TAMPA, Florida -- It wasn't exactly business as usual at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum this morning as 16 players hit the ice for an informal practice. 12 members of the Lightning and four others scrimmaged and ran drills with a little more vigor than they've shown over the past 4 months during the NHL lockout.
But with a tentative labor agreement in place, the optimism of the season ahead was portrayed in their skating.
The league and the players association will ratify the new collective bargaining agreement this week and come Saturday the Lightning are expected to have full participation when training camp opens up.
"I'm glad were back at work I feel sorry for the fans obviously they had to go through this with us, we're excited to be back on the ice," Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis.
The concern for the fans approval and turnout was evident in each interview 10News conducted with the players. With two major work stoppages in less than a decade, the league and players are expecting repercussions from a lack of fan support. But it didn't show this morning as Lightning supporters gathered to watch the practice.
It's been 133 days since there was labor peace between the league and the NHLPA, and now all parties including the fans are ready for the season to drop the puck.
"For the most part everyone's ready to go, everyone's excited and excited to be playing hockey," said Ryan Malone left wing.
The league is still working on a schedule but a start date to the season is expected to be on January 19th. The limited season is forcing the league to condense to just 48 games out of a regular 82 game season.
The Lightning missed the playoffs last season by 7 points, and in order for them to get in this year they know they'll have to get off to a quick start.
"We're starting in January and you have to have a good start to get in to that top eight but we have high expectations for ourselves and obviously making the playoffs," Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier.