It's like a dinner party after the event of the season.
In regular times, one might look forward to a sit-down meal with friends. But on the day after the big bash, when you're battling a hangover, it's hard to muster much enthusiasm for something that is so comparatively ordinary.
That is the vibe around the Vancouver Canucks as they begin training camp and prepare for the 2011-12 NHL season. The Canucks dominated the six-month march to the playoffs last year, ran the Western Conference gauntlet in the postseason, and advanced to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins.
Many Canucks played on the brightest stage of their careers, and had the shortest summers of their lives, and now they're being asked to dial it back up, summon intensity for something that is so comparatively ordinary.
Naturally, the coaches and players don't see it that way. Or at least, they pay lip service to the notion that the past is the past, and that a new, exciting challenge is upon them.
No looking back, and no getting ahead of yourself. That was the mantra Friday as veterans reported for medicals and fitness testing.
“In this city, you are going to have that pressure on you to perform,” Daniel Sedin said when explaining why the Canucks won't be subject to a hangover. “Maybe it could be different in an American market.”
Veteran defenceman Sami Salo said every player's focus should now be on camp, while Kevin Bieksa urged the team to “respect the process” and remember that the playoffs are not guaranteed. Team captain Henrik Sedin admitted that this season will be a grind, but said the Canucks, who enter the season as Cup contenders again, shouldn't be complacent in the early stages because “we haven't proved anything yet.”
Then there is goaltender Roberto Luongo. He admits to experiencing a letdown after Canada won the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, saying his heart wasn't invested in run-of-the-mill NHL games days after the Games. Asked if the landscape was similar heading into this season, Luongo sounded well prepared for the query.
“It's totally different,” he said. “First and foremost, that was right after, a couple of days later … and we won the gold medal. This is a bit different situation. I've had some time to sit back, rest up, refocus and get re-energized. And obviously, the fact that we did not win gets your fire going a little more.”
Saturday, just three months and two days after that stinging defeat to Boston, the Canucks will be back on the ice, preparing for a chance at redemption.
But redemption is still nine months away. Before that, there are 19 days of camp, eight preseason contests, and 82 regular-season games.
The betting money is that Vancouver will start slowly, as has been its tendency under head coach Alain Vigneault, and not just because October is historically Luongo's worst month.
Some players dressed for 107 games last year, including 25 high-intensity playoff contests, while others are coming off injuries.
Centre Ryan Kesler said he has revised his timetable for returning from off-season hip surgery and is no longer pushing to get back for the Oct. 6 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He won't skate with his teammates for now, and winger Mason Raymond, who underwent back surgery, will miss the opener.