Hockey

Sports: The wait is almost over for NHL teams that missed playoffs

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NEWARK, NJ (AP) – Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils hadn’t had such a layoff in… ever?

More than 100 NHL players from New Jersey, Buffalo, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit have not played a meaningful hockey game since the league suspended play in early March due to the pandemic. Ten long months.

“I don’t think I’ve had, I guess, 10 months without a game my whole life,” said Hughes, 19, the top pick in the 2019 draft. “So obviously something new. But I mean, games are like riding a bicycle, you could say. If you are a hockey player, this is something that comes naturally.

It has been an eternity for Hughes and the others in a sport based on rhythm, repetition and teamwork, a boring stretch unimaginable for athletes whose lives have followed a schedule that has rarely changed in years.

As children, they played peewee hockey all day long. When the rink was not available, the pond was. The long journeys to the tournaments, the regular rhythm of training and practice. Mainly, there were games.

The games are finally returning for everyone with a compressed 56-game season starting this week. It will be a fresh start for the 24 teams that made the playoffs when play resumed on August 11. It will be something more than that for the other seven whose players have had weeks without hockey.

Hughes spent time in Michigan training with his brothers, Quinn of the Vancouver Canucks and Luke, one of the top junior prospects. He was spending five days a week at the gym and focusing on healthy eating to add 14 pounds to his 165-pound figure.

Jack Eichel of the Sabers has spent a lot of time reflecting on how fast his first five years in the NHL were. Kyle Palmieri of the Devils went back to his family’s farming roots and cultivated a garden (he said carrots needed more patience).

Other players took up hobbies or pumped iron, skated when they could and just let their bodies heal at a leisurely pace. Devils center Travis Zajac, 35, said he was feeling good about a week at camp.

What is uncertain is the performance of the teams returning from the break. Will they be cooler? A slow step?

“I think that’s the million dollar question that everyone is looking for,” said Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, who joined the league in 2009. “But at the end of the day, we don’t. a lot of choices. That’s what we’re going to have to do. I think we’re going to navigate it in the best way we think we know. “

Sabers defenseman Jake McCabe said the past 10 months have been like a prolonged “Groundhog Day” filled with uncertainties and concerns. There were also good times. He and his wife, Gaby, had a baby girl in April, so they got to watch her grow up together.

“She’s already eight months old, which reminds me of how deep into this pandemic we are,” McCabe said. “Now she can finally see what her dad does for work so it will be fun to get back on the ice. It’s really crazy how long it’s been.

During the break, the Kings sent five players to Germany and had some hopes playing in Sweden. With training camp now open, Kings coach Todd McLellan said the players were progressing to regain their hands, timing and awareness.

There haven’t been any preseason games, he noted, so picking a team will be a challenge.

“I hope we did our homework better than the other groups,” McLellan said.

The Red Wings can’t wait to get started. They had by far the worst record last season and general manager Steve Yzerman didn’t spend a lot of money in free agency to attract top talent. Detroit coach Jeff Blashill held …

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