COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Phase three of the NHL’s restart plan is underway, meaning teams can have their full rosters on the ice for training camps.
That, of course, includes the Columbus Blue Jackets, who, like everyone else, haven’t been together for practice since March.
Actually, it’s been a bit longer since CBJ had everyone on the ice together, thanks to all those injuries they were dealing with back in the spring.
“We were swimming up stream big time,” said head coach John Tortorella, reflecting back on what things were like in March. “It was a struggle. Let’s face it, guys: we went through a ton of injuries.”
Most notably: Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who was definitely the team’s most dominant player before an ankle injury.
Now, all three of those guys are back, and they bring with them talent, minutes and, maybe, most importantly, a morale boost.
“We become such a solid team with those guys back on the ice and I think you could feel that on the first day: things were crisp, things were sharp, it was an NHL-caliber practice even after all that time off,” said team captain Nick Foligno.
“We jump right into the fire,” said Atkinson about the play-in series against Toronto. “It’s not a best of 7, it’s a best of 5. So it’s whoever is really on top of their game.”
It’s not just the game on the ice – there’s a mental game against the pandemic that all 24 teams will be playing. That’s something Tortorella is adamant his team needs to win.
“I don’t want this to be a bunch of drama either, talking about the virus every day,” he said. “We’re going to protect our players. The league is going to protect the league’s players. We need to get ready to play hockey.”
“When you have a chance in the postseason, you’ve got to make the most of it. You have to,” said Foligno, who added he doesn’t think distractions will be an issue when the team is on the ice because that’s where the team feels the most normal. “We’re trying to get better. We’re trying to get ready for Toronto. I think it allows you to just hone in on what we’re trying to do. And when you’re out there together, our goal is to try to get better every day and then ultimately win a Stanley Cup.”
A critical element for any team trying to win the cup is solid goaltending. While Columbus is excited to have everyone healthy again, that gives Tortorella a tough decision in net: who does he start in the series against Toronto, Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzļikins?
After the first training camp practice, Tortorella said he has no idea which one will start on Aug. 2, but he does know they both deserve it. That will be a big battle over the next couple of weeks.