The deal went into effect immediately and preserved an abbreviated 48 game schedule that will commence this weekend. As players assembled for their respective teams scattered across two countries, time permitted only a shortened training camp, allowing less than a week of practice to prepare for the forthcoming campaign.
For the Lightning, the task is challenging, since the team missed the Stanley Cup playoffs last year. With hopes of getting back to the post-season, the Bolts held their first practice on Sunday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, their newly-renovated home arena in Tampa.
The initial skate was open to the public and hockey fans eagerly greeted the boys of winter. Rather than continuing at the Forum, or moving to the team's regular facility in nearby Brandon, Coach Guy Boucher decided upon a road trip, hoping to foster camaraderie among the 30 invited players and competition for the final roster spots.
Borrowing a 7,500 seat facility normally used by the Bolts' minor league affiliate, the Florida Everblades of the ECHL, the club held its first practice in Estero on Monday evening. The 2 1/2 hour session was viewed by approximately 300 fans. An abundance of reporters, most of whom made the short 90 minute drive on Interstate 75, additionally covered the event.
With the team staying at a beach-side hotel in plush Naples, additional sessions were held at Germain Arena on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. A final practice is scheduled for Thursday at 10:00 a.m., before the club returns home.
Each workout has begun with an hour of drills that includes shooting, skating, diagramming of plays, stretching, and other challenges designed to prepare for the grueling season. A particular highlight has been seeing players stop on a dime to perform push-ups on the ice by using their sticks for leverage.
Following a break to resurface the ice, each practice concluded with 45 minutes of intra-squad scrimmaging between blue and white shirted teams. With limited contact, and only a pair of linesmen to handle face-offs, the simulated games have presented competitive, open-ice hockey.
With onlookers often donning preferred Tampa Bay jerseys, fans have observed the abilities of players such as last year's scoring champion Steven Stamkos, longtime captain Vinny Lecavalier, undersized leader Martin St. Louis, and new goalie Anders Lindback.
A final benefit of the local practices has been ready access to the team. The Bolts have gracefully signed numerous autographs for visitors and fans can observe an array of up-close activities from nearly anywhere in the building. Witnessing youngsters excitedly bumping gloves with players, as they enter and exit the ice, has helped restore substantial faith in a beloved, but damaged, sport.
As the Everblades begin a week-long road trip, the Germain Arena open practices have largely compensated for a canceled NHL exhibition game in September. The Lightning will hold a final practice in Tampa on Friday and begin the season at home the following night with a meeting with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
Be sure to view the Photo Gallery above for a look at the highlights of Lightning training camp.