Canes skate back into hockey routine

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 8, 2013 

— There was a return to normalcy Monday for the Carolina Hurricanes players at Raleigh Center Ice.

They were able to dress in the Canes’ locker room at RCI. They wore Canes sweaters on the ice. They were able to leave their gear in the room after the informal skate, not stuff equipment bags to haul out to their cars and trucks.

The NHL has the makings of a new collective bargaining agreement, effectively ending the lockout. The league’s board of governors must ratify the CBA, likely on Wednesday, and the players could vote on it Thursday.

But NHL teams were told the players could use team practice facilities for the first time since Sept. 15, when the previous CBA expired.

“It’s the day we’ve kind of been hoping for since this lockout began, just to be able to come back in your own dressing room and get back on the ice knowing there’s going to be a season,” goalie Cam Ward said. “I’m just excited that it’s over and we’re back at it.”

Ward is one of the Canes players who remained in Raleigh during the 113-day lockout, joining a dwindling number of teammates three times a week at RCI. Eric Staal and his brother, Jordan, also stayed put, as did defensemen Joe Corvo, Jay Harrison and Joni Pitkanen.

But on Monday, some faces not seen in a while reappeared – forwards Chad LaRose and Patrick Dwyer, and defensemen Jamie McBain and Tim Gleason. The group will swell in the next few days as the players come streaming back in.

In Finland, Russia

Forward Jussi Jokinen has been playing in Finland, and Alexander Semin in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). It may take them longer to get back – Semin’s agent, Mark Gandler, said the free-agent forward should be in Raleigh late Thursday or Friday.

There has been no NHL announcement on the start of weeklong training camps or a starting date for the regular season. Nor do players know if they’ll be playing 48 or 50 games in the regular season, although NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly is saying it’s likely to be 48.

Regardless of the number, it figures to be a sprint from start to finish – a test of mental and physical stamina.

Every game a big one

“I’m sure it’s going to be a whirlwind,” Jordan Staal said. “It’s not going to be easy. Every game will be that much bigger, knowing you have a short season. It’s going to be interesting.”

Certainly for him. Traded to the Canes from the Pittsburgh Penguins in June, he signed a 10-year contract extension and was eager to jump into the lineup with Eric and his new team. Instead, the lockout lingered as the league and players union couldn’t come to terms on a CBA.

“It feels like it’s been a long visit here,” Jordan quipped Monday at RCI. “It’s nice to be back in the room and having that light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ward has not played in a game since April 5, when the Canes topped the Montreal Canadiens at PNC Arena in their final home game. And it appears there will be no NHL exhibition games to use as a warm-up before the truncated regular season.

“Obviously I’ve been skating and trying to do the best I can to stay in good shape and stay on the ice, but game situations are a little different than having six guys (at RCI) skating on the same drills every time we’re out there,” Ward said. “It’s going to be an important week before the first regular-season game to prepare, but I’m sure the rust will start to come off knowing the adrenaline that’s going to be pumping.”

After sitting and waiting for months, Ward and the Canes are ready. Just drop the puck and play.

“It’s going to be go, go, go,” Ward said. “It’s going to generate some exciting hockey because you know every game is important to make the playoffs.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service