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Extra World Cup training could lead to fast NHL start

Players preparing early, can pay off when season begins in October

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Many NHL players have had to cut their summer vacation short, but for good reason. They are preparing for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which begins Sept. 17, about three weeks earlier than a typical start to the NHL season.

"First off, how could you not be excited about [the World Cup], it's a great way to open the hockey season," Team USA forward Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks told NHL Network on Friday. "I think for a lot of us we're just ecstatic, we get that other opportunity to play for our country in a big tournament like this. Given where it's at in Toronto, the hockey mecca of the world, how could you not be excited? I think a lot of players that are going will be well-prepared for it."

And it also should have them better prepared for the start of the NHL schedule on Oct. 12.

"I think it can only help," Team Sweden center Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals told CSN Mid-Atlantic. "For all the players [in the World Cup], hopefully we'll get used to playing tough games and bring that into season and we can get a good start because of it."

Capitals teammate John Carlson was one of seven defensemen named to the Team USA roster.

"I probably started skating two and a half weeks earlier, just because everything is a little bit earlier and it's a little bit crazier of a schedule," Carlson told CSN Mid-Atlantic. "In the NHL, you get a monthlong training camp. [With the World Cup], we're going to have seven or eight practices before we're playing a game that really means something."

Video: The guys preview the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

Backstrom said he is working extra hard so he's ready for Sweden training camp.

"I can only speak for myself, but I went on the ice earlier than usual," he said. "I want to make sure I come [to the World Cup] prepared and ready to go right away. You pretty much have five days, a couple of exhibition games, then you have to be ready when the puck drops.

"So I got on the ice earlier, just to make sure I have that feel. And I'm skating a little harder. I'm just going to keep ramping up as it gets closer."

Players competing in the eight-team tournament must report for a physical on Sept. 4, with practice beginning the next day. Competition begins Sept. 17 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto and can run through Oct. 1.

"It's going to be a high-tempo tournament, and we're going to play at a high tempo," Team Canada and St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "I would imagine the practices are going to be like midseason NHL practices: 40, 45 minutes, but high tempo right out of the gate."

The pre-tournament schedule starts Sept. 8. Team Canada will play its first pre-tournament game Sept. 9 against Team USA at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, then travel the next day to Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa to play the Americans again.

Video: NHL Tonight breaks down the USA World Cup roster

"No one in the NHL would play their really good players back-to-back (in the preseason); we start exhibition back-to-back against the U.S.," Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "So it's so important that you've done your work in advance, obviously to give yourself the best chance in the tournament, but probably as importantly to give yourself the best chance of not being injured.

"We've addressed it with them. Guys are proud and smart. They know how to play. They know the best players are going to play, and you can't play if you're injured. So your preparation phase is huge for you."

Team Canada center Sidney Crosby had a shorter offseason than usual, playing until June 12, when the Pittsburgh Penguins clinched the Stanley Cup with a Game 6 win against the San Jose Sharks.

"You try to make sure when that time comes along that you've skated a lot, that you're at your best," he told Sportsnet. "Usually in early September you're thinking, 'OK, I can use training camp to get ready a bit too,' but that's not the case here. You have to make sure your game's at a high level when you get there.

"You're thrown into some important games in September. A lot of guys, myself included, haven't been in that situation. You have half a season to get ready for the Olympics. This is a new concept that we have to make sure we're ready for, so communication is important."

Some NHL players rehabbing from injury are aiming to play in the World Cup, including Team Canada left wing Jamie Benn, the Dallas Stars captain who had core muscle surgery on July 15.

"I feel pretty good," Benn said July 30. "I'm making progress. Much like last summer, these things take time. The hardest part is just trying not to do too much too early. We're sticking to the rehab program and working our way forward."

Also hoping to compete for Team Canada is Stars center Tyler Seguin, who is recovering from an Achilles and calf injury that forced him to miss 12 of Dallas' 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season.

"I don't know if many people know what to expect yet, or if even the players know what it's going to be like, but I'm putting expectations pretty high," Seguin said. "I think it's the best of the best and going to be a great tournament."

Video: Chatting with Patrick Kane

Team USA goalie Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning is coming back after a leg injury sustained in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It's going good," Bishop told ESPN on July 29 of his recovery. "The leg is feeling better and it's getting stronger every day. I'm getting ready to start skating soon ... and get back on the ice and doing that side of things. We have about a month until we go, so I'll start off slow and pick it up in the next month and be ready for training camp for the World Cup."

Team North America defenseman Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs said he's never worked this hard, this early in the offseason.

"Usually, I won't skate this much until September," Rielly said. "You are out there as much as you can be while trying to maintain strength and not break down your body, because starting earlier, that also means a longer season."

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