Yanni Gourde bellowed, “Wakey! Wakey!”, during his group’s practice on Wednesday morning at Amalie Arena. It was a playful chirp, one that even Coach Jon Copper recited during the first practice of the day, but it’s one that has a deeper meaning considering the situation that the NHL and its players find themselves in. Normally, at this time of year, players are enjoying summer vacations with their families.
However, given the COVID-19 pandemic that has rocked the United States, everything is severely altered. Before any of these players know it, they’ll be thrust into a playoff atmosphere and there won’t be any time to “wake up”. If they’re not ready, they’re toast. “It’s gonna be interesting,” said Ryan McDonagh when asked how the increase in intensity at practice will affect the team moving forward, “You don’t have many games to get ramped up [for the playoffs].”
Day Three Underway
Yanni Gourde is in a good mood, haha. Screaming out “Wakey! Wakey!” with a big smile on his face. Cooper joins in with the call as they transition to another drill. (I missed getting the chirp on video) #TBLightning #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/yLEvZCyOmX— Matthew Esteves (@mattestevesSBN) July 15, 2020
The heightened tempo from yesterday was still present today as Cooper had his players going from drill to drill with little downtime. They did, however, swap the groups around. Instead of group one going first, it was group two. There were no changes to the players in either group and all players were accounted for (in the groups).
There won’t be an inundation of drill videos today, just the ones I found interesting. Cooper took a more hands on approach today compared to the past two days where the assistants were the driving force.
Practice then shifted into board drills to force players to dig the puck free from defenders and eventually into breaking out of the defensive zone. Afterward, it was time for the scrimmage against group one and group two.
This was an evenly matched ‘game’ (for lack of a better term). Group one was in blue and group two in white. With how much time these players had off this was a surprisingly tightly contested affair that saw a quick pace and tight spacing. “I thought it was pretty good,” McDonagh said about the team’s first scrimmage of camp, “I think the thing I was impressed with is it wasn’t too sloppy. We stress a lot of structure and being in the right spots, and taking care of the puck when it’s on our sticks. For the first day that was encouraging.”
The scrimmage ended up in group one’s favor as they won 2-0 (one goal was an empty net). Ondrej Palat broke the scoreless tie with less than a minute left in the second period.
It’s no surprise that the Lightning coaching staff planned a scrimmage just three days in. McDonagh elaborated on that, “It’s one thing to practice drills and have a lot of time and space. It’s another to be in a game situation where you don’t have as much time.”
Time is key, both in a game sense and in reality. We’re halfway through July and August 3rd is not far away. These games will be here in a flash and it’s up to the Lightning players and coaches to utilize what little time they have to prepare for a huge change in pace. However, I get the feeling the Lightning aren’t worrying too much about the change, they’re focused on the task at hand, “It’s new for everybody,” said Ondrej Palat, “We all have to adjust. It’s not a big deal for us.”
“I was really happy with today,” said Cooper after practice. He’s had a very cheerful demeanor over these first three days. Aside from being happy to be back, there appears to be a genuine joy coming from the head coach so far. That enthusiasm has been seen on the ice and with the media.
No Stamkos on Day Three
The past two days have seen Steven Stamkos conduct an individual skate in between the two group’s practice sessions. Today, the in between the two sessions was the scrimmage and there was no sign of Stamkos. I’m assuming he was given the day off.
The Lightning have a scheduled day off tomorrow and then they’re back at it on Friday at 11 am. I’ll be there, so, hopefully we’ll see if Stamkos moves into group sessions or is still doing individual sessions.