If there’s one hockey person who could be excused for feeling frustrated by the pandemic stoppage, it would have to be Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault.
But even though his team was on a 9-1 tear and seemingly on its way to good things in the playoffs when arenas went dark, Vigneault sounded anything but down during Wednesday’s media conference call.
Actually, Vigneault expressed optimism that hockey will return. And when it does, he insisted his team will be ready to go.
There have been suggestions the sport could at least resume practicing as early as June 1.
That might be a little overly positive outlook, yet Vigneault is getting prepared for whatever comes along.
If hockey does come back, players might need as little as two weeks of training to be ready to play games.
“As far as a date and when to start, I’ll leave that to the experts to decide,’’ said Vigneault, who’s been in contact with general manager Chuck Fletcher on a weekly basis. “I believe if we get a good two weeks. . .we’ll be fine.
“Everybody will be in the same position, we’ll be out for the same amount of time. So we’ll be like everybody else. My staff has a lot of experience. I’m very confident we can get something together that’s very efficient for the players, to get our team ready and hopefully that happens.’’
Vigneault is keeping his fingers crossed.
“I believe sports is going to be part of the process for getting back to some form of normalcy,’’ he said. “I believe everybody is missing their sport right now, not just hockey.
“Sports will help people get back to normal. I don’t know when it’s going to be but when it is, our team is going to be ready. We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to get back at this.’’
Can the Flyers regain the momentum they had going in early March?
“That’s going to be our challenge,’’ said Vigneault, whose club was breathing down the necks of the Metro Division-leading Washington Capitals when play was halted. “There’s no doubt we were playing our best hockey of the season at that time.
“I don’t think we can go into this showing any signs of emotional frustration. The world has been put on pause with what people are going through right now. When we come back, we can help them by doing the best job we can as far as playing on the ice. Our team was in a good place; it’s our job to get back to that good spot that we were in.’’
The key for this Flyers team, according to Vigneault, is to continue to improve, even if there has been a yawning hole in the season.
“I felt since day one that one of our goals, and I’ve mentioned this before, is that teams have to continue to improve during the season,’’ he said. “Teams have to get better.
“I believe that’s what we were doing, in all aspects of our game. Our five-on-five play, our specialty teams play – we were getting better individually and getting better as a group. That enables you to get into the playoffs and have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. That was our goal coming into the season and that goal hasn’t changed.’’
Right now, there are no guarantees.
“I feel real confident that once we find out if we can get back at it – and I’m optimistic that we will – I’m confident we’ll be at the same pace as everybody else,’’ Vigneault said. “It’s going to be our job to work hard, work smart and get back to where we were.’’
Vigneault said he’s only been in contact with about five Flyers players. He’s left communication with the team about fitness programs with strength and conditioning coach Chris Osmond and his assistant, Dan Warnke.
“Everybody has been following the guidelines,’’ Vigneault said. “They’ve been staying at home and depending on what you have at home to keep in shape, there’s been feedback both ways on what to do.
“At the end of the day, everyone’s trying to stay safe and, at the same time, when this starts again, we want to be as ready as we can.’’
Vigneault has been spending the down time at his home in Gatineau, Quebec with his girlfriend, Monica Cotton.
He has incorporated a daily walking program to remain active.
“My girlfriend here in Gatineau is an emergency nurse at Ottawa Hospital,’’ Vigneault said. “So she’s been on the forefront. She’s very impressed with how her bosses have handled this (pandemic). She feels very secure when ambulances (come in). They have a real good way of doing things.
“She can do her job, feel safe and help the public.’’
Vigneault’s sister, Nicole, works for Quebec Health.
“She’s been on the forefront, so between discussions with them and making sure our parents are all right and my daughters are all right, you keep yourself busy,’’ Vigneault said.
“If you can help in any way – we’re all staying home and trying to do the right things.’’
>Patrick, Lindblom updates
Vigneault said Nolan Patrick, who has missed the first 69 games of the season due to a chronic migraine headache condition, continues to work out at his home near Winnipeg.
Meanwhile, Oskar Lindblom has completed his chemotherapy treatments for a rare form of bone cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma).
“He (Patrick) has been in daily contact with Jimmy (McCrossin, director of sports medicine),’’ Vigneault said. “I’m getting reports. As far as where he is (health-wise), it’s hard to tell because Jimmy hasn’t had a chance to see him face-to-face.
“Oskar is working out. I’ve been texting him more on a regular basis. We’ll have some news (updates) when the season starts again.’’