Its been a quiet, too quiet, four months. For hockey players who didnt go overseas, its been a lot of skating, drills and just-stay-in-shape work.
But the quiet is about to be shattered. Because starting Jan. 19 most likely the NHL is back in business. And itll be a fast, frenzied, 48-game schedule business. With this brief post-lockout schedule, there is no time to adjust and no time to work out wrinkles. The action is going to be intense, as will the competition to get into the postseason.
Im pretty sure now you cant take a night off. You have to be steady every game, Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland said Monday. Its going to be the team that gets out of the gates quick thatll be on top.
Indeed, theres no room for a rough start. If the season was an hourglass, its already half empty. If a team lags behind early, its not going to be easy catching up to the pack.
Its a long playoff run for everybody. Its going to be right from the get-go, Brian Campbell said. The playoff picture after 48 games last year would probably look a lot different than it does at the end of the season. Its definitely important to get off to a good start.
On the bright side, its not very often players enter the January part of the schedule rested and energized. Theyll be dying to play again. But theres a flip side: a shorter training camp means greater potential for injuries. Players have said theyre fine with the shortened schedule, although its still going to take time to get up and running.
Timings important, Marian Hossa said. Weve had some pretty good skates, good workouts. I dont think itll be a huge issue but timings going to take a little bit.
From a fans perspective, the intrigue will start early. Think of it as catching hockey in mid-season, because thats basically what its going to be. Pressure will be there immediately, but so will the energy. Yes, it may not be the prettiest product in those first few games. But it wont take long before its back to good hockey.
And soon after that, the race is on.
Its going to be a sprint to get to the playoffs, Jamal Mayers said. Its going to produce better hockey and its going to be intense and exciting.