PHOENIX — Detroit Red Wings goalie and former University of Maine All-American Jimmy Howard admitted that the National Hockey League lockout was stressful.
“It was mentally draining. It was a mental roller-coaster the whole way through. There would be a proposal and you’d get your hopes up and then the rug would be pulled out from under you,” said Howard, who lives in Dedham in the offseason with wife, Rachel, and son, James Russell Howard IV.
Now that the lockout is over, Howard can’t wait to get back to work.
The teams could begin practicing as early as this weekend and open the season the following weekend. There won’t be any preseason games.
“There’s a lot of excitement in the air. I wish we had a chance to play a couple of preseason games, but everyone is in the same boat,” said Howard.
He spent the year in Detroit, training with his Red Wing teammates four to five times a week.
“We’d have 10-15 players every day,” said Howard.
He is currently training with other NHL players in Phoenix after receiving an invitation to attend the sessions.
“I jumped all over it. It’s another way to help myself get ready. We’re scrimmaging,” said Howard, who will begin his fourth season as the No. 1 goalie for the Red Wings after spending four seasons with Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League.
He said he was pleased with the terms agreed upon by the NHL Players Association and the NHL after the four-month, 113-day lockout.
“It’s fair. It’s what we were looking for from the beginning,” said Howard, who added that he is in good shape to start the season.
“I feel good, I feel very good actually,” said the 28-year-old Howard, who was 35-17-4 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage last season.
The positive aspect of the lockout for Howard was that he was able to see his son take his first steps and was able to share his first birthday with him.
“That was special,” he said.
Howard feels there will be some injuries as the result of the lockout.
“There’s no way around it. You aren’t in game shape,” he said.
He also said that with a shortened 48-game schedule, every game will be like a playoff game.
The normal NHL schedule is 82 games.
“Instead of being a marathon, it’s going to be a sprint to the finish line,” said Howard. “Every game will be so much more important.”
He knows there will be some disgruntled fans, “but I’m sure we’ll be able to bring everyone back.”
Howard is one of six ex-Black Bears who will be returning to NHL training camps.
His Detroit Red Wings teammate, right wing Gustav Nyquist, played in 18 games for the Red Wings as a rookie a year ago after playing in 56 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL.
He has been playing for the Griffins this season and has 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points in 33 games. He had 22-36-58 in 56 games for Grand Rapids last season before notching a goal and six assists for the Red Wings.
Los Angeles Kings left wing Dustin Penner will look to hoist the Stanley Cup for the second straight season after he helped the Kings win their first Cup last year. After a disappointing regular season (7-10-17 in 65 games) in which he was beset by injuries, he responded in the playoffs (3-8-11 in 20 games).
Tampa Bay right wing Teddy Purcell had his best season in the NHL a year ago with 24-41-65 in 81 games and he will look to build upon that this season.
Goalie Ben Bishop, like Nyquist, has been playing in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators and is 8-3-1 with a 2.66 GAA and a .928 save percentage. He was traded by the St. Louis Blues to Ottawa last season and was 3-3-2, 2.48, .909 with Ottawa.
Bishop will be joined in Ottawa’s camp by defenseman Mike Lundin, who had two assists in 17 games during an injury-marred season with the Minnesota Wild a year ago.
“The guys who have been playing will have a definite advantage. The rest of us will be catching up for several weeks,” said Howard.
Veteran defenseman Brett Clark had 2-13-15 in 82 games for Tampa Bay last season but is an unrestricted free agent. He has 681 NHL games to his credit.