EDINA — With summer fading into fall, a handful of Wild players, along with players from Iowa and Minnesotans on other NHL and AHL rosters, were back on the ice this week at Braemar Arena to prepare for the upcoming season.
With Labor Day now in the rearview mirror, the Wild opens the preseason in 19 days when it plays the Buffalo Sabres at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 26.
That fact wasn’t lost on Wild players, who have slowly been trickling back into town from their summer homes across various points in North America and beyond.
“It’s coming up quick,” said Wild forward Charlie Coyle. “The summer usually starts off slow and then Fourth of July comes and you get into skating and training, then August was just a blur. And now we’re here. Everyone is ready to go. It’s nice to see the guys and skate with them.”
For newcomer Eric Staal, getting on the ice with several of his new teammates affords him the opportunity to get at least a small feel for the skills they bring to the ice.
Staal skated the entire Wednesday session with Coyle and spent half the time also on the ice with Jason Zucker and Jason Pominville.
“You definitely get to know the type of players that they are skill-wise and [for] the plays you see and know they can make,” Staal said. “It’s different in a situation like this when there is not much body contact or physical battles in the corners. It’s nowhere near where it is at the NHL level, but it’s still competitive and you see some of the guys and skills they have.”
More than anything, players said these end-of-summer sessions are about shaking off a couple of months of rust and starting the process of getting their game legs back before training camp, which begins with physicals and weight testing on Sept. 22.
While guys have been on the ice during the offseason, much of that time is spent more on individual work and skill improvement.
Coyle said his focus during the summer was primarily on his skating while also working on ways to become a more consistent player in all areas of his game.
“Just the mentality to stay consistent, that’s what I have to do,” Coyle said. “Make sure I don’t have those little droughts that I had last season, not necessarily just points, but just me playing my game and doing it the right way.
“It’s kind of nice to go away and go home and kind of refresh the mind and get your mind right. I definitely did some of that.”
For goaltender Devan Dubnyk, it gives him a chance to ease back into seeing pucks again. Dubnyk also spent time over the summer honing the individual aspects of his position.
“In the summer, I did a lot of goalie-specific stuff and you come out here to try and get a feel for the pace,” Dubnyk said. “It’s always tough in summer hockey in 4-on-4. It’s not going to be the exact same, but you try and get used to the speed as much as you can. It continues to go up and up from here.”
Most players typically take at least a couple of weeks to rest and allow their bodies to heal after the end of the season before starting to ramp up activities in June.
Slowly, they build through the summer until now, when players are at their peak physical condition. Most will be on the ice a few times per week until a couple of days before camp begins when they will take some time off again before the season-long grind begins.
“It’s getting back into that routine of getting back on the ice every day and putting your skates on,” Staal said. “We’ve had some good workouts gearing up for the start of training camp. It’s good to be on the ice, feeling the hands, getting the legs going again. Everyone is excited for the year to start.”