The first phase 2 of the NHL skates a small but important step on the way home


EDMONTON – They came out of their locker room, that once familiar path that hadn’t been taken for most of the three months, and they dropped the pucks from Dasher’s boards in Edmonton, Toronto, Philadelphia and smaller arenas from Canada and the United States. . These pucks hit the ice and the players followed, but real hockey?

She’s still back in the locker room, not even undressed yet. Hockey returned on Monday the way it let people return to a city devastated by floods or fires. Small groups with deadlines. Do not linger.

“It’s one thing to train, but it’s another thing to get on the ice. During your first session, you more or less try to put your legs, your feet under you. Get used to our limits, “said Edmonton Oilers defenseman Matt Benning.

Benning is a second generation NHL player, son of Brian, who has played nine seasons in the NHL. A nephew of Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning who will go to the next draft – whenever it does – and resist the urge to draft Matt’s younger brother, Mike, although Jim Benning admits that it can fail if the stars line up.

No Benning has spent more than a month in his NHL career without skating somewhere with someone, we’d bet. Maybe two months later, around the time of Jim and Brian.

“Some people can go out and pick up where they left off, but speaking for myself, when I’m off the ice for two days, I feel like I’ve never skated in my life before,” said said Matt. “Three months were a little nerve-wracking, but I felt better than I expected.”

For a Benning to feel weird when entering a hockey rink, is it blasphemy? Like a Rojas feeling sick of a diamond balloon, or an Unser not knowing where to find Indy’s bathroom.

But there was Matt on Monday, arriving in an arena for a practice that made him feel like he was 18 again.

“It’s definitely a different circumstance,” he chuckled. “Besides, during my first training camp, you come in (to camp), you know what is expected, you kind of know how the days will go. Today, I had the same feeling as during my first training camp. Not knowing.

“There were people out there helping us out, making sure we were doing the right things to stay safe, wear masks, good hygiene … It was exciting to go back to the rink. But it was a different feeling. “

Don’t make fun of yourself: there are NHL stars who have skated alone for weeks in private arenas. But the vast majority didn’t, and at a time when most NHL players don’t let themselves be distorted over the summer, a reboot in June is as strange as adding a third blue line.

That’s how it all comes back, whether it’s a political party that is bulldozed during an election or a sports franchise that ends up in the lead with former players and in last place in the ranking. After a most disappointing spring without a single playoff game – not to mention the Masters, the Blue Jays, the CFL – hockey will not return in a single big moment of curtain raising.

He will come back slowly, with small groups skating around the hockey world. And in about a month, they will meet and, for another two to three weeks, they will train, while a hockey country aspires to real games.

“This is important to everyone,” said Benning of the eventual return to the game. “We have been locked up for so long and it is such a hockey-focused country, and Alberta is very passionate about its sports. Hockey gives people hope and it will be a unique experience when they do it again. ”

It’s worth remembering that the artists themselves have invested a little more in this process than the fans, who will be denied the right to buy this beer at $ 13 and this hot dog at $ 12. For example, Benning is heading for what could be around two months old, but his wife Janelle has a baby on the way. The Oilers are unlikely to play in Edmonton if it were chosen as the hub city, but if they were here, what would it do?

“My wife is expected in two or three weeks and when it starts it will be so teasing for me that I won’t be able to drive 10 (minutes) on the road and see my new baby,” said Benning. “I’m going to have to roll with the punches. Our facilities are so large with a lot of space, and with what I have experienced at the rink today, they know what they are doing and I fully trust them. ”

In the end, he will find a way to play because he is a Benning. It’s in its DNA to play the game, watch it and make a game for the rest of us.

“It doesn’t get better than when the weather is nice outside and you can have a drink and watch the playoff hockey,” said Benning. “No matter when we start, the people of Alberta will be extremely excited for us.”

Hey? How about a cold beer, a barbecue hamburger and a playoff tilt in the spring?

Does that sound fun to you?

Only six weeks to wait…


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