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Brett Connolly 'understands' Lightning camp exclusion

SMILE FOR THE CAMERA: Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier takes his turn during photo shoots on the first day of training camp.

DIRK SHADD | Times

SMILE FOR THE CAMERA: Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier takes his turn during photo shoots on the first day of training camp.

TAMPA — Brett Connolly appreciated Lightning GM Steve Yzerman being so positive in their Saturday conversation.

"It softened the blow a little bit," the Syracuse right wing said.

But it did not eliminate the sting of being left out of Tampa Bay's training camp. "I understand this is all for the right reasons," Connolly said Sunday. "But for right now, it's disappointing."

Connolly's absence was the biggest news on the first day of camp. The No. 6 overall pick of the 2010 draft played all of last season with the big club.

He struggled, with four goals and 15 points in 68 games and did not score in his final 50 games. But he worked during the summer with trainer Gary Roberts, who also trains Steven Stamkos, and for AHL Syracuse this season he has 15 goals and 33 points in 36 games. He is stronger, Yzerman said, carrying the puck with confidence and scoring from in front of the net.

That is why Yzerman said Connolly, 20, "is not in jail. … I'm very pleased with his development. He's going to be a good player for us. We just felt at this time for our needs in Tampa, the role that he would play here, he's better off playing there."

Stamkos also sent Connolly a text message: "I told him to try to not let this bother you. Keep having a great year. Keep lighting it up down there, so when we do need you and we call you up, you have the same mentality."

"I'm going to use this as motivation," Connolly said. "I want to be a go-to guy in the NHL. Once my time comes, I'll be a different player coming into camp. I'll be more ready to jump into that role."

RESPECTS: Thirteen Lightning players — including Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Ryan Malone — will attend today's funeral in Cambridge, Mass., for Katie Moore, wife of former Lightning player Dominic Moore, who died of liver cancer on Jan. 7. "It will be good to give (Dominic) a hug and let him know we support him," Malone said. The players will fly on owner Jeff Vinik's plane. To accommodate their trip, today's practice at Germain Arena in Estero is at 6:15 p.m.

APOLOGIES: As confident as Vinik is that the new collective bargaining agreement will help Tampa Bay financially, he said of the lockout, "Players and owners agree the process was unfortunate and not in anybody's best interest and hurt our game."

"Hopefully, our fans stick with us," he said. "I can understand if they're frustrated and disappointed." The "prize," Vinik said, is the length of the deal. "We have a 10-year agreement, so (fans) know that for another decade they don't have to endure another situation like this."

FAN FEST: The Lightning said about 5,500 attended the event at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. St. Louis said that proved the healing process from the lockout has started. "It was flattering to see the amount of people here hungry to see some hockey," he said. "I can't express how terrible we feel for what went on, but some things are worth fighting for for the better of the game."

TICKETS: Single-game tickets are on sale at 10 a.m. today at the Tampa Bay Times Forum box office, via Ticketmaster (outlets, ticketmaster.com, toll-free 1-800-745-3000) and by calling (813) 301-6600. Ticketmaster fees will be waived today only.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There is no reason we can't be the Green Bay Packers of the NHL." — Vinik.

ODDS AND ENDS: Yzerman said he does not expect to make any moves before the season's start. A couple of roster openings will be filled from within the organization. … Last season's final cut, Cory Conacher, will start camp on left wing with Lecavalier and RW Teddy Purcell.

Brett Connolly 'understands' Lightning camp exclusion 01/13/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 12:17am]

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