RALEIGH — 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 leagues 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.
Its the day weve 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 theres going to be a season, goalie Cam Ward said. Im just excited that its over and were 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 Russias Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). It may take them longer to get back Semins 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 theyll be playing 48 or 50 games in the regular season, although NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly is saying its 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
Im sure its going to be a whirlwind, Jordan Staal said. Its not going to be easy. Every game will be that much bigger, knowing you have a short season. Its 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 couldnt come to terms on a CBA.
It feels like its been a long visit here, Jordan quipped Monday at RCI. Its 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 Ive 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 were out there, Ward said. Its going to be an important week before the first regular-season game to prepare, but Im sure the rust will start to come off knowing the adrenaline thats going to be pumping.
After sitting and waiting for months, Ward and the Canes are ready. Just drop the puck and play.
Its going to be go, go, go, Ward said. Its going to generate some exciting hockey because you know every game is important to make the playoffs.