Jim Slater will tell you he is in arguably the best shape of his life right now. Ditto for Winnipeg Jets teammate Mark Stuart.
But it’s been more than six months since Stuart last played a game in anger in the Jets’ regular-season finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning; slightly less for Slater, who played for the United States at the World Hockey Championships in the spring.
And no matter how many cones they zip around on ice or crunches they do off the ice, their bodies are telling them something: it’s time for some real action, some real emotion, a game with something at stake.
But as the NHL lockout drags on, satisfying that physical fix may yet be awhile.
"It’s hard now because all summer you prepare for training camp and getting into the regular season," said Slater after another session with a dozen or so locked-out Jets teammates and local National Hockey Leaguers at MTS Iceplex this week. "It’s up in the air as to when we’ll need to be ready. It’s hard to train… do you do more of a power-phase (workout) or speed phase if you think it’s going to start up soon? You want to peak at the right time. Over the years you come up with a system that best suits your body and you try to stick to that. But now it’s difficult.
"Now you have to be a little more creative in your workouts because this is dragging on and it’s four, four and a half months of working out and we still don’t know when we’re going to be back at it. Honestly, I feel like I’ve gone backwards a little bit. I was really feeling great mid-August, but now I feel like I need to get it back a little bit. It seems like I’ve regressed."
Both Slater and Stuart will admit the off-season often comes at a perfect time. They play the kind of physical, do-anything-to-win brand of hockey that can leave their bodies bruised and battered at the end of a long season. But by the end of the summer they are healed, refreshed and eager to return.
The lockout, of course, means the date of that return is uncertain. So it’s skate, wait, work out and repeat.
"Your body and your mind are telling you that you should be playing right now," Stuart said. "It’s a weird feeling. I mean, you come in here every day and skate and work out, you try to stay in shape but in your head… it’s hard to explain, but it almost feels like you’re not doing much and there’s not much direction. That’s a tough thing.
"It’s more mental right now than physical. My body feels good. Who knows about game shape, but I’ve been skating and keeping my routine. But mentally I keep thinking we should be playing right now."