Practice plans are set, and the video clips are ready to roll.
Wild interim coach Dean Evason also has a message teed up for players, who could report for training camp Monday at Tria Rink in St. Paul.
“The puck’s dropped, you play,” Evason said Thursday during a video conference call. “Growing up, whatever, whenever, even now, wherever you play, you play the same way.”
That edict seems especially appropriate considering the circumstances.
Assuming players sign off on a return-to-play plan and an extension for the collective bargaining agreement by Friday, the NHL will be attempting to restart a season in the middle of its normal offseason. And it will do so in a bubblelike atmosphere from two hub cities without fans in attendance.
The reason why the NHL was initially paused in March, the coronavirus pandemic, is ongoing — a reality made clear by the testing, social distancing and mask protocols already implemented by the league since it opened its doors for players to voluntary work out at team facilities last month.
These policies will also accompany players through camp and the resumption of games.
Focusing on what is familiar, such as the team’s strategy on the ice, is one way to cope with the change.
“We want to slip hopefully right back into where we were when we stopped play,” Evason said.
The Wild was rolling back then, winning eight of its previous 11 games leading up to the break in action to land within a point of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Winger Kevin Fiala was a lightning rod for offense, and backup Alex Stalock was on a tear to seize control of the crease.
Since the team will have to get by the Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-five series to advance in the 24-team tournament the NHL adopted to award this year’s Stanley Cup, there will be urgency to quickly rediscover a rhythm.
Aside from preparing for the Canucks, Evason will rehash the Wild’s structure while being mindful of rest and not overloading players with instruction. Teams are expected to travel to hub cities July 26, with games starting Aug. 1.
“The camp, it’s unique, obviously,” said Evason, who was promoted from an assistant after Bruce Boudreau was fired Feb. 14. “We’ve got a lot of time to get the guys to the point where we feel that they’ll be ready to play games. No rush to get out there that first skate and get on the ice for two hours and skate them. We’re definitely going to ease into things and hopefully to do the right things to ramp up to be prepared to play when we do get to Edmonton.”
What could jeopardize those games is players getting sick.
Guidelines for camp advise players to avoid unnecessary interactions with nonfamily members during camp while they’re still at home and to stay there as much as possible, and Evason said he believes Wild players are doing what it takes to remain safe.
“They’re not going out in the community and being in big crowds,” Evason said. “… It’s wearing masks going to stores and [keeping] distance and trying to do all the things that society is doing now to try to [flatten] the curve.”
Already, players are getting used to these new expectations during their training sessions at Tria Rink. From what Evason has observed, he’s been impressed with how professional players have been as they prepare for a challenge unlike any they’ve ever experienced.
“They’re not fooling around out there,” Evason said. “They’re having fun, but they’re working. So that’s exciting for us as a coaching staff.”