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The scene at non-training camp, Day 1

Michael Del Zotto #4 of the New York

Michael Del Zotto #4 of the New York Rangers defends against Erik Condra #22 of the Ottawa Senators during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. (April 13, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

In the sunny parking lot next to the low, blue building, the sounds were distinctly familiar: Sticks slapping pucks, pucks hitting sideboards, skates scraping ice, muffled voices calling for passes. 

In previous years, the sounds heard through the walls of the MSG Training Center here in Greenburgh, N.Y., on the first day of Rangers training camp would be louder, with a multitude of voices and skates adding to the autumn chorus. 

Not Friday morning.

Only about a dozen locked-out Rangers---no coaches or prospects vying to make the team---were inside the rink, working out on the ice they rented as the sixth day of the NHL lockout unfolded.

Strange days, indeed. 

But certainly better than staking out the CBA negotiations in on a Manhattan sidewalk, of which I’ve done my share, thank you.

Eventually, the players trickled from the glass doors, alone or in pairs, in shorts and t-shirts and sandals, some with an ear to a cell phone, and headed for their cars, another informal practice completed and another day closer to making a decision on continuing to work out in New York, go back home to Canada or elsewhere, or make the tough call and play in Europe.

Think of the Clash: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”    

Sunglasses perched atop his dark hair and leaning against the hood of a car, Michael Del Zotto waved a greeting and answered a question.

So how much different was this 90-minute workout with teammates---closed to the press by management---compared to what would have been Day 1 of training camp, including Rangers coach John Tortorella’s notoriously draining endurance tests?

“Well, at least today I’m able to walk afterward,” said Del Zotto.

But the 22-year-old defenseman, like his teammates, was discouraged by the labor impasse that has shut down the NHL, with no talks scheduled and the postponement of the Oct. 11 start of the regular season a distinct possibility.

“It’s terrible,” said Del Zotto, who is returning home to Stouffville, Ontario next week to skate with other displaced players or with Oshawa, his former OHL club and consider his next move, which may include a short-term deal overseas.

More than 60 players, including Rangers forward Rick Nash, who is playing for HC Davos in Switzerland, have signed contracts with KHL, Swiss, Czech and German teams. “But it’s not easy, you can’t just pick up and go,” Del Zotto said, referring to costly medical insurance, which players must acquire.

Nonetheless, several Rangers are examining alternatives to the joint workouts and were encouraged by yesterday’s ruling from Sweden's Competition Authority that a Swedish Elite League decision to bar NHL players during the lockout is illegal, opening the door for signings.

Swedish forward Carl Hagelin, who played 64 games in his rookie season, is weighing a return to Sodertalje, where he played for three seasons before attending the University of Michigan. “I’ll probably take another week to decide, but they way things are going, you have to look into it,” Hagelin said. And reports from Sweden said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was unavailable for comment, has discussed the possibility of returning to his former club, the Frolunda Indians, with his twin brother Joel, the team’s captain.

“It’s good for players to have another option,” noted Brad Richards, who said players would likely skate here three times next week. “At some point, you’ve got to make a decision.”

Defenseman Stu Bickel had already gone home to Minnesota; among the other players here were Marc Staal, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Steve Eminger and Anton Stralman.

Staal, far healthier than in last year’s camp when he was suffering from post-concussion symptoms, also did not rule out playing in Europe. But the Thunder Bay native will remain in Manhattan “for a few weeks and see what happens,” he said, “but it doesn’t look like this (the labor stalemate) is going to end quickly. It’s kind of gotten ugly.” 

Ah, well…

Today, on to a story about the Knicks Iman Shumpert;  tomorrow, it’s Yanks-A’s in the Bronx.  Hang in; more hockey next week…..

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