In the case of the Winnipeg Jets, the early birds likely won’t be getting the worm.
Holding training camp in the midst of a global pandemic means some new tweaks this year, including spacing out two groups of players to limit the amount of people in the building at any given time.
For the Jets, that’s means a daily 7:30 a.m skate, followed by an 11 a.m. session. Coach Paul Maurice has essentially divided the camp between those who are deemed closest to being on the opening-night roster and those who are likely going to be on the outside looking in and headed to the AHL if and when it gets going.
You can guess which group of players is having to set their alarm clocks to the kind of hour normally reserved for Timbits hockey.
"It’s been a while since I’ve been on the ice that early. But it’s nice to get out there right away and get things going. Especially with my first camp here, it’s exciting. Gotta get the jitters out real quick and then get back to playing," rookie defenceman Dylan Samberg said Monday.
The Jets have high hopes for the 21-year-old, who just finished up a terrific NCAA career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. But with such a short training camp and no exhibition games prior to beginning the regular season on Jan. 14, Samberg is likely going to require some minor-league seasoning before he gets a taste of the big leagues.
"Really unfortunate for a guy that we think an awful lot of. If we were having this conversation in a normal September (training camp) I’d say ‘We’ll see. We’ll get him in some exhibition games and if he doesn’t crack the opening-night roster there’s a chance a guy like that could be up mid-season and not go back down," said Maurice.
"So we’ve got lots of time for this guy. But it’ll be tough. I don’t want young guys in general on the taxi squad not playing. So if the American Hockey League gets up and gets going and we have that resource to have these young players play, they’ve got to play games."
None of which comes as a surprise to Samberg, who was picked in the second round of the 2017 NHL draft.
"I figured as much I’d be in the early group right away. I didn’t expect to be given anything. You’ve got to work your way up. A lot of these guys have been in camp for multiple years now, and this is my first camp. I didn’t really expect them to give me anything. I’ve got to earn it," he said.
He was joined Monday by defencemen Nelson Nogier, Declan Chisholm, Luke Green, Johnathan Kovacevic, Jimmy Oligny, forwards Skyler McKenzie and Kristian Reichel, and goaltenders Eric Comrie, Mikhail Berdin and Cole Kehler. Forward David Gustafsson and defencemen Tucker Poolman, who played for the Jets last season, also skated with the group in yellow non-contact jerseys as they work their way through injuries.
"I didn’t know really what to expect too much going into my first camp. I just tried to stick to what I know and work hard. They’ll notice that if you work hard and just stick to the simple things and making simple plays, and go from there," said Samberg.
"It’s only a 10-day camp here, so it obviously goes by very quickly. And without the exhibition games it’s a little tough. But there’s going to be a scrimmage here, and possibly more. So that’ll be helpful as well, to show what I can do. But you’ve got to make that impression. You’ve got to make it quick. And you’ve really just got to be consistent throughout those 10 days."
SPEAKING OF THE AHL: the league announced plans Monday to begin play on Feb. 5, with 28 of 31 teams announcing they will participate in a shortened season. The Manitoba Moose will compete in an all-Canadian division, playing only the Belleville Senators, Laval Rocket and Toronto Marlies in games north of the border.
The exact number of games hasn’t been settled on, but it could be as few as 24. Other teams have been realigned based on geography to cut down on travel. Four clubs have been granted provisional relocations: the Binghamton Devils will play in Newark, N.J.; the Ontario Reign will play in El Segundo, Calif.; the Providence Bruins will play in Marlborough, Mass.; and the San Diego Gulls will play in Irvine, Calif.
The Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals and Springfield Thunderbirds have elected to sit out the coming campaign.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.