TROY, Mich. – Todd Bertuzzi’s quirky premonition came true when he awoke to good news in the early, pre-dawn hours Sunday.
“My hamstrings tightened up, my back went and I knew something was going on,” Bertuzzi said, jokingly.
Bertuzzi, who was among some Red Wings participating in an informal skate at the Troy Sports Center on Monday morning, was referring to the marathon negotiating sessions over the weekend that resulted in the NHL and the players’ association reaching a tentative approval to a new collective bargaining agreement.
Bertuzzi was one of nine NHL players who took part in Monday’s skate, including Red Wings’ teammates Justin Abdelkader, Patrick Eaves, Cory Emmerton, Darren Helm, Mikael Samuelsson and Ian White.
Also joining the Wings were former Michigan State standout and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry and unrestricted free agent forward Sergei Samsonov.
While the league hasn’t announced the start date to the abbreviated season, or the number of games each team will play, the players on Monday were excited to know that they will be returning to work soon.
“It just makes coming down here more worthwhile now,” Bertuzzi said of the tentative deal. “I think it was getting more (like) ‘Groundhog Day’ coming down here and not sure what was going to go on. It’s just nice that it’s come to an ending and now we can focus on getting ready.”
According to some web site reports, once the CBA is ratified by the owners and players’ union, teams will begin training camps between Saturday and Monday with the hopes of launching a 48-game campaign on Jan. 19.
What is known is that preseason games are not part of this season’s formula, which is fine with veterans like Bertuzzi.
“We just had three months to prepare. Less is more,” he said. “All we need is to go back and learn our systems and get some work in that. I don’t even think exhibition games would benefit any of us; just informal practices and learning your structure, whether we have new things coming in, whether our PK changes or our power play changes. We do have new personnel too. I think more teams will benefit from that instead.”
The Troy rink has been the hockey home to many of the Wings’ players during the lockout that lasted 113 days, but White said that he’s beyond excited to return to Joe Louis Arena.
“It's very exciting. It's been a long time coming,” White told the Detroit area media who gathered at the suburban ice rink. “Guys are getting pretty sick of practicing like this. We're all itching big time for when it’s going to start.”
Bertuzzi added, “I’m just looking forward to getting down to The Joe, to get things going again; just something to look forward to. I’m looking forward to the crowd and all that kind of stuff, coming out of tunnel – that excitement again, shoot-outs, whatever, power plays in the last minute of the game that kind of stuff that we’ve missed.”
Those NHL players who left for jobs in European leagues during the lockout have begun their hastily returns to their NHL cities this week, including Wings forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Drew Miller, Jan Mursak and Damien Brunner.
“We can’t wait to see those guys,” Eaves said, “and hopefully we get to see them sooner than later in the week. It will be fun.”
The players know that it will be important for them, as well as the 30 teams, to reconnect with their fans, who have withstood three lengthy-lockouts since the 1994-95 season.
Though Eaves (concussion-like symptoms) likely won’t have medical clearance to return to action in time for the start to the season, he’s glad that at least part of the season was salvaged.
“It’s really important for our game and for the fans,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. We’ve got to get playing and get this game back on track.”
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