John Carlson called his return to MedStar Capitals Iceplex "a little awkward and weird," having to re-familiarize himself with his longtime training facility but with new boundaries due safety precautions now in place aimed at limiting the COVID-19 risk.
But Carlson welcomed the awkwardness, knowing it means hockey will soon be back, as Capitals teammates slowly trickle in from their respective self-isolation sites. As of now, the NHL requires players who have returned to work to undergo saliva testing three times per week to ensure their safety.
"It's been the first couple days a little awkward and weird, being in the same facility and not having access to certain parts of our locker room and that sort of thing," he said. "But something I'm happy to get back out there and start being able to train on the ice again and I think we're all willing to jump through hoops to make that happen."
With no regular season to reach their peak performance, this won't be like traditional training camps. While no formal date of when games would resume has been announced, the 24 teams still in the mix could have only a matter of weeks to get their minds and bodies in gear for playoff hockey.
"I think from a physical perspective, we're gonna be training to hit the ground running as best we can," Carlson said. "I think in a normal training camp, they might try to tease you and overwork you in some areas, but when you do get to this time of the year, everything just revolves around making sure that the players feel the best they possibly can on a game night and that will kind of I think bleed into our training camp."
"I've talked to some of the coaches and I'm sure that's what they're planning, is get a lot of the hard work done in the beginning so that we're primed to go when we need to peak," he said. "I think it'll be abbreviated in length, but from a physical perspective, we're really gonna be more focused on on-ice activity versus off-ice, which is probably the biggest difference."
When play does resume, the NHL will divide the league by Eastern and Western Conferences, with 12 teams playing in one hub city and the other 12 playing in another. Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver have all been identified as potential hubs, although players don't yet know in which city they're teams will be stationed. Carlson knows which city he's rooting for.
"I think from an infrastructure standpoint, Vegas would make the most sense," he said. "I know there's a lot more that goes into it than just that."
On a personal level, that means packing up and being removed from their families, potentially for months on end.
"Yeah, it doesn't really matter. We're gonna be away from everyone no matter where we go," Carlson said, "so a little sunshine definitely wouldn't hurt the soul, I would say. But yeah, just all based on how far things are, we need enough practice rinks, enough hotel space and maybe some space for activities so we aren't sitting in the hotel room for a long period of time, and Vegas seems to make the most sense to me. But there is probably I think four or five right now that are being deeply thought about that all make sense to me."