Ever since the NHL lockout began on Sept. 15, players around the league have been unable to use team facilities. Some NHLers have gone over to Europe to play; others have stayed in North America with hopes of the lockout ending sooner rather than later. A group of Nashville Predators fit into the latter category and have been participating in on-ice workouts at A-Game Sportsplex in Cool Springs.
Even though this is now the seventh week of the workouts, the players say they aren’t getting stale or boring – not yet at least.
“There’s nothing like playing games,” Mason said. “The guys are really working hard and trying to stay positive, so it’s great that we have a great group of guys here.”
The usual group of Predators at A-Game features Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill, Matt Halischuk, Kevin Klein, Chris Mason, Nick Spaling and Shea Weber. Other teammates had been joining them earlier this month, but have since returned home due to the prolonged lockout.
No matter who shows up to the rink on a given day, the players keep the workouts fun by mixing up drills and ending the practice session with a three-on-three scrimmage with both nets on one end of the ice. The scrimmages can be quite competitive, especially since the losing team sometimes has to pay for lunch. Two skating coaches, Shawn Allard and Tim McAllister, have occasionally been brought in to keep the intensity up in drills.
“This is part of the process,” said Gaustad. “We have to stay sharp and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing that. We do new drills to try to keep things fresh. It’s really good to have [the skating coaches]. We want a coach out there to push us through a little bit quicker.”
The workouts, which take place four times a week, have not been exclusive to just Predators players. Local netminders have filled in as volunteers so Mason isn’t the only goalie on the ice. Former Predators have also stopped by over the last month and a half. But the most notable non-Predator to participate in the workouts is 34-year-old J.P. Dumont.
After five seasons in Nashville, the Predators cut ties with Dumont in the summer of 2011 as his role decreased. Dumont played in Switzerland during the 2011-12 season, but does not plan on going overseas anytime soon.
“My kids are still in school and if I were to leave right now… I’m definitely not leaving alone because it was too hard last year,” said Dumont, who still lives in the Nashville area. He collected 31 points in 31 games with Bern last season. “I was gone for six months and that was really hard. I was on Skype four or five times a day [with my family], but it’s not the same thing.
“I was lucky enough to go to Switzerland where everybody speaks English or French. It is a beautiful country and has really good hockey. … If I could have brought my kids it would have been better. I have no regrets and had fun, but I will not do it again.”
Dumont mentioned that he is waiting out the lockout for an opportunity to again play in the NHL. He’s in an unfavorable situation, though, even if NHL games are played this season. Training camps would be condensed and veterans without contracts may not get looks from other NHL teams.
So is retirement a possibility?
“Not right now – I’m having fun with the guys. Maybe when the season gets cancelled and everybody goes back home, that might be different,” he said.
If the season does get cancelled – the Winter Classic is expected to be axed this week, which would be a troubling sign for the 2012-13 season – more players, including some Predators, could go over to Europe. Erat, Gaustad and Halischuk have given some thought to Europe, but aren’t seriously considering it yet. Weber just doesn’t want to think about it.
“If that’s what it comes to, maybe I’d have to consider [Europe],” Weber said. “Right now I’m still hoping that something can get done over here and I can avoid that situation of playing [overseas].”