<
>

Rangers reunite at training center

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- After a collection of 15 New York Rangers got off the ice at the MSG training center in Westchester on Monday, there was a renewed buzz of excitement.

Skating for the first time since a tentative agreement was reached between the NHL and NHLPA Sunday morning, players were upbeat and anxious to get the season under way.

After a long, arduous negotiation process that lasted almost four months -- 113 days to be exact -- there was even some sense of disbelief it was finally over as they pulled on practice jerseys and laced up their skates.

"People were here two hours early, kind of staring at each other before we got out there," said veteran center Brad Richards. "It was a lot of fun."

Just as Richards and his teammates returned to their home ice -- a group of Rangers have actually been renting ice there throughout the lockout -- plenty of players flocked back to their team's arenas Monday in anticipation of training camp beginning soon.

Although a new collective bargaining agreement has yet to become official -- both sides need to ratify the memorandum of understanding first -- players are gearing up for what promises to be a jam-packed and shortened season.

An official starting date has yet to be announced, but multiple sources have indicated to ESPNNewYork.com that it is all but guaranteed to be Jan. 19. That would allow a 48-game season.

After missing the first three months of the schedule while the league and union hammered out a deal, players are eager to get started as quickly as possible.

That holds especially true for the Rangers, who made it to the Eastern Conference finals last season and, considering the addition of marquee acquisition Rick Nash, are among the teams considered to be Stanley Cup contenders.

"We're jacked up to play," center Brian Boyle said. "This is going to be a fun ride. It's going to be fast."

Because of the delayed start, training camps will likely be shortened to one week, a big difference from the intense conditioning process coach John Tortorella usually puts his teams through.

Tortorella said the coaching staff has adjusted their plans accordingly -- players have to be praying this means he'll scrap his infamous skating tests -- and will be prepared whenever the puck drops.

"Our team is going to be ready," Tortorella said. "We're going to start where we left off with our style of play and how we handle our business."

Richards, who was involved with negotiations as a participant in several meetings, acknowledged that not everyone may be as happy to see business return to normal.

The 32-year-old alternate captain admitted he understands the fallout from fans, who feel disenfranchised and disrespected with the amount of games that were lost in the work stoppage.

"Unfortunately, that wasn't our choice. Hopefully we all can move by it," Richards said. "I totally understand if fans don't come back, very understandable. But for those that do, we can't wait to play our hearts out and make the game the way it's supposed to be."