Tuesday, July 14, 2020 / by Ken Couture
There was nothing that happened on the ice rink today that would indicate anything was out of the ordinary.
The Golden Knights took the ice at City National Arena, ran through their drills, joked, laughed, stretched and otherwise held what resembled a typical hockey practice.
That’s how they wanted it.
Three weeks from today, the Golden Knights will play their first meaningful game — a postseason matchup in Edmonton — since the NHL coronavirus pause. All games are being played in two hub cities — Edmonton and Toronto — in Canada.
Today was the opening of training camps and while things certainly weren’t normal, it started to trend that way for the first time in months.
“It’s good to get back here. It was a good first day,” forward Nick Cousins said. “Guys are excited. It felt like the first day of school.”
Players practiced for about 30 minutes, going through line rushes, zone entries and the like.
After a quick break to scrape the ice, they then took part in a live scrimmage.
For most players, it was a lot like normal September training camp, with one exception, as defenseman Deryk Engelland was happy to point out.
Players have been skating together for more than a month as part of small-group workouts, and knowing they are in shape eliminated the need for one of the more-dreaded parts of returning to training camp: Conditioning testing.
“We can step in and maybe work more on systems than getting back in shape, because we’ve been doing this for so long,” Engelland said.
Even the lineup looked similar.
William Karlsson centered a deadly line with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on the wings. Chandler Stephenson, Nicolas Roy and Alex Tuch formed an intriguing third line. All the defensive pairs looked identical as the last game of the season.
Only two of the 33 players on the roster were not present: forward Peyton Krebs, who is finishing a quarantine and is expected to participate Tuesday, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, whose absence was noteworthy, though coach Peter DeBoer said it was nothing to worry about.
“To put all speculation to bed, it was nothing to do with a positive (COVID-19) test or anything like that,” DeBoer said. “It was just a maintenance day. He’s been skating for almost five weeks now, and based on what I was just talking about, about getting our group healthy and there, he didn’t belong today. But he will be on as the week goes on.”
Zoom out from the ice, though, and City National Arena was a constant reminder that hockey happening right now is anything but normal.
Golden Knights staff members walked the premises wearing masks and gloves. The equipment manager was wearing what looked like a full-blown hazmat suit, complete with a face shield.
No fans were allowed in the facility, though several took their customary places outside the arena.
The team live-streamed practice, something it normally doesn’t do.
Members of the media were allowed to watch practice, with strict limitations. Just 19 were allowed in, all confined to numbered areas six feet apart. Those in attendance were required to wear masks at all times, affirm they felt healthy and submit to a temperature check.
Players did their normal post-practice interviews, but it was in front of a screen in the video room, while reporters watched via Zoom.
It’s going to be a long time until things are normal. They won’t be for the rest of training camp, nor when players report to their playoff hub cities on July 26. The fact a hub city even exists is proof enough of that.
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