VOORHEES, N.J. – For the first time in months, the rink wasn’t a lonely place to be.
There were still only a little more than a handful of players skating, but there was definitely a different feel to their private workout.
The players were wearing uniforms belonging to their NHL teams for one, and there were fans – about 100 of them, filling the stands to watch NHL hockey for the first time in the 2012-13 season.
And while it was just some small skating and shooting drills, it was evidence of one very important thing.
Hockey is back.
Following a lengthy work stoppage, the NHL and its Players Association tentatively agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement Sunday. And while nothing can happen until the new deal is ratified – meaning so official practices, or roster moves, or schedule announcements yet – just the notion that the league will resume in earnest in the next week was enough to lift everyone’s spirits.
“It’s exciting to be back,” said Max Talbot, “It was exciting moment [yesterday]. It’s not fun that we’re starting the season in January, but it’s going to be an exciting season this year because every game is going to matter and we’re thrilled to be back.”
Talbot skated with Flyers’ teammates Kimmo Timonen, Jody Shelley, Andreas Lilja and Andrej Meszaros as well as Carolina Hurricanes (and former Flyers) Andreas Nodl and Brian Boucher, who still live in the area.
Other Flyers like Sean Couturier and Ilya Bryzgalov were also at skate zone, but didn’t skate Monday.
The rest of the players are expected to filter in as the week progresses as the league hopes that the ratification process of the new deal will allow an abbreviated training camp to open as early as this weekend.
In what is expected to be a 48-game season, the Flyers may have a head start on a lot of teams in the league with a training camp that will last less than one week because of how many players return from last season and their familiarity with the coaching staff.
Combine that with the fact that about two-thirds of the expected roster has either been playing games in Europe or in the AHL and the Flyers could be in a good spot to start the season.
“We have a lot of returning players who have played the system and are comfortable here in the locker room, are comfortable with their teammates, are comfortable with the system and the coaches and we can utilize that to get back on track as quick as we can,” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. “A lot will be the same so it’ll be easier for them to get out there and work on it because they already know what we’re looking for.
“It won’t be as difficult as a team that has a lot of new players or a new system or new coach. We have a lot of familiarity.”
Timonen expressed a similar sentiment, saying that the Flyers in-place chemistry and the fact that a large majority of the team has been playing games for some time now gives them a leg up.
However, he also admitted that as a veteran player who did not go to Europe, he might need a couple games to get to his best level of play.
“The guys who stayed home – like myself and a few other guys – it’s going to be tough,” Timonen said. “It’s going to take a little time. I can’t expect to be at my best in the first or second game. That’s the reality. We have to start getting back into great shape in a short period of time because every game matters now. We’ll get there eventually.
“The key for a short season is to stay healthy,” Timonen said. “There’s going to be a lot of games every week, so you hope not to have a lot of injuries. I’m hoping the young guys can step up and play with a lot of energy and passion. They’ve only played 30 games so far, so they shouldn’t be too tired. That, and Ilya Bryzgalov. If he comes in and plays like he did at the end of last season, we’ll be in good shape.”
General manager Paul Holmgren gave a brief update on the Flyers roster situation as the start of training camp looms.
Holmgren said defenseman Andrej Meszaros has been skating and ‘looks good on the ice.” Meszaros, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during an off-ice work out in Slovakia in June, was visiting a doctor Monday and Holmgren said he expects the doctor to clear Meszaros to play as soon as the start of the season.
The newest injury is to that of center Danny Briere who suffered a sprained wrist and a bone bruise when taking a slash during a game in Germany last week.
“It’s a little bit of a concern,” Holmgren said. “We’ll get more information on that over the next few days. I don’t know how it is for sure. We’ll see once our doctors get their hands on him… If he ends up missing a little bit of time I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Obviously we’d like to have him, but if we don’t, we’ll deal with it.”
Holmgren added that he didn’t expect that the Flyers would make any other signings or trades prior to the start of the season and said that he will meet with Laviolette in the next couple days to determine what the training camp roster will look like.
And while that training camp roster is still fluid, Holmgren did add that he expected there to be battles for a roster spot or two as well as ice time as camp and the season progresses.
“There’s some guys who have played well with the Phantoms and could get some looks here in the short training camp that we’re going to have and we’ll see,” Holmgren said. “Ice time is always up for grabs. Competition is a good thing.”
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