The San Jose Sharks opened training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Thursday with an optimistic outlook and the hope that being on the road for the first month of the season will narrow their focus and help them get off to a strong start.
“For the next month we’re in a self-imposed bubble and we look at it as an opportunity to get together again after being off for a long time (since March 11), to bond a little bit,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. “Really, no distractions. We’re in a hotel and we’ve got everything at our fingertips here when it comes to service, and it’s just about us getting over to the rink and putting the work in. There’s no excuses for not being ready (for the season).”
The Sharks had to move training camp from San Jose to Scottsdale because health restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Santa Clara County, California, include a ban on contact sports.
They arrived Wednesday at the hotel, where they will have to go through COVID-19 testing each day, and opened training camp with testing and administrative protocols Thursday. San Jose will be on the ice for the first time at Ice Den Scottsdale on Friday.
The Sharks will train in Scottsdale for two weeks before opening the NHL season with eight road games, starting against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Jan. 14. They are scheduled to return to San Jose and play their first home game against the Vegas Golden Knights at SAP Center on Feb. 1, but only if the county health restrictions are lifted.
If they’re not, the Sharks will have to play their home games at a neutral site or in another NHL arena.
“You’re not on your couch, you’re not with your wife or girlfriend, you’re not around your kids or your dog, but you’ve got to make the most of it,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said. “You get to be around some of your best friends in the world for a long time. A lot of people would take that offer up if you offered them staying in a nice hotel, eating some nice meals and being around their best friends for a while. It’s not the worst place to be, that’s for sure.”
The Sharks will spend limited time at the rink through training camp, choosing instead to hold their meetings and eat their meals at the hotel, a five-minute drive from the rink. They will change and shower in their hotel rooms instead of at the rink.
Despite the challenges, Boughner said the goal doesn’t change. They held a meeting Wednesday night and Boughner stressed the importance of getting off to a good start in a 56-game season.
“By Feb. 11, we are going to play our 14th game of the season against [the Los Angeles Kings] and that’s a quarter of the season gone through the first 28 days,” Boughner said. “So it’s not just about the next 11 days, it’s about that being our foundation for a good start.”
Last season, San Jose lost its first four games and was 4-10-1 through its first 15. After losing on New Year’s Eve, the Sharks were 17-21-3 and seventh in the Pacific Division.
They ended the season as one of seven teams that didn’t qualify for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, finishing last in the Western Conference with a .450 points percentage (29-36-5).
“Being on the road, the distractions are on the side and we can just focus on hockey here,” Couture said. “I think down the road in our schedule when, fingers crossed and everything goes well, we get to go back to San Jose and play there, we’re going to have a lot of home games down the stretch. Our job is to put ourselves in a situation where those games are going to mean something and we can use those to our advantage.”
This is also the first Sharks training camp without Joe Thornton since 2006. The center, who signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 16, was missed on Day One, even though defenseman Brent Burns said he FaceTimed the 41-year-old from the rink to say hello.
“It was tough,” Sharks forward Tomas Hertl said. “It was a little bit more quiet. You’re not used to it, but it’s part of hockey changing.”