The calendar may still be stuck on August, but it is late in the month, which means September and Training Camp are looming. Those of course lead into October and Opening Night.
It’s early, but not too early for some members of the Nashville Predators to begin trickling back into town.
A handful of players have been skating informally at Centennial Sportsplex in preparation for Training Camp, which will begin on Sept. 17. Forwards Mike Fisher, Paul Gaustad and Gabriel Bourque, along with defenseman Seth Jones, are among the collection of Preds back on the ice in Nashville, bringing with them the familiar sights and sounds of pucks, sticks and skates that have been largely absent over the past few months.
While players like Fisher and Jones know the drill in Music City by now, some have just begun to find their way around town.
Defenseman Barret Jackman has been skating with a new logo on his chest for the first time in his NHL career over the past few days, a career which began during the 2001-02 season with the St. Louis Blues. The veteran blueliner signed a two-year deal with the Preds on July 1, bolstering what is already an elite defensive corps.
Jackman knows what to do to prepare for an NHL season, but the surroundings are a tad different this time around.
“I feel like a rookie again coming in and not knowing anybody on a new team,” Jackman said. “I’m trying to get the lay of the land, but it’s been fun and rejuvenating. It’s good to be back on the ice.
“To go from being very familiar and maybe helping other guys out, to being the guy that needs to be held by the hand and shown everything, it’s something new. It’s also fun. Getting to see a new city and be around some new guys, I’m just kind of getting back to feeling like a kid again.”
Forward Cody Hodgson, also a new face on the club, isn’t all that unfamiliar with Nashville. His sister is a student at Belmont University, and Hodgson even took her to a Preds postseason game at Bridgestone Arena last April. Looking for a fresh start, the 10th overall selection in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft likes what he’s seen thus far.
“It’s just a good group of people here,” Hodgson said. “Clearly it’s a good team, but the guys in the organization are really great, from the coaching staff, management, strength and conditioning and trainers. I’m looking forward to a great year with these guys.”
It’s not just the newcomers who are excited to be in town. Bourque, a restricted free agent at the end of the 2014-15 season who expressed a desire to remain in Nashville, inked a one-year deal in July to stick with the Preds.
“I’m pretty excited to be back,” Bourque said. “I think the team just got better this summer. I worked hard all summer, I’m ready for the camp and ready for a good start to the year.”
For a Predators team that saw their offseason come earlier than was hoped for, the thought of the exit lingered a bit with Bourque, but in a good way.
“There were a lot of positives we can take from the playoffs,” Bourque said. “Myself and the team, we don’t focus on the bad things, but the good things we did and then try to get better every year.”
The days continue to pass, and the Predators, returnees and fresh faces alike, will get their chance to improve in the coming months. Besides, it’ll be April soon enough.
“We know we can do it,” Bourque said of achieving success in 2015-16. “We did last year and the team didn’t change a lot. I think we just got better, so we’ve got a good mindset and we’re excited to get ready for the season.”