Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier returned to town this week to lace up his skates on home ice.
But when that ice will become friendly again is anybody's guess.
The Ice Sports Forum certainly didn't act very friendly on Wednesday as 13 Lightning players continued to conduct workouts to stay in shape for when a new collective bargaining agreement will be reached.
Early in Wednesday's scrimmage, defensemen Brian Lee and Marc-Andre Bergeron had a scary-looking collision at center ice. Neither was injured and each continued to play. A short time later, defenseman Eric Brewer was struck by a puck near his left eye, leaving him with a cut and a large bump that required medical attention.
Because of the league-imposed lockout that began Sept. 16, Brewer does not have access to team medical personnel — who normally would be on site to treat the injury — and had to leave to receive treatment.
"It's nothing big, it's just more annoying than anything else,'' Brewer said as he left the building.
Annoyed might also describe Lecavalier and many of his Lightning teammates. With the regular season scheduled to begin next week and no sign of a settlement on the horizon, the frustration level continues to grow.
"The numbers are showing that the league is healthy, and since 2004 the league has been better and better each year,'' Lecavalier said. "There is no reason, I think, that they should put us in a lockout. The league is healthy, everybody knows that, so it's disappointing.''
And though public sentiment may be on the players' side in this dispute, once regular-season games begin to be canceled — which is expected to happen this week — public opinion will mean very little.
"It's a game that everybody wants to watch, and fans, they don't want to miss it,'' Lecavalier said. "They are saying just get a deal done, and right now there has not been much improvement going on, so it's understandable how people are feeling. But I can tell you as a player, we want to get this thing done, too. We want a fair deal for both sides, and we want to do it the right way.''
Should regular-season games begin to be canceled, Lecavalier said he is unsure of his plans. While he played in Russia during the 2004-05 lockout, having a family this time around has him thinking about staying close to home.
Lecavalier and wife Caroline, along with their two children, returned to Tampa this week and plan to stay in town until the lockout is resolved, although the situation could change.
"I want to play hockey, but we'll see how things go,'' he said. "With a family now, you definitely have to think there is more than one person to think about. But my kids are young, so if I do go somewhere, it's easier to move them around.''