With the start of training camp - Phase 3 of the National Hockey League's 24-team return to play plan - potentially 10 days away, the Carolina Hurricanes returned to PNC Arena ice in two small groups for voluntary skates.
The NHL permitted teams to begin Phase 2 - voluntary small-group on- and off-ice workouts - on June 8, but after internal discussions between staff and players, the Canes chose to delay their transition while players continued to work out and skate on their own.
Now, with more players returning to the area and momentum building towards puck drop, the Canes have officially entered into Phase 2, which caries with it a host of safety measures and medical requirements laid out by the league.
There's a prescreening form for players. There's a temperature check at the door. Masks are a must, and keeping a safe physical distance is emphasized whenever possible.
"Everyone's kind of got their own spot in the gym and own spot in the room getting dressed," said Jordan Staal, who skated with a small group on Tuesday morning. "There were a few rules out [on the ice], but it is hockey, and sometimes you might accidentally run into a few guys here and there."
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It's a little different, no doubt, but it's still hockey.
"It felt like a good day of work," Staal said. "It was a lot of fun to see faces again. Still different, but exciting that we're moving forward."
Assistant coach Jeff Daniels ran the on-ice work with a handful of drills "to get the feet and hands going," Staal said. And? "Ripping shots past Reims," the Canes' captain laughed.
Video: Canes hit the ice in Phase 2.
Dougie Hamilton, who missed the last two months of the regular season after suffering a broken fibula in Columbus, was among the players skating, as well. As an injured player rehabbing from surgery, he's been skating on his own for a while and will be 100 percent whenever the puck drops again.
"It's good to see Dougie back skating today," Staal said. "He looks good."
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As the Canes dip their toes into Phase 2, the safety and health of the players and staff is, of course, top priority. And, it remains top of mind for all involved as talks progress in finalizing return to play details for not only the NHL but also the other major sports leagues.
"There's a lot of things you've got to go through to make sure everyone is as safe as possible," Staal said. "We're keeping tabs on most leagues. If the NBA doesn't go or something like that, it'd be hard for us to get going too. We're kind of all in it together, I think."
Video: "It's going to be interesting hockey."
As of now, training camps are set to open on July 10, but that's not a firm date. A target date has also not yet been set for resumption of play, but it could begin in early August.
Playoff hockey in August and September will be a little different, just like everything else in the pause, especially for hockey players who are notorious creatures of habit. Just ask Staal, who noted that summertime is peak cottage season in Thunder Bay or him and his brothers.
It won't be the playoff hockey we're used to seeing, either. It will look a bit different and sound a bit different, but it will still be playoff hockey. It's going to ramp up quickly and require "everyone involved and ready to work right away," Staal said. It will be intense. It will be emotional. It will be a grind. (So let's dispense with the asterisk nonsense, shall we?)
The Canes want to be ready to begin that 19-win quest, whenever, wherever that may be.
"No one really knows how it's going to look, but we're going to have some fresh legs and healthy bodies. The hockey could be really exciting. Who knows?" Staal said. "I'm excited to have a chance at winning a Cup. … It's going to be different and weird … but we're hoping to get this thing going and play some hockey."