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NHL training camp opens with players and coaches ‘excited’ to see more teams and fans return to normal in 2021-22

NEWARK, NJ – Normality. It’s something we all crave these days.

As a number of Devils players walked into the press room in the bowels of the Prudential Center on Wednesday morning, the first day of training camp for the 2021-2022 season, they noted how normal it all felt. .

They were back at the rink as the weather changed from a sweltering summer day to a chilly day on the official first day of fall. They were back preparing for a full roster with packed houses and trips to distant ice rinks in places like California and Canada. And they were back in front of the media to chat face to face with no computer screen or Zoom link in sight.

Yes, it was good to get back to normal – for everyone.

Maybe PK Subban, one of two players born in the 1980s (the other being goalkeeper Jonathan Bernier) among the Jersey boys, said it best: “I think it’s a lot more. relaxing this year, just know what to expect. “

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But not everyone in this young team knows what lies ahead. Upcoming Superstar Jack Hughes hasn’t played a full crop of games in his two years in the NHL. Neither can defender Ty Smith, who is entering his second season. There might not have been another player at the Prudential Center on Wednesday as excited to start playing hockey again as Smith and he is eager to take on guys he has never played before.

“I’m excited for the task, the challenge,” he said when asked if he now has the chance to face guys like speedster Connor McDavid. “We’ll see how it goes, McDavid makes the guys look pretty dumb all over the league.”

After two shortened and adjusted seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things are officially returning to normal. Say goodbye to geographically limited divisions and warmly welcome the Atlantic, Metropolitan and Pacific divisions. (There was still a central division in 2021, but it had a twist.) Did you miss seeing the Western Conference teams in the East as much as Flames murderer and ex-Bruin Milan Lucic? Well guess what, you will both be happy now – especially Lucic who laughed in April when asked, saying that he selfishly missed the Eastern Conference because: “If you look at my stats, I’ve probably scored most of my goals and assists against Eastern Conference teams. “

The upcoming 2021-22 season, if all goes according to plan (tap wood now, please) will have this full 82-game slate with hikes across the country for all 32 teams, including a stop in the Pacific Northwest to visit the NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken. It’s something that guys look forward to.

“I think last year we all really missed (the trip), playing only in your own division – it was good but it was repetitive,” said Coyotes forward Jakob Chychrun. “It’s nice to go to all the different cities and play in all the different rinks. It’s something I’m really looking forward to.”

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Last year may have had some baseball-type road trips, but it was nothing short of an event of a different kind as each club had to play 56 games in just 115 days (the schedule has been adjusted sometimes mid-season / widened at the end due to COVID), and although this year has an Olympic break, there is more leeway.

“I know I was watching some of our games last year, just a few days ago and on the Boston show, [from] when we’re in Boston, they said this team will have to play a game every 47 and a half hours or something, which has never happened before in the league. I mean it was a crazy program, ”said coach Lindy Ruff.

Last season was tough. There were no exhibition games to prepare for the season. There wasn’t much room for practice and most of the morning skates just didn’t happen. And they had to do everything under strict COVID protocols, without – for the most part – a building full of fans. As McDavid, the reigning Hart Trophy winner who spent the entire season and playoffs without fans at Rodgers Place, noted, it’s not only good to go back to the days before COVID, but to protect yourself as well. each other.

“It’s really nice to get back to a bit of normalcy, to be around guys and to have the chance to play a regular season, to have fans back in the building and all that. It’s exciting. “he said in a conversation with the media on Thursday.

Canadian teams, including McDavid’s Oilers and Montreal Stanley Cup finalists, struggled with coast-to-coast travel and quiet buildings.

” It was hard. I’m not going to lie to you guys it wasn’t pretty and especially for a guy like me who likes to feed off the fans and the crowd, ”said new Devils forward Tomas Tatar who spent 2021 with the Canadians. . “I’ve always known how big a role they play in the hockey game, but once you experience it without it, I personally hurt that I didn’t see anyone there. So I am very excited to see them.

The fans are sure to be delighted to see their favorite team too.

Riley Trujillo contributed to this story.

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