Sep 26, 2018

By Tom Witosky

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Forward Cal O’Reilly has never been one to mince his words on the ice or in the locker room.

With the opening of Iowa Wild’s training camp this week, the 31-year-old veteran center made it clear his return to Iowa for a second season is largely about resolving a piece of unfinished business – getting the Wild into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

“Our goal is not only to get into the playoffs, but to do some damage and be playing in June,” said O’Reilly, who captained the Wild last season while also setting a club record for points in a single season with 64. “It’s obvious our season ended with disappointment last year. We had been in a playoff spot pretty much all year and to lose that is very tough. But that’s the past.”

O’Reilly was among the first wave of players sent down to Iowa from the Minnesota Wild training camp this week to begin the preparation for the 2018-19 AHL season, which begins Oct. 5 at Wells Fargo Arena against division rival Manitoba. More players are expected to arrive from the Minnesota camp, but O’Reilly and veteran forward Landon Ferraro, also returning for his second season, expressed confidence in what is being built for the fans of Iowa Wild hockey.

“I don’t think there is any doubt in our mind that we are a playoff team,” Ferraro said. “Of course, you have to see how everything is going to play out but I like the veterans we have and the quality of the young players. The question is always about how quickly can you get the kids comfortable playing in the way that their skill comes out to this level.”

Two of the Wild’s top young prospects vying to make this year’s squad acknowledged the first couple of days of camp have been trying, but also believe strongly there is a place for them on the AHL roster.

“I think I am doing pretty well right now,” said forward Dmitry Sokolov, Minnesota’s seventh-round draft choice in 2016. “I just have to keep going, working hard, and listening to the coach. Keep doing what they are telling me to do.”

Similarly, goalie Kaapo Kahkoken, Minnesota’s fourth-round draft choice in 2014, said after essentially living out of a suitcase for the past month, he is ready to be part of getting the AHL Wild ready for a successful season. Kahkonen, 22, is expected to be the backup goalie for either Alex Stalock or Andrew Hammond, both goaltenders with vast NHL experience.

“It is good to get started here,” the Helsinki, Finland native said. “We’ve got a lot of guys here who were in Minnesota before coming down here. It is important to get us going as the Iowa Wild.”

Tim Army, Iowa’s new head coach, said he and the Iowa coaching staff are using the camp’s first week to build the club’s on-ice foundation.  He said the team has practiced hard this week, spending a day focusing on offense, defense and special teams, respectively.

“We have had to cover a lot of ground and work to make sure we have the foundation we need to work from,” Army said. “Yesterday we went through the offensive side of the game, breakout, offensive zone play, today was the reverse. We are trying to wrap in all together.”

But Army also said the first few days also have allowed him and the staff to get acquainted with his players – something just as important as getting the team’s systems in place.

“From a coaching perspective, it is my first chance to watch the guys up close and get to know them personally,” Army said. “There is nothing like being on the ice or behind the bench with them.”

He added that learning about his players is essential to make sure “we know how they fit into our plans.”

With two preseason games scheduled against Tucson this weekend in St. Paul, Army said it will allow him and the staff to assess each player in competition against one of the top teams from the AHL’s Western Conference.

“We are playing a conference opponent that gives us the opportunity to play one of the top teams from last year,” Army said. “It can really be a springboard of us into the first two games.”

For Ferraro, who missed 26 games due to injuries, the start of training camp represents a new beginning.

“It is a fresh start for me,” the 27-year-old Trail, B.C. native said. “I am going to put in the work so that I can put in big minutes for this team. They’ve made it clear I have that opportunity and that’s all I can ask for.”

Ferraro, who has also played for Grand Rapids and Chicago, said his recovery from injury as well the change of head coach and the hiring of new general manager Tom Kurvers has provided him with a new enthusiasm.

“I want to have fun and enjoy the game again. It’s been a job for two years and now I am looking at being happy and having fun with it,” he said. “It is a privilege to play a sport for a living and I want to be able to continue to do it.”

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