Senators players anxious for training camp to start

“Unfortunately, with something like this, it’s going to pretty much be doom and gloom until a deal gets done. I don’t think there’s going to be a build up, like ‘things are going really well’. One day, we’re going to wake up and it will be over, I think. That’s how it happened last time.” — Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza, Sept. 14, 2012.

“Unfortunately, with something like this, it’s going to pretty much be doom and gloom until a deal gets done. I don’t think there’s going to be a build up, like ‘things are going really well’. One day, we’re going to wake up and it will be over, I think. That’s how it happened last time.” — Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza, Sept. 14, 2012

Four months ago, Jason Spezza couldn’t predict when, exactly, hockey’s Cold War would end, but he did have a pretty clear picture of how the nastiness between NHL owners and players would finally stop.

The last push to the finish line from Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr came in the wee hours of Sunday morning, with all but those directly involved asleep, perhaps dreaming that the nightmare would soon be over.

“Well, I was starting to lose a little bit of hope,” acknowledged Marc Methot, the Ottawa born defenceman who will finally get a chance to wear Senators colours. “Then I woke up to pretty good news.”

With the deadline for salvaging or cancelling the season fast approaching, Methot was regularly checking for updates on Saturday.

“I was like a lot of people, I guess, and I realized that the meetings were going so late into the night,” he said. “I woke up once in the middle of the night to check and I saw that they were still talking. I guess that spoke volumes. Any time a meeting goes until 5 o’clock, you’ve got to think something’s happening.”

Technically, the deal is still tentative, pending a player vote and approval by league board of governors and there’s still uncertainty about whether the campaign will be 48 or 50 games and whether the schedule will begin Jan. 15 or Jan. 19. Suddenly, though, players must get their heads around the fact there will be a quick training camp before games are played for real again.

“I heard a couple of players being interviewed on TV and there are some different emotions,” Methot said. “You hope you’re in the best possible shape, but it’s a weird situation. Some guys have been in Europe, some guys have played close to 40 competitive games and some of us have played zero. We’ve got to work with the staff during training camp, hopefully it won’t take that long to get (in game shape).”

It has been 11 months since Methot played his last NHL game. He broke his jaw when hit with a slapshot last Feb. 8, but he did return to play for Canada at the world championships in May. “It has been a long time for all of us,” he said. “I am a bit nervous.”

It’s still uncertain when training camps will officially open, but the Senators players who are in Ottawa are expected to continue their informal workouts, with renewed urgency, on Monday. The remainder of the players will make their way back here asap, waiting for word on when they are allowed back into Scotiaback Place.

The Senators have yet to announce how many players would be recalled from Binghamton for a scaled down training camp, but Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero said Sunday that the Penguins would likely have between 24 and 26 players. Teams can carry a maximum roster of 23 players once the season begins.

“I’m excited to be back, we were in some crappy circumstances before,” said rugged winger Chris Neil. “I’ve always been optimistic something would get done. As players we didn’t want to miss any games and it has been unfortunate for the fans. (The NHL and NHLPA) just needed a drop dead deadline to get the serious negotiating going, to sit down and pound it out and when I woke up (Sunday) morning, I saw that I would be going back to work. That’s where I want to be.”

Like Methot, Neil stayed in Ottawa for most of the lockout. While he has played in low-key charity games in Cornwall, Kemptville and in the Northwest Territories and Yukon in November, he hasn’t seen any spirited competition since last spring, when the New York Rangers eliminated the Senators from the playoffs.

Neil, however, isn’t overly concerned that some players might have a head start due to their European experiences.

“It will the same throughout the whole league,” Neil said. “There are probably 500 guys who haven’t been playing anywhere, other than just playing pick-up, and we’ve all been trying to stay in shape the best way we can and (in Europe), it’s a different style of hockey. It might take a week or two to get back into game shape, where those guys might have it now. “Your body adapts to it. You teach your body over the years how to play 82 games and now we’re going to be playing 48 or 50, whatever it ends up being.”

For the record, Spezza (Switzerland), Erik Karlsson (Finland), Kyle Turris (Finland), Sergei Gonchar (Russia), Milan Michalek (Czech Republic), Kaspars Daugavins (Russia), Colin Greening (Denmark), Zack Smith (Denmark), Erik Condra (Germany) and Peter Regin (Switzerland) all played overseas during the lockout.

Fans should expect injuries. Some players will likely report to training camps with previously undiagnosed ailments and coaches must be careful not to push players too hard, at the risk of them suffering groins or hamstring muscles.

When the schedule is released later this week, it will be slightly condensed from normal, with many games on consecutive nights and more stretches of three games in four nights. The Binghamton to Ottawa shuttle could be busy. Neil, stealing a possible line from general manager Bryan Murray, says the situation could open the door for young Binghamton players such as Mark Borowiecki, Patrick Wiercioch and Jakob Silfverberg to play. Veteran defenceman Andre Benoit, Binghamton’s captain, is also having a strong season.

“It’s an opportunity to see some of the guys the team has drafted,” Neil said.

Most fans just want to see NHL hockey. Period.

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