As players arrived at Raleigh Center Ice last week, back from the Olympic break to pick up where they left off, they brought with them a fresh outlook and energy with which to finish the regular season.
Coach Kirk Muller described it as hitting the reset button after players and coaches took time away from the rink to rest and recover from the first part of the year, but to not forget what they were coming back to.
“It was nice,” assistant captain Jordan Staal said whose trip to Turks and Caicos brought him home with a modestly-tanned complexion.
“It is good mentally and physically just to get away – just relaxed a bit.”
When asked if his mind was on hockey while enjoying time in the sun, Staal answered with a quick and direct, “absolutely”.
“Even in the middle of the season you’re gonna’ think about hockey. You kind of take your rest as you can and be prepared for what we need to do here. It’s always definitely in the back of your mind.”
For the Hurricanes, currently sitting three and five points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division standings respectively, there is very little room for error when they take to the ice to resume their season against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.
The energy that Jiri Tlusty showed on the ice during last Friday’s session came about from his respite in Cancun.
“You wanna’ just go away for a bit, just a couple of days, and clear your mind,” he said.
“After a couple of days you start recharging and thinking about the season and what we have on the table right now, and how we have to push for the rest of the season.”
With four players returning from participating in the recent Winter Olympic Games that took place in Sochi, Russia – a group that included Tuomo Ruutu (Finland), Justin Faulk (USA), Andrej Sekera (Slovakia), Alexander Semin (Russia) – the Hurricanes are ready to start rolling four lines to make the last quarter push towards playoff contention.
Muller equated the recent success of Team Canada winning the gold medal in Sochi and the style that it employed to do so as what his team must do to be successful as well.
“It’s interesting,” he said.
“Just after watching the Olympics and the success of Canada winning the gold and how they did it is right up the alley of what we’ve got to preach here – it’s the same thing,” Muller said.
“Defense, and the way the NHL is now, is gonna’ give you an opportunity to win hockey games. We gotta’ go in with the mindset that this is a huge road trip for us to start off and we gotta’ go into every game playin’ well defensively and compete hard, pay attention to details, and get off to a good start.”
It won’t be an easy task as Carolina will take to the road for a five-game set against Buffalo, Dallas, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose before returning home to host the New York Rangers on Mar. 7.
Thus, as Hurricanes fans watch the team compete from a distance on television, they will see that the players have a certain glow about them.
In addition to tanned faces, they will see bright eyes and a fiery energy that they all will need to put forth to accomplish the task at hand.
“It’s there for us, Tlusty concluded.
“It’s all about the team. We all have to have the same mindset and if we all pull with the same rope, we’ve got a huge chance. There are still 25 games left and we have to be on top of our game.”