After three beautiful days and nights (and one great road win) in Phoenix, the Lightning practiced for the final time at Jobing.com Arena today and the boarded a flight for Orange County Airport in southern California where it will play the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night. Everyone practiced today with the exception of defenseman Mattias Ohlund who continues to undergo treatment for a lower body injury. Ohlund continues to be listed as day-to-day by trainer Tom Mulligan and he will not play until the injury is fully healed, despite his desires to get back on the ice right away.
Lightning players and the training staff took advantage of the extra time in Phoenix to participate in an annual NHL ritual: the rookie dinner. James Wright and Victor Hedman were the “victims” this time, picking up the dinner tab for the entire team and staff that were present at the dinner. Everyone had a great time and the extra team bonding is always helpful for a team with so many new players on the roster.
In fact, it should be noted that this Lightning team is coming a long way in terms of growing as a unit and developing a genuine care and concern for each another. Any coach will tell you that the closer the members of a team get to one another, the more likely they are to play for the good of the team and its goals. Coach Rick Tocchet’s mantra this season has been “Crest First” rituals like the rookie dinner help the players bond and work daily for the team.
November has seen two week-long road trips for the Lightning and the Insider believes players will look back at the 2009-10 season and credit these trips for bringing the team closer together and developing the much needed chemistry it takes to win regularly in the NHL.
Credit Zenon Konopka for becoming the team’s social chairman, working with the captains and the leadership group to ensure every player gets included in dinners, nights out at the movies or a friendly game of cards on the plane. His enthusiasm is infectious, he is always positive and his teammates enjoying his manner of keeping things loose. Of course, as Tocchet put it earlier, today, “I feel bad for his roommate (Stephane Veilleux), he must have to carry duct tape to shut him up from time to time. Either that or pull the battery out.”
The Lightning will skate tomorrow at 11:30am local time to prepare for the game against the Ducks and faceoff is at 7:00pm here out west, 10:00pm in Tampa.