Monday's first practice at PNC Arena provided a sense of normality in the sports world as the Canes start phase 3 in the NHL's return-to-play plan.
It had been a long 4 months.
"Everyone here is obviously excited to get going," Team Captain Jordan Staal said. "Just a lot of energy out there. The boys excited to see each other again. A few guys came in late so it was exciting to see them."
Head Coach Rod Brind'Amour said he felt like this was one of the team's best practices of the year.
The Hurricanes are back to work starting phase 3 today. Media distanced and watching from a higher level up at the PNC pic.twitter.com/wTkOMrvFM3— Joe Mazur (@joemazurabc11) July 13, 2020
"And I expected actually for this to be our best day to be honest with you, I think everybody was super excited and the players were all dialed in," Brind'Amour said. "It's like Christmas for a lot of guys."
For Staal, the gap between skates combined with the change in protocols has this feeling like the start of something new vs. the continuation of play from March.
"It's got kind of the same feel as a new season. I'm sure we'll be going over a lot of system stuff," Staal said.
From a roster standpoint, Brind'Amour sees things differently.
"I view it more as a continuation, so this isn't really a training camp; we kind of picked up with the guys we had at the end of the year, four months ago," he said.
The layoff is the only way Dougie Hamilton would have been able to play again this season. The All-Star defenseman suffered a broken leg in January.
"Obviously you don't want to get injured but I guess there's a silver lining in everything," he said. "Just focused on now, keep getting better and get ready for the playoffs."
The injury required surgery and extensive rehab. Hamilton isn't 100 percent healthy but getting there.
"There's some stuff that's still not perfect but like I said, I feel good so it's getting better and better as I go and just keep on working on stuff off the ice as well, and hopefully that will help me in the next couple of weeks," Hamilton said.
Eight defensemen give Brind'Amour the most depth he's had all season at that position. Having his All-Star back healthy could make the difference come tournament time.
"If we can project him to be even 90 percent or 80 percent of what he was, that's going to be a huge boost for us," Brind'Amour said.
The Canes practice in Raleigh until July 26 when they leave for Toronto. After another week of practice, they'll play one exhibition game before starting a best-of-five showdown with the New York Rangers.