Ten of their teammates have gone overseas. They are forbidden to speak with their coaches or general manager. They are biding their time in North America, hoping their stretch of unemployment will lift in short order.
They are at the stay-at-homers, the Bruins players who have elected to remain either in Boston or at their offseason base camps. They are growing restless.
“I’ve talked to a number of guys around the league that I’m close with. Everybody says they’re bored,” said Gregory Campbell. “I try and look for things to do, things that I’ve always wanted to do, to pursue those things. But I’m a hockey player. I want to get back to playing.”
Of the players expected to make the 2012-13 roster, Campbell is one of the eight who have opted not to sign with European teams. The others are Johnny Boychuk, Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid, Daniel Paille, and Shawn Thornton. Their reasons for not bolting include wanting to stay with family, the challenge of finding the right foreign team and securing proper insurance policies, and the uncertainty of how long a European stint would last.
Recently at Boston University’s Agganis Arena, Campbell and Paille participated in an on-ice session. Former BU standout Mike Grier, who retired from the NHL following the 2010-11 season, led the Bruins’ fourth-liners through the paces. Only three other skaters joined Campbell and Paille for the lonely skate: three ex-Terriers in Jay Pandolfo, Brandon Yip, and Chris Higgins.
Following the session, the players hustled off the ice for yet another workout. During the summer, players train with a purpose. The upcoming season is the carrot. They build up their bodies to peak for pre-camp fitness training and kick off the regular season at full tilt.
Now, with the lockout not providing any clarity to their once-highly structured schedules, those workouts have become more of a grind.
“Right now, it’s trying to change it up every once in a while,” Paille said. “You don’t want to peak. You want to maintain.”
In 2004-05, Campbell and Paille were just beginning their pro careers. Both were on entry-level contracts and eligible to play in the AHL. Campbell was in San Antonio, Florida’s AHL affiliate. Paille played for Rochester, Buffalo’s stacked farm club. Paille’s teammates included Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Paul Gaustad — future core players for the Sabres.
Paille is the Bruins’ player representative to the NHL Players Association. All players have been welcome to attend bargaining sessions and participate in conference calls with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. They can access a smartphone app that provides regular updates.
But Paille has proven to be the Bruins’ best link to remaining informed on the collective bargaining process. He has been busy answering calls and texts from teammates while trying to stay ready for the lockout’s conclusion.
“I think when the season does start, it might take a few more days than normal,” Paille said. “But I think I should be able to get right up there in terms of intensity.”
The players are faithfully sticking to their workouts, both on and off the ice. All the skating and weightlifting, however, cannot replicate game action. Think of a runner diligently performing intervals and speed work during solo workouts. Those sessions are productive, but do not compare with kicking past — or being passed by — another runner during a race.
“If you ask an injured player during the season, they can work out as hard as they want. They can get bag-skated as hard as they want by a coach,” Campbell said. “But unless you’re actually thrown into a game, you’re never in game shape.”
Campbell is fighting his restlessness by taking occasional shifts with the Boston Police Department. One of Campbell’s acquaintances works on a gang unit. On several nights, Campbell has participated in ride-alongs. When Campbell played for the Panthers, he made similar visits to Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.
As intense as those ride-alongs may be, playing hockey provides the adrenaline Campbell misses the most. He is exploring an opportunity to play for Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic, the team that employs Andrew Ference.
There are risks to playing in Europe. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask left a game early because of a groin strain. Patrice Bergeron missed time because of a hand injury. The European game on bigger rinks does not translate to the NHL’s in-tight battling.
But there is no substitute for game action. When the lockout ends, teams will have shortened training camps. They are assuming they will need approximately a week of tune-ups before regular-season games begin. Only a handful of players from Providence and junior teams will be invited to camp. No preseason games will take place. Continued...