Photo by John Russell
Chris Mason: "We have to be urgent because we're fighting for position."
When there's a two-and-a-half-week break in a hockey season, the logical question is how players will respond when the schedule resumes. Will there be rust to be shaken off, or will the down time lead to well-rested players ready for the stretch drive? Obviously the five Predators who participated in the Olympic Games didn't get a break, but for the rest of the team the answer varies from one individual to the next.
"For me, I like skating every day and practicing every day, so I would have rather been able to have the option of having ice," said goaltender Chris Mason, who is likely to start tonight's game against the Chicago Blackhawks. "Some guys that play a lot, like [Steve Sullivan], Paul [Kariya], and those guys that log a lot of minutes, it's good for those guys to let their bodies heal and get refocused for the last 24 games."
Some players, like Mason, did nothing hockey-related for the week-and-a-half before practice resumed, while others like Smithson participated in a few team-prescribed activities during their vacation.
"They put a weight program together and we did some lifting and some biking," Smithson said. "I actually went out once with some friends in sweatpants and just kind of played some shinny hockey, but that was about it. We just kind of stayed away from the rink and just kind of rested the bodies and kind of recharged."
From Smithson's perspective, the positives of the break outweighed any negatives. "There are a lot of guys that had a bunch of bumps and bruises and got a chance to rest their body," he said. "We've got a lot of games coming up here in not many nights, so it's definitely [a situation where] the first few days on the ice you work out some of the kinks. It's been a while since some of the guys have been out on the ice, but...I think the guys feel good now. We've had a good week of practice and guys are itching to get back at it."
But is a week of practice enough to recapture the urgency and intensity that the team was experiencing before the NHL temporarily shut down in mid-February?
"We can look at the standings and we have to be urgent because we're fighting for position," Mason said. "We've got a lot of games on the road. It's tough to say [if the practices are enough]. I think once we start playing we'll be OK. But I guess we'll see [tonight] and [tomorrow against Vancouver]."