On any other day, watching hockey players drape their equipment bags over their shoulders heading out toward the parking lot might seem like an ordinary occurrence.
But to see Tampa Bay Lightning players walk out of a bare-bones locker room at the Ice Sports Forum, equipment stuffed into oversized bags and hockey sticks in their hands, seemed a bit surreal.
As Day 2 of the NHL lockout arrived, players had no access to team facilities and could not have contact with team personnel – including equipment managers and medical trainers – or workout at the facilities above the team locker room.
Marty St. Louis even took up a collection of money to give the manager at the Ice Sports Forum to cover the cost of the two hours of ice time purchased by the 20 players present on Monday. The ice time is normally paid for by the team.
And while most players continued to wear practice jerseys with the team logo on it, three players – Mathieu Garon, Sami Salo and St. Louis – wore their shirts inside out on the ice.
While there appears to be no quick end in site to NHL's third lockout under commissioner Gary Bettman – he was was the head of the league during the 1994 and 2004 lockouts – players will continue assemble in Brandon for the time being. With the start of training camp scheduled for Friday, the informal gatherings for workouts and scrimmages will continue – just in case.
"We had a pretty good group of guys out here (Monday) and we'll do the same thing (on Tuesday) and for the next little while,'' new defenseman Sami Salo said. "We'll just kind of take things day-by-day right now, keep ourselves in shape and be ready for whenever.''
For many players, after losing the entire 2004-05 season to the lockout that brought about the implementation of a salary cap system, going through another work stoppage that might potentially disrupt the season seems surreal now that the lockout is in full effect. In some ways, it's somewhat difficult for them to fathom they are back in the same situation.
"It's hard because the league has grown so much that you wouldn't think you would be in this situation, we've done so good as a league and yet we are locked out again,'' St. Louis said. "We were struggling and we got locked out. We are doing great, we got locked out. That's what is frustrating as a player, and I'm sure it is as a fan as well.
"And it's frustrating because, in some ways, I understand the last lockout, we were struggling as a league and we went through that process and we had to give up a lot. Now the league is doing good.''
While many players – including Rick Nash, Joe Thornton and Evgeni Malkin – have already signed deals to play in European leagues during the lockout, many of the Lightning players plan on sticking around Tampa for the time being, taking a wait-and-see approach.
One of the new players who showed up to work out before camp was defenseman Keith Aulie, whom the Lightning hope to be able to sign to an American Hockey League contract while the lockout is imposed to allow him to play with the affiliate in Syracuse. He said on Monday it is something he is open to pursuing, but has yet to discuss the situation with his agent and the team.
"We'll see what happens. There is no rush at this point and I wanted to come down and work here with these guys,'' Aulie said. "I would welcome the opportunity to keep playing, and for a young guy like me who is trying to get in the NHL and stay in the NHL, this would allow me to keep getting better.''