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Coyotes return to ice less than 2 weeks before start of condensed season

(Twitter photo/@ArizonaCoyotes)

The Arizona Coyotes returned to the ice on Monday for the start of training camp. It’s a unique start, even without factoring in the pandemic.

The Coyotes are undergoing a very short ramp-up. Their first game is 10 days away from that first skate, and that’s the regular season. There aren’t any exhibition games.

“Certainly, a different thing that this team will experience,” Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said Sunday, noting there are normally 6-8 exhibition games.

Head coach Rick Tocchet said Monday he expects everyone to come into camp in “excellent shape.”

“You’ve had 3-4 months to get ready, so we’ll see,” he said. “We don’t have time for people who are out of shape. Some guys might get into the lineup who are in good shape and are impressing in camp. That’s just the way it’s gotta be. There’s no excuse not to be in shape.”

Tocchet said on Sunday that the team doesn’t have time to wait around. He wanted to use the first day of camp for working on things beyond everyone just getting their legs under them.

And that puts a further emphasis on scrimmages. What’s typically a tuneup to the tuneup is now critical.

“We need that first scrimmage,” Tocchet said Sunday. “It’s gotta be competitive.”

That’s because it’s also a shortened 56-game schedule, and as Tocchet noted, a slow start could doom them. If they take two weeks to get acclimated and fall behind, that’s eight games and nearly one-seventh of the schedule on this accelerated calendar.

“We can’t worry too much about it,” defenseman Jason Demers said Sunday. “We just have to adapt.”

Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said Sunday a group of players has been in the Valley skating the past 5-6 weeks, making sure they’re not solely relying on a small training camp.

“The real bullets are coming pretty quick so we just gotta make sure we’re on the ball,” Demers said.

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