O’Reilly conditions for rookie season with Milwaukee

By Holly Gunning

Signed to an amateur tryout contract with Milwaukee Admirals last spring after his OHL Windsor Spitfires were knocked out of the playoffs, Cal O’Reilly didn’t get long to rest this summer before he was right back at it a Nashville Predators conditioning camp. The Admirals lost to Hershey in the Calder Cup finals on June 15, and the Predators camp was held June 26 – July 3 at the Predators’ training facility.

“I went home for about a week, but it wasn’t much resting, I kind of stayed in shape for this,” he said on the final day of the camp.

Fortunately, he’ll get a little rest now. Planning on taking a few days off, he’s aware that there are only 10 weeks left until Predators training camp. This kind of schedule can be tough on the body, even for a teenager.

“Yeah, it is, and I think it’s more mentally tiring than physically. I wasn’t playing a lot there (in Milwaukee), but still by body needs a rest and mentally too.”

The center was drafted by the Predators 150th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Six of the organization’s 2005 picks were at the camp, almost half of the 14 skaters. Fitness testing, conditioning instruction, social activities like bowling, instructions on the new rules enforcement in the NHL and two on-ice sessions made up the schedule.

“It’s all been good,” O’Reilly said of the camp. “We did some climbing on these ropes at the state park, that was pretty fun. Just hanging out with everybody and meeting everybody.

“The workouts have been good, but not too tough. That climbing stuff was probably the toughest stuff I’ve ever done because it’s pretty scary. You’re on this little wire and it’s also physically tough. You had to use your buddy to hold you up there. You’re strapped in so you couldn’t fall but it was still scary.”

The 5’11, 180-pounder has a list of items he’s concentrating on this offseason. Despite the compressed offseason, he still hopes to be able to accomplish his training goals.

“I’d like more just to get a little stronger,” he listed first. “I’m happy with my weight right now, I don’t want to be too big. Just turn into a little more muscle. Then again, I’ve got to be a pretty skilled player so I’ve got to improve my foot speed and skating and hands. It’s a good combination of everything.”

A small but skilled player, he definitely enjoyed the new rules adopted in the NHL, OHL and AHL.

“Very much so,” he said immediately. “They’ve really benefited me a lot. Fits my game a lot better, gives me more free ice. The clutch and grabbing’s gone, so me being not a strong guy, I can get open and use my hands.”

You’ll find O’Reilly using his soft hands only for good, not for evil. He was the runner up for the William Hanley Trophy as the OHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player in 2006. In his 68 games with Windsor last year, he took only four penalties, so few that he can remember them individually.

“Yeah, they were all pretty cheesy like hooking, and I think I shot the puck over the glass once.

“Most were accidental,” he said, smiling.

O’Reilly has been a fight, but only one, in his career. It was way back in 2003-04.

“My first year in Windsor I got jumped once,” he said, and it was by Michael Lombardi from the Plymouth Whalers if his memory holds. “It wasn’t much of a fight. I had to try and defend myself. I didn’t hit him, he didn’t hit me, we just kind of rolled around.”

Passing is O’Reilly’s strength, though he’ll need to keep from passing too much and becoming predictable. Another area to work on is joining battles instead of waiting on the perimeter.

Having tied for eighth in OHL scoring with 18 goals and 81 assists with Windsor, O’Reilly only had one assist in 12 games after joining Milwaukee (2 regular season, 10 playoff games). While this rate is not unusual for a player coming out of juniors, it’s clear he’ll need to adjust his game to the pros.

“In junior, I always had the puck and was always around the puck,” he said. “There (in the AHL), it’s a harder to get the puck. You’ve kind of got to go towards the puck more and skate more – keep your feet moving all the time to get the puck. I think it just comes with confidence too. When you play more, you get more confidence and try more things.”

Next year he’ll surely have more playing time as well. His ice time in Milwaukee dropped at the end of the Predators’ playoff run as the roster filled up.

“When I first got there, I was getting power play time for five or six games, a shift here and there. Then some of the NHL guys came back and I thought I might not be in the lineup, and some games I wasn’t. But I expected that and I was happy with how everything went and the experience.”

The only big problem the 19-year-old ‘faced’ was in growing a playoff beard.

“Yeah, I pretty much had a neck beard, that’s about it. All the guys made fun of me. I try, that’s the main thing,” he said, laughing.

Having drafted him in 2005, the Predators don’t have to sign O’Reilly until 2007, but since he turns 20 in September, he’s eligible to play in the AHL earlier than most 2005’s. With little left to prove in the OHL, the organization naturally wants to move him up this year. He’ll be signing a rookie contract between now an September.

“Yeah, I should be, that’s what they’re telling me. My agent’s been negotiating for a while, so hopefully sometime soon,” he said.

O’Reilly is very much looking forward to a full year with Milwaukee and proving what he can do.

“I definitely want to make an impact on that team,” he said. “I think I can if I work hard enough and improve a bit this summer. To be a good player in that league and have good numbers my first year.”

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