The opening day of training camp is usually a cause of celebration for die-hard hockey fans, with those that support the Tampa Bay Lightning descending upon Brandon and the Ice Sports Forum, wedging themselves into small bleachers and the small spaces between coin-operated game cabinets to get a first glimpse of their returning heroes.
This year, in the first of what is sure to be a series of deviations from how things are "normally" done, the event was held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, in an arena full of seats beneath a humongous new scoreboard. "The reality is what we needed to do today is not necessarily the most exciting thing for the fans", said Lightning head coach Guy Boucher. "The original practice didn't have any shootouts but I felt bad so we threw those in."
Probably the biggest difference in this camp is the combination of a smaller roster and less time to do all the things that normally take place during camp.
"I'm not going to kid myself. It takes three weeks to a month, to really put things on the ice with the system being executed consistently", said Boucher. "Game shape and chemistry are the two things we're going to work on this week."
Chemistry. In a season that will see no more than eight days between home games, there are no long road trips that teams usually relish (especially early in the year) as an opportunity for the players to get to know one another and bond without outside distractions.That's why the Bolts will move their training camp operation to Germain Arena in Estero, near Fort Myers, home of the Florida Everblades, the Lightning's minor league affiliate in the ECHL
Boucher says, "when you're at home it's everything. There's your family and friends and a million distractions. On the road, it's just the people you have to work with and the ones you're going to count on to help each other through adversity, because there is going to be some. There always is, and the only way you work through that is by being accountable to each other. It's vitally important that a team learns that lesson and quickly."
The team will return to Tampa on Friday for another practice at the Forum that will be open to fans.
With the sudden burst of activity that began this weekend, players are going to have to adapt very quickly to what will be a relatively hectic pace from now until the end of the season. "I feel like it's been business as usual since our first meeting with coach before we even got started on the ice," said forward Nate Thompson. "You don't have a lot of time to feel it all out. You just have to jump right into it and that's what we're doing. It's going to be interesting."