Nashville Predators goaltender Chris Mason ran around his house Sunday morning, jumping up and down, upon learning the news that the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement to end the lockout. Many players, coaches and fans around the world joined Mason in celebrating the news, which broke around 4:30 AM in Nashville.
“My excitement level is through the roof,” Mason said. “Being back here with the guys, knowing we’ll be playing again soon – it’s awesome. I’m so excited.”
Predators head coach Barry Trotz learned of Sunday morning’s news when he got a phone call from his general manager.
“I was just putting my jacket on to go out the door for church and David Poile phoned me,” Trotz said. “When David phones me on a Sunday morning when I’m on my way to church, I knew it was good news.”
Less than two weeks after a joyous morning in the hockey world, the NHL will start its shortened season on Jan. 19. The quick turnaround gives players and coaches little time to get into game mode and game shape. A six-day training camp begins Sunday, with on-ice practices starting Monday.
Predators players have moved back to Centennial Sportsplex, their regular practice facility, after spending the last three-plus months skating in Franklin. They admit they are treating this week like training camp, even though they can’t work with the coaching staff.
“The guys have been ramping it up and the more guys we get back [in town], the more intense it will get because we’re only going 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 with only a few subs, so the play goes down in quality as it goes,” defenseman Kevin Klein said.
“It’s no different than [before] training camp after a long summer and guys are starting to get back and filter in. It’s that same feeling, same excitement,” Trotz added. “You can see they are getting ready for something special.”
Teams usually have three weeks and a preseason slate of games to prepare for a season. This season, though, training camp will come and go in five days as the start of a 48-game season awaits next Saturday.
“It’s going to be wild and crazy. I was around when they had the 48 games the first time [in 1994-95]. It’s going to be so unpredictable. It’s going to be a wild ride,” said Trotz of his expectations for the shortened season. “The intensity and focus of every team will be really strong. At the same time I think it’s a test of character, a test of will, a test of detail.”
Trotz was the head coach of the AHL’s Portland Pirates during the 1994-95 season, so this is his first experience going through a lockout-shortened season. He said he and his staff have been preparing all fall and winter for how to enter a season like this, putting together a plan for training camp.
“We started out being ready for a 21-day training camp, then we looked at it when talks were getting more positive and we reevaluated everything from what we [would be] showing the players to what we would do on the ice,” said Trotz.
“You’re going to have to coach and manage your team a little bit off the seat of your pants because you’re going to have to read your team, you’re going to need good communication with your leadership group and let them tell you where they are in terms of mindset, where they are physically.”
The league-wide 48-game schedule is expected to be released this weekend once the CBA is officially ratified by both the NHL and NHLPA.