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Lightning star Lecavalier rounding into form quickly

Vinny Lecavalier, who had surgery April 15 on a torn labrum in his right shoulder, says he’ll be ready for the season opener.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2007)

Vinny Lecavalier, who had surgery April 15 on a torn labrum in his right shoulder, says he’ll be ready for the season opener.

Vinny Lecavalier admitted his rehab from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder has been painful and difficult.

It was disappointing, too, when he skated for the first time, tried to shoot a puck and thought, "Oh, my God, I'm not feeling right."

But six sessions on the ice later, the Lightning's superstar center is feeling so good, he said of the Oct. 4 season opener against the Rangers: "I'm sure I'll be ready."

"With shoulders like this, every time you do something for the first time, it feels terrible," Lecavalier said by phone from his native Montreal. "It doesn't feel like where you want to be. But the second time, it's way better. It's like the first time I did a push-up four weeks ago; oh, my god. And the next day I could have done 10. You build your shoulder and confidence."

The key is getting clearance for contact.

Lecavalier said he was told that could happen after five months of recovery. The Lightning opens training camp at the St. Pete Times Forum on Sept. 16, five months after Lecavalier's April 15 surgery for a torn glenoid labrum sustained April 3 on a questionable hit by the Capitals' Matt Cooke that also separated Lecavalier's shoulder.

"Once they tell me I'm ready, then it's just to build your confidence about not getting hurt again," he said. "I know it won't dislocate like that, but you have to be careful."

Still, Lecavalier, 28, who recently signed an 11-year, $85-million contract extension, said he is "excited" by his progress.

"Not being able to shoot like I normally can was disappointing," he said of his first workout on skates. "But after five or six times, I'm not 100 percent, but it's getting better, and my shots are getting better."

Training camp: Forty-three players will be at the Times Forum, which hosts camp for the first time. That ends an eight-year run at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon and creates the possibility camp could be moved permanently.

"If it's a success," coach Barry Melrose said, "you'd be crazy not to do it again."

Practicing at home certainly will be easier on the equipment guys, who otherwise would scramble to haul gear between Brandon and Tampa on consecutive game days. And a 3,000-square-foot expansion to the Times Forum weight room made it one of the league's best.

Melrose said he pushed for the change.

"You've got the hotels right close to the arena; you don't have to worry about buses in the morning to take the guys to practice; they can walk," he said. "The dressing rooms are much superior to the practice facility. It's just a first-class way to have training camp."

But is it permanent? Team spokesman Bill Wickett said no decisions have been made. The Ice Sports Forum has four years left on a contract to be the alternative practice site.

"It's fair to say the new ownership and management will evaluate the year's camp before making any decisions for the future," he said.

Camp in a hurry: Melrose said almost all roster spots will be determined by Sept. 24, when the team heads to New York for a preseason game against the Rangers and then leaves for Europe. The trip ends in Prague with regular season games Oct. 4 and 5 against the Rangers.

"All the guys will go to New York we're taking to Europe," Melrose said. "There might be two or three other guys we're giving one more look to in New York. But by the time we go to Prague, we're basically going to have our team picked."

Camp schedule: The first day on the ice is Sept. 17. Practices are free and open to the public Sept. 17-19 and during FanFest on Sept. 21 only.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Lightning star Lecavalier rounding into form quickly 08/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 7:28pm]

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