TAMPA — Kevin Shattenkirk is about five weeks ahead of schedule. Usually, it’s mid-July when the Lightning defenseman “dusts off the hockey bag” and gets on the ice with a few other players.
He did that on Tuesday, skating for the first time since March 10, as the NHL opened Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan with small group sessions. So Shattenkirk is both five weeks ahead of schedule and about three months behind.
Shattenkirk called the workout at Amalie Arena something he and his teammates have been waiting for during a video conference following his on-ice session.
“It feels like summer, like offseason,” he said. “Obviously the challenge with so few guys is getting meaningful skates and getting something out of it.”
These sessions are like mini-captain’s practices right now. Shattenkirk skated in a group with Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Mikhail Sergachev.
The skaters did a lot of fast-paced speed drills with some stickhandling and shooting.
Having a goalie in the group gave skaters a few more options. Vasilevskiy started on his own while skaters warmed up. They did some drills featuring tight turning, receiving passes, shooting on a shooter tutor (a piece in front of the net roughly the shape of a goalie) — “which always makes you feel a little bit better about yourself,” Shattenkirk said — and finished with a little two-on-two.
“It was very light,” Shattenkirk said. “As starved as they are for info, I don’t think anyone would have been leaving thinking we were doing anything groundbreaking.”
As much as everyone was happy to be back at the rink and doing something that feels routine, it wasn’t a normal day.
Like other players, Shattenkirk had to submit his temperature and any COVID-19 symptoms to head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan. Once he got to the rink, there was another temperature check. Players are supposed to keep masks on at all times except when working out and to stay six feet apart.
“Obviously once you get there, you realize you’re missing a few guys and that brings you back to the current situation,” Shattenkirk said. “For the most part, it was nice to get out and have that experience with some teammates and get to see some guys you haven’t seen in a while.”
They have a three-hour block for their group of six players, which Shattenkirk called plenty of time. He figures the first week will focus on getting their stamina back. After that, they might specialize in different areas.
“As players, we can kind of say, ‘alright, today I want to do some things to work on defensive skills versus forward skills,’” Shattenkirk said. “That certainly will help keep the skates at a reasonable pace and intensity.”
No one is sure exactly how long this will go. Players are probably looking at five or six weeks of skating on their own and then about three weeks of training camp, but the plan is still in development. The league and players association have not yet agreed to definitely resume play this season.
But for now, players like Shattenkirk are happy to be back on the ice, something that he joked feels more natural to him than walking.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.