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'THE EXCITEMENT WAS THERE'

Giordano and Tkachuk talk about first day of camp, sticking to protocols, and the chase for the Cup

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

One hundred and twenty-two days later…

We. Are. Back. 

Forget the record or the standings that day, the torrid streaks and the wild-card race.

All of it is out the window.

 

Video: We give you the lowdown on the first day of camp

 

It's a clean sheet.

A blank slate. 

As we press on to play out the year and ultimately declare a champion, the season feels new in this world forever changed. 

"Getting back out on the ice with the boys, being able to do drills, full ice, working on our powerplay and penalty-kill, that part felt really normal," said captain Mark Giordano following Day 1 of Flames Training Camp - otherwise known as 'Phase 3' in the NHL's Return-to-Play speak. 

"The things that are different for us are the protocols that we have in place down here in the dressing room. Our medical staff has done an unbelievable job of making sure that everything is in order, everything like weights, wearing masks, washing our hands and being sanitary, they've done a great job. 

"We just follow the rules and go from there."    

Certainly, these two weeks are going to be critical for the Flames and the other 23 teams ramping up in their home cities before entering the 'bubble' in Canada's two hub cities. 

Phase 3 is unique that way. 

Unlike when the Flames open their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Winnipeg Jets on Aug. 1, now, there is no 'bubble.' Players are free to retreat to their homes, or venture out with the general public to grab essentials, such as groceries. 

 

 

Keeping the team and everyone around it healthy throughout the next two weeks is top of mind for the skipper. 

"As a player you've got to look at it like, if you do something or go somewhere where you're not supposed to be, you're putting yourself and your team at risk," Giordano said. "Right now, you have to be smart, stay at home as much as possible. I know there are certain things guys have to do, but guys get it.

"This is the most crucial point in the summer."

On the business end, it's the NHL's one chance to help salvage the millions in lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For the athletes, it's their opportunity to win the ultimate prize for the first, last, or only time. 

There isn't a chance they'd pass that up. 

"Hockey is all of our lives," said Matthew Tkachuk. "Playing in the NHL, you don't want to take it for granted. During a pause like that, you miss it so much. The position we put ourselves in at the end of the year, we wanted to compete for the Stanley Cup and we've been given the opportunity. We're thankful for that, and this year, we're going to try and make the most of it.

"Today, it didn't look like much of a difference from where we left off in March. That said, we haven't been in too many battles yet, and we all know it's a different type of hockey and the intensity ramps up."

 

Video: "It felt real important to get out there"

 

Over the next two weeks, the Flames will get plenty of practice in as they gear up for the Jets. Morning skates, evening scrimmages and everything in between will be done to help mimic the schedule the players will be entrenched in once arriving in Edmonton.

Tkachuk, addressing the media virtually from the Scotiabank Saddledome - his white towel draped gently around his neck, as usual - gave us a glimpse into the new normal for the players.

"It's pretty strict," the Flames' leading scorer humbly acknowledged. 

Testing, temperature-checking, social distancing and mask-wearing are all part of the effort.

It's different, but entirety worth it, Tkachuk says. 

"We're all spread out in different locker-rooms, just trying to be as smart as we can. … It's a big stretch for every team and you want to be as healthy as possible going into the hub cities."

It's still almost three weeks away, but there's a buzz in the air. 

The Flames can't wait to get back in the battle. 

"There's an opportunity that's there for us," Giordano said. "At certain points, it felt like we would never even get this opportunity. And now we've got a great one - as good as anyone else to win the Stanley Cup. 

"With the way things went today ... it looks like guys are sharp, really dialled in here. 

"As a group, as a core group and guys who've been here a while, we know it's time to take another step and have some success in the playoffs. The excitement was there today, for sure."

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