TAMPA — Before making final roster decisions ahead of the start of the regular season, the Lightning will hunker down south.
Tampa Bay will take 33 players to Germain Arena in Estero starting this morning for the final six days of training camp. During that time the Lightning will play three preseason games, have three practice days, begin to implement special-teams work and hold team-bonding activities.
All of that will lead up to the Sept. 30 deadline for setting the opening-night roster.
“We have to make these tough decisions and it’s not easy for us,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of making camp cuts. “You would think getting down to (33) would be easy because eventually you are going to have to get down to 22 or 23, and we are not even close to getting down to that number and it’s been extremely difficult. Doing (Saturday’s) cuts was tough. I can’t imagine a week from now when we have to get down to 22 or 23.’’
With a smaller group to work with — Tampa Bay started camp with 62 players split into three groups — the intensity will ratchet up on what the coaching staff wants to implement. And with 33 healthy players on the roster, it would figure that those who do not make the final cut would be among the first call-ups in the event of an injury.
Being together for the next six days will help the players become more comfortable with each other to help create the family atmosphere Cooper likes to instill.
“It will only bring guys closer together,’’ center Steven Stamkos said. “We have a couple of new faces, some younger guys who haven’t had a chance to experience that. For me, I’ve always enjoyed that experience.”
For Cooper, the week together as a team will allow the coaching staff to work closely with individuals, which will allow them to focus in on who stays and who goes, while also narrowing the focus of what they want to accomplish.
“I think there will be a little bit more attention put on our game plan,’’ Cooper said. “You are more instilling a standard we have set as an organization, and now we get to go and really have a week and a half to put in how we are going to pick this team and how we are going to get ready for Boston (on opening night Oct. 3). We are going to be a little more individual of where guys fit, more special teams and more focus on the intricacies of the game.’’