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Jets skaters preparing to play hockey, wherever that may be

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Nik ANTROPOV is out of breath. And he's got those familiar aches again in muscles that haven't really been pushed hard since April and the Winnipeg Jets' last game of the 2011-12 season.

All of this, you should know, excites him to no end. It's his body's way of telling him training camp is near and hockey season is close.

Or... supposed to be close.

"I just finished a workout and am about to go on the ice," began Antropov during a break at the Biosteel Training Camp in Aurora, Ont., where he is training and skating with 43 other NHLers, including Jets prospects Eddie Pasquale and Julian Melchiori. "Everybody is trying to get into this camp. It's really intense, it's like a mini training camp.

"It's awesome."

But while Antropov, like every other NHLer, is spending the last week of August getting his body tuned up, the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association on a new collective bargaining agreement -- the current one expires Sept. 15 -- tends to occupy the brain and dominate just about every conversation.

The same goes at the Octagon Hockey Pro Training Camp in Montreal, which Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec is attending, or wherever hockey types are gathering and -- fingers crossed -- watching as the league and its players decide how to share a $3 billion pot.

"All the players talk about it here all the time," Antropov said. "We're keeping informed with what's going on, but we still have to focus and do our job, we have to get ready no matter what happens after Sept. 15. You still have to be in shape."

Antropov, as a 32-year-old vet, has been through this stuff before. His Plan B during the 2004-05 lockout took him to the KHL, which would be a possible option again if the negotiations, or lack thereof, were to drag on for weeks or months. He's kept his house in Toronto and will start his kids in school there while waiting to see what unfolds.

"I've thought about (playing overseas), absolutely," Antropov said. "But the main goal is to stay here and hopefully the season starts on time. I don't know if there's going to be (a lockout) or how long it might be... but you want to play, you want to develop. You can't just work out every day and not play games. We're all just waiting now."

While Antropov spends his days working out with NHL colleagues, a prospect like Mark Scheifele is in somewhat of a different spot. The Jets' top pick of 2011 is in Barrie now and will step on the ice for the first time with the Ontario Hockey League's Colts on Thursday. Ideally, he'd be in Winnipeg for Jets' camp in late September. But if there is a lockout, he'll have to put his NHL pursuit on hold and return to junior hockey.

"It's definitely a real different feeling for me right now," said Scheifele in a telephone interview from Barrie. " I know there was a lockout a few years ago, but I wasn't a part of that like I am now. It sucks that we have to wait right now, but it's part of the game and part of the whole collective bargaining agreement discussions so you have to live with it.

"I trust the guys that are handling it. They obviously know what they are talking about and want the best for all the players. But you don't know what to expect right now. That's tough. It's the waiting game. But you've got to work your hardest, too, and you can't think that there's not going to be training camps or a season. You have to be ready if there is and if not, have your backup plan ready."

No offence to the Colts, but in Scheifele's dreams he's twirling around the MTS Centre wearing a No. 55 jersey and playing against the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Bruins. Going back to junior is an option of course, but he's just itching for another shot with the big boys at Jets' camp.

"Staying in Barrie would be another developmental year for me, to try and be the best player out there every night and to try and improve my game at every practice," said Scheifele. "I'd also try to be in the gym a little bit more to try and get bigger and stronger. That's the backup plan in case something happens. It's important because I know I still have a league to play in and to work on becoming a better player. I'm sure most of the guys have plans in place.

"But I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: my goal is to be in Winnipeg."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter@WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2012 D1

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Updated on Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 10:27 AM CDT: Updates photo.

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