Travis Zajac is looking forward to next week.
The Devils practice facility will hopefully be open then and he’s looking forward to stepping foot into the familiar space.
“For me personally, I’d like to,” Zajac said of participating in Phase 2 of the Return to Play plan, “you know, get back to some normalcy and get to the rink a couple times a week, see some of the trainers and whoever else is in town would be, you know, just to break things up, obviously, it’s going to be a long, long summer and probably fall for us.”
Not only will it break up what can feel like Groundhog Day lately, the option to skate will begin to prepare Zajac and his teammates for the start of the 2020-21 NHL season, whenever that may be. Cory Schneider is also in New Jersey and expects to be on the ice once the facility is open as well.
“[I’m] looking forward to a few days a week, whenever it is…As long as everything’s okay,
going back to the rink and getting in some workouts.”
While it may be hard to watch other teams move on to Phase 3 of the Return to Play plan, when training camps should open on July 10, Zajac can’t help but think about that ‘long, long summer and probably fall’ that awaits he and his teammates.
Players always take some time off from skating during an off-season, but this is one like no other. It could be months before members of the Devils face any sort of meaningful, high-octane competition.
Video: SEASON END | Travis Zajac
“You know, it gives me a little anxiety thinking about it,” Zajac admitted, “obviously it’s a long time not being on the ice and it’s not the ice or the working out, it’s about competitiveness and being in some games and some battles and things like that.”
Zajac stresses taking things day-by-day, not unlike the uncertainty of returning from a long-term injury. He does however hold out hope that there will be an opportunity at some point for players not involved in the 24-teams that return to finish out the season, will have a chance to up their own competitiveness.
“I think there’ll be opportunities maybe later in the summer,” Zajac proposed, “to get with a group of guys and skate and maybe some more intense practices, and some scrimmages along the way. I think that’s something as a group, we’ll probably have to… you know for guys who aren’t playing, are not involved or want to get on the ice is maybe get some competitive scrimmages and skates going at some point during the summer.”
Whenever the 2020-21 season starts, Zajac wants to continue to play an active role in bouncing back from a disappointing season, that was beginning to turn itself around when the NHL was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think for us, going forward, we still have a lot of belief in the group and you see the skill and the talent we do have,” he said, “So, there’s no doubt in our mind, I think going forward, we know we should be pushing for a playoff spot.”
New Jersey ended the year with 68 points in 69 games and were on a 6-2-2 run when the season came to a halt.
“I still think I have a role on the team, and I can help,” he continued, “I know I’ve got a lot of hockey left and I want to be a part of this group. I see the talent, I see some of the guys we have coming up and obviously the pieces we have now, these are special players are they’re going to be great players. I think I’m there to help guide them and not only that but play some really good hockey myself.”
And that’s where the wily veteran will keep his focus. To continue doing what he’s done all his career, produce and lead by example and just be ready, ready for a date we still don’t know.
“It’s an opportunity to refresh and get ready for next season,” he said, “We have no idea and I don’t spend a lot of energy to be honest thinking about it, it seems like there’s a lot of stuff that has to go right, and hurdles to jump through and, things that happen before we can we can start a season for now, or for next year. Right now, my focus is slowly trying to get back in it and make sure I’m in good shape when the time comes, and we’re all healthy.”
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