BRANDON Lightning coach Rick Tocchet pulled a page out of a football playbook, putting his players through two-a-day practices on Friday.
The team was put through drills at the Ice Sports Forum in the morning and returned in mid-afternoon for a specialty teams workout.
"It's like a mini training camp. You have to be careful because you want to get a lot of work in but you can't do everything at once," Tocchet said. "I want to do some specialty teams and I didn't want to keep them here for three hours. So I figured come in for an hour, go home for four hours and come back, so it's basically a two-a-day."
The players parted ways for nine days during the Olympic break, so getting back onto the ice can be a challenge because of the unusual amount of time off. And with four players absent - three played in Friday's Olympic semifinals and Zenon Konopka is nursing a sore lower back - there is only enough players for three lines and five defensemen.
"You have to adjust your practices. There are less guys, so you have to monitor the drills," Tocchet said. "I'm a personal believer that you want to give guys rest so they can go full blast, so we have to do drills where they are doing stuff, and if they get too tired what happens is bad habits develop, and I don't want that to happen so you really have to monitor it."
For the players, getting back into game shape can be a challenge, as well.
"You are not used to having nine days off in the middle of the season, and this is a first for me," center Steven Stamkos said. "For most guys, I'm sure they took their stuff back home and skated a couple of times during the break just to try not to lose that much. But I know for me, not skating for five days and getting back on the ice just once, you can definitely feel the difference.
"That's all it takes to go from game shape to not being in game shape. So it's tough, but we are doing it right here, getting back with enough time before the first game to really get back into things."
The team is not scheduled to skate today, instead holding an off-ice workout, before retuning to practice on Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Lightning's first game after the Olympic break is Tuesday at home against Philadelphia.
Lightning G Mike Smith was given permission to miss practice Friday so he could travel to Vancouver to watch girlfriend Brigitte Acton participate in the Olympic women's slalom. Acton, who is from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, was in 11th place after Friday's first run.
Smith left after practice Thursday and is expected to return in time for Sunday's workout. Tocchet said letting Smith attend the event was never much of a debate.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime for his fiancée, so for a day I think it's a great thing for him to see her compete in the Olympics," Tocchet said. "Coaching is not just X's and O's. That's part of it, but psychology and managing people is huge. And I try to manage it how I wanted a coach to manage me, so I had no problem with it."
For the third consecutive day, new assistant coach Jim Johnson did not take part in the on-ice sessions of practice, instead reviewing more video of recent Lightning games while preparing for Tuesday's game.
Johnson, who had been the head coach at AHL Norfolk, was added to the coaching staff without the input of Tocchet after General Manager Brian Lawton removed Wes Walz.
Tocchet has voiced his displeasure with the move since the team returned to practice, and he said Friday he was done discussing the situation, keeping the focus on what's happening on the ice. Tocchet did say "it's not a distraction."