For the better part of 3 1/2 months Jay Beagle, John Carlson and Jason Chimera would pool their money together, rent a sheet of ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for $360 an hour, and skate their tails off.
They did so religiously, praying that it was not in vain and that there would be am NHL season to play.
At about 8 a.m. on Monday, roughly 27 hours after the NHL and its players came to a tentative agreement to end the 113-day lockout, Beagle, Carlson and Chimera were joined by Capitals teammates Mike Green and Mike Ribeiro for their first post-lockout practice.
And since the NHL is still awaiting ratification of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, yes, they had to pay for the ice time.
In fact, the only real difference between Monday’s session and the countless others that preceded it was the accommodations.
For the first time since Sept. 14, the players were able to hang their sweaty equipment in their swanky locker room.
“It smells a lot better in here, I’ll tell you that,” Beagle said. “The smell was getting pretty bad in the refs’ room [across the hall]. It’s awesome to come to the rink and come to the locker room. Our spirits are lifted and we’re all excited to get going with the season.”
With NHL training camps expected to officially open no earlier than Friday, most of the Capitals will spend today flying and driving from outposts all around the world.
Nicklas Backtrom arrived in D.C. from Moscow late on Sunday and Alex Ovechkin is expected to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Troy Brouwer said he’d begin driving with his wife and newborn daughter from Chicago on Tuesday, but still hasn’t found a place to stay.
Goaltender Braden Holtby played Sunday night for Hershey and is expected to hit the ice Tuesday or Wednesday as well.
Meanwhile, first-year coach Adam Oates and assistants Tim Hunter and Calle Johansson are still waiting for their players to filter in and determine who’s in shape and who isn’t.
“If you’re not in shape and you’re not ready to get going you’ve got a serious problem,” Chimera said. “This is your job. If you’re not working out and getting ready for the season shame on you. This is your livelihood.”
Chimera, Carlson and Beagle have spent almost the entire lockout alternating between Kettler, where former teammate Jeff Halpern has barked them through drills, and a nearby Gold’s Gym, where a personal trainer has worked them into shape.
“Some of those workouts under Halpy were a little dicey,” Beagle said. “We were playing King of the Ring to get our heads around hitting and protecting the puck.”
Soon enough it will all start for real.
If the NHL and its players able to ratify the agreement by Wednesday or Thursday, camps will officially open on Friday or Saturday, with the regular season likely to commence on Jan. 19.