Adin Hill felt a bit more normal Thursday.
Hill was one of a few players on the ice at Gila River Arena for the opening of Phase 2 of the NHL's return-to-play plan. Phase 2 allows small groups to participate in off-ice workouts and informal practices.
"It was refreshing," Hill said. "It's nice to get back out there and be at the arena and be on the ice with your teammates. It was fun."
Getting back on the ice now requires safety protocols.
"As soon as you [enter the arena], we have to get our temperature checked," he said. "We put on a mask; we put on gloves. And we have those on when we walk around, unless we're in the weight room or on the ice. In the weight room, you stay distant from each other, and on the ice the [drills are] non-contact to keep safe."
Phase 2 does not permit body checking.
"Guys aren't allowed to get that close on the ice," he said. "Other than that, it's not much different. It's just getting on the ice, having fun with your teammates, and getting ready for this playoff run."
And in the weight room, cleanliness is the top priority.
"Right after you're done using your weight, you take a cloth with a little sanitizing spray bottle and spray everything down," he said. "Make sure [equipment is] clean. Everyone's wearing masks. I think they're taking all the right precautions. Every staff member is wearing a mask and gloves. It's going well."
Hill and his teammates get tested regularly for COVID-19. He was examined twice this week at the Mayo Clinic -- on Monday, and again before he arrived at the rink on Thursday.
"It's just something you have to do," he said. "It takes 10 seconds and then you're done."
Hill appeared in 13 games this season. The goalie, who lives in Calgary, remained in Arizona during the pause, to avoid border closures and additional quarantine regulations. Not all players have returned. Several more are expected to join the group sessions at Gila River Arena next week.
"Everyone is still trying to get back into the mode of things," he said. "They're making sure they're taking all of the right precautions so they can safely return to the team. I expect to see more [teammates] in the next week. It's just hard because there's some guys that are over in Europe and stuff. They're skating over there and doing their thing, making sure they follow all the right precautions so they can get back to play."
Hill kept his goaltending puck-tracking sharp with a ball and a free wall. He tended to cardio with extended runs.
His main focus now is game-speed.
"Just getting back up to the speed of the game, because there's no off-ice conditioning that compares to when you're on the ice," he said. "I feel like sometimes I'm in the best shape of my life, and then I step on the ice after a while and it's like … nope. It's a lot different.
"[Today] I was in all my equipment doing drills, goalie drills, drills for the players, the full swing," he said. "Usually when I come to [training] camp I've been skating for a while, so I feel pretty good about it. But, it being the first skate today [I felt] a little rusty. But it'll get better quickly."
The NHL Players' Association agreed Thursday that July 10 will be the start date for Phase 3, and the opening of training camps.
"Everyone in the league's got a month until the camp still starts," Hill said. "And then we'll have two weeks after that until games start. So, we've got six weeks, which is plenty of time to prepare. It's going to be a little different without the regular-season games leading into the playoffs. It's going to be that high-intensity, high-energy playoff game right off the bat. And I think we're all looking forward to it."
The Phase 3 date is welcomed by Hill.
"It's a sense of relief," Hill said. "You finally know what's happening and there's a plan in place. It's exciting. We all definitely want to play in the playoffs. Once we have that camp and we start going, it's just do or die. It brings that energy no matter what. It'll be a little different with the empty buildings, but the players will just have to bring that energy. It's the Stanley Cup playoffs. That's the best way to put it. You're playing for the Cup."
There is excitement for the future; today was pretty exhilarating, too.
"When you step on the ice for the first time it's like a breath of fresh air," he said. "The cold air when you get out there. It's always nice to feel your skates hit the ice. Just competing with your teammates, laughing with your teammates, and just having a good time. You miss it."
Lead Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes // Footer Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes