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Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning players eager to get back on ice

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:26 AM

Game on.

Wait, what?

That's how fast the hockey season will vault to life after the 113-day NHL lockout came to an end around 4:45 a.m. Sunday when an agreement in principle was reached between the league and the Players' Association.

The new 10-year deal, which has an opt-out clause for either side after the 2019-20 season, still must be written by lawyers and ratified by both sides.

Once that process is complete, which could come as soon as the league holds a board of governors meeting Tuesday in New York, camps will open and the season will start. All of that is expected to take place in less than a two-week period.

Though details are being finalized and not expected to be released until midweek, camps will open between Saturday and Monday. The season is expected to start Jan. 19 for a 48-game schedule, though a Jan. 15 start remains possible.

Either way, players are happy to be getting back to being NHL players no matter the circumstances.

"I am extremely happy we can start playing again,'' Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "This is great news for players, the NHL and the fans who have been supporting us for so many years.''

That sentiment even trickled up into the front office.

"We are very happy the league and the PA were able to reach an agreement,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "We are all looking forward to getting back on the ice.''

The first order of business is sorting through logistics and getting everything set up. Players in Europe need time to return to their home cities, including Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who was playing in Russia in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Hedman said Sunday he was already back in his native Sweden and is scheduled to arrive in Tampa late Tuesday afternoon.

Defenseman Brendan Mikkelson has been playing in Sweden, while Dana Tyrell played in Slovakia. Goaltender Anders Lindback recently finished a two-month stint in Finland.

There is also a question of how many players will be invited to the abbreviated training camp, including how many to bring in from the team's minor-league affiliate, how many days the camp will last and where it will be held — with Orlando as a possible site for the Lightning.

"I'm assuming the league and PA will have some say regarding camps and the number of players,'' Yzerman said. "So I'm just waiting.''

All-Star center Steven Stamkos, who led the league with 60 goals last season, is expected to arrive in Tampa today after spending most of the lockout working out with former teammate and fitness trainer Gary Roberts in Toronto. All the workouts were geared to ensure Stamkos was ready when it was time to drop the puck.

"I'm extremely excited. I think it's been a brutally long process and I know for me I've never gone this long without playing any competitive hockey,'' Stamkos said. "I've tried my best to stay in the best shape possible throughout this and I've been kind of optimistic the whole time that we would find a way to get a deal done.

"I tried to prepare myself that way. Now I'm very excited to get back to Tampa to get back with the guys and get back into the swing of things."

That begins this week at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon as informal workouts, which have been ongoing since the lockout began Sept. 16 with a consistent group of nearly a dozen players, will ratchet up in intensity. The number of participants will increase as players trickle back into town.

Finally, the focus for players will be on preparing for the rapidly approaching season instead of wondering if there would even be one.

"Guys are excited. They are going to work hard,'' Marty St. Louis said. "I know they are going to focus on getting ready, being ready for the puck drop whenever it starts.

"There's no doubt there is going to be some cobwebs that will have to be dusted and it might be a little swampy at first, but everybody is in the same boat.''


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835 Twitter: erlendssonTBO

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