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All in all, the locked-out Buffalo Sabres say, their on-ice workouts haven't been bad. They've usually had 20 to 25 guys participate in their weekday sessions, enough for a decent scrimmage or a four-team, three-on-three tournament.
"It's not the best, but it's better than I thought it was going to be," goaltender Jhonas Enroth said Wednesday.
The fondness for the workouts is about to change.
The number of skaters will drop dramatically because the Sabres' young prospects are leaving the veterans behind. Training camp for the Rochester Americans is set to start, so nearly half of the group in Northtown Center at Amherst will be gone. There were 20 players on the ice Wednesday, but nine are joining the Amerks today for physicals.
A two-hour session with only 11 players or so severely limits the options. Scrimmages are out, more passing drills or wind sprints are in.
"We're going to have to revamp things now," forward Matt Ellis said. "As older guys, we're going to have to put a plan in place with what we think is going to keep us ready to go.
"We're trying to make the most of every day. You take the situation we're in, you've still got to come to work, and you've still got to try and improve and get better. It's all part of being a professional. That's what you see out here. Guys are still going hard and still staying ready for whenever the time is [that the lockout ends]."
Exactly what the players do is up to their "coaches," the retired duo of Jay McKee and Andrew Peters. So far, the former Sabres have kept their old friends relatively sharp.
Even with a decent-sized group, though, attention and desire can wane. Nearly all of the players have been idle since April, an extra-long stretch that can make guys grow weary of mere practice.
"It's tough because we want to play," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "There's nothing we can possibly do that's similar to if you have coaches out there, and obviously [there is no] physical play and battles in the corner. We can simulate it, but it's not the same."
That's why Pominville is also leaving the rink in Amherst behind, at least temporarily. Some locked-out players have created a series of charity scrimmages in Quebec, with a team of Montreal-based players facing a squad from the rest of the province. The first game is tonight in a Montreal suburb, and the Quebec-born Pominville is joining NHLers such as Marc-Andre Fleury, Brian Gionta and Simon Gagne.
"I'm going to go down and play there and practice there Friday and come back here after and see what it is like next week," Pominville said. "Hopefully, we have a good enough group where we can at least get something going where we can play three-on-three half ice or something that like, but who knows?"
Most of the Sabres still headquartered in Buffalo have avoided signing overseas for family reasons. Thomas Vanek, Jordan Leopold and Pominville don't want to leave their kids behind while they travel to Europe for an indefinite amount of time.
Enroth, meanwhile, is waiting for his native Sweden to invite NHL players. The country's elite league initially declared that locked-out players weren't welcome, but a legal battle to open the doors is being fought.
"When they make up their mind I'll probably head home right away," said Enroth, who has one full NHL season on his resume and is growing increasingly frustrated that the second is being delayed. "I feel like I'm losing time. It's not like I'm Pominville or Ryan Miller or those guys who have been in the league for a while. I just want to get back there and play in the league I've been dreaming about playing in for a long time."
There's still no sign when the NHL will return. The league and the players' union will meet Friday for the first time in more than two weeks, but they don't plan to discuss core economic issues.
"I've got to be honest, going into the meetings in New York [two weeks ago] I thought we were closer to a deal than we actually are," Pominville said. "I came out of there thinking this might take awhile. Now you start hearing guys who are saying the whole season might be lost.
"I'm still one of those that wants to stay optimistic that we'll get it done."
Until then, the Sabres will keep practicing. But there will be fewer of them, and it will be more of a grind than a pleasure.
"Everyone's got to take care of themselves, take care of their own interests at this point in the game," Ellis said. "We're just trying to keep each other up and keep pushing each other to be better each and every day."
The Amerks, meanwhile, will start training camp in Buffalo. The first on-ice session will be held from 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday in First Niagara Center. It will be open to the public. The minor leaguers will also skate downtown Saturday, but it is a closed session. The Amerks will head to their home base in Rochester on Sunday.
email: jvogl@buffnews.com