That familiar anxious feeling is building inside Craig Hartsburg once again.
The sense everyone in the National Hockey League gets as the calendar flips into September and the realization becomes clear.
Training camp – and another season – is right around the corner.
“Once you get this close, the days don’t go by fast enough,” Hartsburg said as he contemplated his first season behind the Senators bench. “You’re ready to get started. But we’ve had a good summer of trying to prepare ourselves as coaches with a good plan and in the last week or so we’ve been fine-tuning it.
“Now it’s not that far away and we’re excited about it.”
Hartsburg’s first Senators team begins to take shape next week. Players arrive at Scotiabank Place on Tuesday for medicals and fitness testing. Then they hit the ice the following day to begin working toward the Oct. 4 and 5 season-openers against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm as part of the NHL Premiere series in Europe.
When the Senators assemble for training camp, they’ll bring a group filled with a number of new faces. Most notably, defencemen Jason Smith and Brendan Bell, forwards Jarkko Ruutu and Brad Isbister, and goaltender Alex Auld
were all brought on board as free agents during the summer months. A trade (with Tampa Bay) brought blueliners Filip Kuba
and Alexandre Picard into the mix. Young prospects Nick Foligno
, Cody Bass, Jesse Winchester
and Brian Lee are all given serious shots at making the roster.
It’s Hartsburg’s job to blend the new with the returning veterans in short order and get them all on board with the attacking style of hockey he likes his teams to play.
“It’s a process,” said the former Minnesota North Stars defenceman. “The players have worked hard all summer to get their bodies in shape to get ready for this training camp. The next step now is we’re going to learn about each other.
“They’ll know very early what (the coaches) expect and what we want, and then it’s a process of getting everybody on that same page. We want to have everybody in, that all-in mentality, and then do whatever it takes to be a good team.”
Senators players will also get familiar rather quickly with a favourite word in Hartsburg’s vocabulary: accountability.
“Some people, when they hear that word, they think ‘Oh boy, what’s going to happen?’ ” said Hartsburg, whose reputation as a strict disciplinarian is well earned. “It’s about correcting things and making things right. For me, the biggest thing is people playing for each other and playing for the team.
“Certainly, we want things done right on a daily basis in that area, and in their practice habits and the way they prepare themselves to play. We’ve got a coaching staff (including assistants Curtis Hunt and Greg Carvel) that wants to work together to make sure things are done right. There’s going to be some bumps in the road as we go but if we focus in that area and on doing the right things and being a team, we’ll be fine.”
A year ago, the Senators bolted out to a record-breaking 15-2-0 start but faded badly down the stretch and were quickly eliminated by the Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. While Hartsburg wants a good start again this season, he’s more concerned about a better finish.
“We certainly know it’s a long season,” he said. “We’ve got some new players in the group and a new coaching staff. The quicker we can really work to get everybody all-in is going to be important. But it is a process and it’s a long year.
“At the end of the year, it’s important that we’re playing our best hockey. Not to say that we don’t want to be great early. We’re going to play and coach to win every hockey game – that’s what we’re here for. We do still have to look at it as a process that we’re going to build this thing.”