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Greyhounds coach says return 'brings me a lot of energy in my life'

Extended time away from game action was a challenge
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File photo. Brad Coccimiglio/SooToday

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For some, it was just the sense of normalcy.

For others it was a sense of purpose.

Regardless of exactly what the feeling was, the consensus was excitement to be back.

After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League season, as well as the final weeks of the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs, players and staff of the Soo Greyhounds shared the excitement of being back at the GFL Memorial Gardens for training camp, which wrapped up Friday night.

“It was a very exciting week, and it was something that we were all looking forward to for the past 16 months,” said Greyhounds defenceman Jacob Holmes. “It feels great to be back and to be back in some kind of normalcy.”

“It’s been awesome,” added Cole MacKay about the return to the ice. “Obviously that year-and-a-half was challenging for a lot of guys that didn’t get to go away and play somewhere else. It definitely took a little bit to get used to, but we’re all happy to be back.”

Holmes called getting back into the timing with teammates as one of the toughest parts of returning.

“For the past 16 months, nobody has been with the team, and you lose that timing with your passes and plays,” Holmes said. “I feel like we did a really good job as the week went on and got better every day with the chemistry.”

MacKay echoed Holmes’ comments.

“I found, just the timing and the speed of the game as a whole (was an adjustment),” MacKay said. “It wasn’t one thing in particular, but naturally as games go on and as you play more, by Friday’s game I felt more relaxed and settled in than I was on Wednesday. Over time, it took a little bit to settle into the timing and the speed of things

“It’s been a long time coming,” Holmes said ahead of Sunday’s exhibition game. “Everyone is really excited to get back in a real game. It’s been 16 months and we’ve been looking forward to it ever since we went home in March 2020.”

Greyhounds coach John Dean shared the excitement of being back as training camp opened.

“I feel purposeful today,” Dean said following the first scrimmage of camp. “I feel like I have purpose in my life and as a coach. Getting to do what I love, I’m extremely grateful. Just being at the rink today and having the conversations with (GM Kyle Raftis), conversations with the assistant coaches. Having one-on-ones with players that you’ve never met before and challenging them and seeing what their personalities are. These are the things that you miss. It’s the everyday routines. The hustle and bustle. Getting to know players and individuals on a personal level. Going back and forth and being challenged by the coaching staff and management, the buzz of the rink, the staff upstairs working their butts off to make sure everything goes smoothly today. It’s a fun day. It brings me a lot of energy in my life and today was a phenomenal reminder of that.”

On Sunday afternoon following the Greyhounds first exhibition game of the season, and first game action since March 11, 2020, Dean said “it was nice to be back at the hockey rink.”

Dean added that a big takeaway from the game was the routine of being back.

“It was nice to be playing a hockey game and preparing and going through the routine of being a hockey coach again,” Dean said. “I’m sure it’s the same feeling for the players. A little bit of butterflies and an opportunity to do what they enjoy and love again. That’s a big takeaway for me.”

Shortly after the conclusion of Monday’s scrimmage, Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis spoke of being ecstatic to be back at the rink.

“It was awesome,” Raftis said. “Off the ice, you could see both staff and players bouncing around and excited about it. I’ve never seen that many smiles on the ice too on the first day of training camp. It wasn’t anyone being goofy, you could tell guys were just excited to be out there competing.”

“It was interesting because there was some good physicality (on day one) whether it was in a one-on-one drill in practice or in the scrimmages,” Raftis added. “And I think it’s just that guys miss that part of the game and that competing.”