple off the chin, and it’s hard to recover from a head injury.
“So, the kid, Urbom, is a big boy and he needs to take advantage of that. And I’m not telling these kids to fight, but when it happens and he knows how to protect himself, ‘A,’ he’s going to get a lot more room on the ice, and ‘B,’ he’s not going to get put in a situation where he’s going to get caught on his chin and be out for a long time.”
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said he talked to Janssen about embracing that role as a resource for younger players.
“Being a veteran guy and helping some of these young guys, whether it’s with drills or fighting, as we see out there now — anything,” Kowalsky said. “He’s been around long enough, and he’s been in the NHL and he’s been around some good players and some good teams.”
His first pro team was the Albany River Rats in 2004. He played a season and a half with them before earning a spot in the NHL.
Janssen’s last home game in
Albany was during the 2005-06 season. His next, this time with the Albany Devils, will come Wednesday night at 7 against Syracuse.
He won’t see the sellout crowds New Jersey has seen most of this season, but he knows the fans who come out are the ones who really love the game and the team.
“I love seeing loyal fans like that,” he said. “Hopefully, they’re excited to see me play.”