From the minute the Blackhawks' summer camp started on Monday, it was straight to business.
Unlike the usual team training camp that starts in September in preparation for the start of a new season ahead, there's no time to get back in the swing of things with the NHL's 24-team playoffs approaching.
Come July 26th, the Hawks will be traveling to Edmonton for the postseason. Prior to the first contest of a best-of-five play-in series against the Oilers beginning on Aug. 1, the Hawks will be facing off against the St. Louis Blues, the NHL's defending Stanley Cup champions, on July 29th in an exhibition game.
Despite where the Hawks' players were spread out across the grid during the NHL pause, which began on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how good of shape they were able to get in for the league's Return To Play, they were put to work by Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton on Day 1 monday and that's still the case through Day 3.
"I think the coaches had somewhat of a game plan coming in, we expected they were going to be hard practices and they have been," Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome said after Day 2's session. "They’ve been up-tempo, we did some power play at the end today. We’re getting back into it, starting to feel good.
"Obviously it takes a while to get back with the full team and feeling great again, but we’re doing the right things to feel good about ourselves and about our game. I’m sure the practices are going to ramp it up even more; every team’s going through the same thing. There’s what, 11, 12 days left of practices and camp? We’re looking forward to it. it’s going to be a grind but it’s a good grind for the right reasons, so we’re looking forward to it."
Drills, scrimmages and sprints starting with Day 1 and not subsiding through Day 3, didn't allow for much, 'So what did you do during the pause' idle chatter amongst teammates. At the first session on Monday, the team sprinted laps for more than 15 minutes before the end of practice.
The duration of the sprints shortened a little bit for Days 2 and 3, but seemed more challenging as the Hawks were doing laps broken up into groups on Day 2 around certain parts of the ice in a pattern and down the middle of the ice on Day 3.
Along with basic drills, scrimmages and conditioning, the Hawks have been working more on specific game situations like breaking out of the defensive zone and Colliton said the team will be prepping more specifically for their matchup with the Oilers as camp drags on as well.
And Strome was right, it was all part of a game plan.
"Well, we don’t have much time and we’ve got to make use of every day we have," Colliton said after Day 1. "That’s the upside of having that Phase 2 was relatively long. Most of the guys have had a chance to be on (the ice) and get up to speed. It wasn’t the first time they’ve been on the ice. These guys have been training at a high level, even if it wasn’t perfect conditions. These guys are pros and they’re ready.
"We’re trying to be as smart as we can with the loads. There wasn’t a lot of stops and starts. There was a lot of skating. We’re trying to get their skating legs back. I think we had a little bit of everything today. We had some habits, some pace, some contact, some battles and compete things. Some 5-on-5 play. They had a chance to scrimmage. We’re going to see a lot of that.
"There’s only one exhibition game we think. Trying to get them (to) that game level, that game feeling as quick as we can. So we’re gonna scrimmage quite a bit here as we move through this camp. Again, we don’t have much time so we’ve got to make use of every day."