Canes players happy lockout is over

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 7, 2013 

— It probably wasn’t the way Eric Staal expected to get the long-awaited news, but the Carolina Hurricanes’ captain wasn’t about to complain.

Waking up early Sunday, Staal said he had a text message from a friend that said simply: “Looks like good news last night. Go Canes!”

Staal quickly was on Twitter, learning the NHL and NHL Players Association had agreed on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement just before 5 a.m. Sunday. Once the CBA is formally approved, the NHL lockout is over. It will be back to playing games again.

As Staal put it, “It’s been such a roller-coaster of emotion through this whole process.”

There were times Staal and his teammates believed the entire 2012-2013 season might be canceled. There were moments of hope, when there was talk of a possible CBA breakthrough.

Staal was among a small group of Canes players who kept skating three times a week at Raleigh Center Ice during the lockout, toting their own equipment bags, wondering when it would end. His brother Jordan, traded to the Canes by the Pittsburgh Penguins in June, was another skating, eager to play, frustrated by the constant uncertainty.

Veteran defenseman Joe Corvo had signed a one-year free-agent contract with the Canes. But would he ever play?

“The lockout got old,” Corvo said Sunday. “It was like a little glimpse into retirement. But it shows you still love the game and you want to keep doing it.”

Defenseman Justin Faulk was among the players assigned by the Canes to the Charlotte Checkers in September, when the lockout began. Faulk, one of the NHL’s best rookies last season, was hoping it would be a short shift in Charlotte, in the American Hockey league, but it turned out to be// more than 30 AHL games as the NHL canceled chunks of games.

“I’d ask the guys every two weeks and they said, ‘Two more weeks, two more weeks,’ ” Faulk said. “I always thought there would be a season. I just didn’t know when.”

With the Checkers playing a 1:30 p.m. game Sunday at PNC Arena, Faulk and his teammates were up early for the team meal. Much of the chatter at breakfast was about the NHL situation.

“I’m more excited than relieved, I’d say,” Faulk said.

Instead of more talk about such CBA matters as hockey-related revenue and salary variance, the players can focus on what may be a 50-game regular season. Training camps will open this week and some of the Checkers will compete for a roster spot.

Faulk is a “no-brainer,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said. But others who could be in the mix are forwards Zac Dalpe, who scored a goal in the Checkers’ 3-1 win Sunday over the Norfolk Admirals at PNC Arena, Zach Boychuk and Jeremy Welsh. The Canes likely will take a look at both Charlotte goalies – Dan Ellis, who had 28 saves Sunday, and Justin Peters – as the backup to Cam Ward.

Canes coach Kirk Muller said Sunday the tentative plan was for 15 forwards and eight defensemen to be in training camp.

With the offseason acquisitions of Jordan Staal, free-agent forward Alexander Semin and Corvo, the Canes believed they were positioned to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009. Forward Tuomo Ruutu recently had hip surgery, but the Canes’ goal hasn’t changed.

“We have a great team, a great leader, a great coaching staff, a great front office, and to wake up and have the opportunity to play for the Cup, I’ve been jacked up all day,” Canes forward Chad LaRose said Sunday.

So was Eric Staal, who was at Sunday’s game at PNC Arena with his family – as was Jordan Staal – to see brother Jared play for the Checkers.

“It’s about having a good start and making sure everyone is on the same page,” Staal said. “And then to be excited to play the game we love. We look forward to that.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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