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Surreal workout for Pens as NHL lockout lingers

| Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, 8:22 p.m.
The Penguins' Joe Vitale plays January 2012 at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Joe Vitale (46) skates with the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Pittsburgh Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. The Penguins won 4-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Many of the players and the venue were familiar. The rest, though, was surreal.

Former Penguins enforcer Jay Caufield took the place of Dan Bylsma, no team officials were present and, when practice was over, the 14 Penguins players on hand changed in the high school locker room at Southpointe. The Penguins locker room is considered team property, and the NHL lockout prohibits the players from using any team facilities.

“I'm not going to say it wasn't weird,” center Joe Vitale said. “It feels weird, very weird.”

Caufield, who helped get Mario Lemieux into game shape in the weeks before his return from retirement in 2000, is helping players on the team Lemieux owns stay in shape during a lockout that has an unknown expiration date.

“Right now, we're just doing our best to get ready,” captain Sidney Crosby said, “and keeping our fingers crossed that something works out.”

Caufield ran players through a number of drills. Practice concluded with a spirited 4-on-4 scrimmage.

In many ways, it was your ordinary NHL practice, minus the scrimmage.

But there's nothing ordinary about the situation.

“I almost parked in our usual parking spots,” Vitale said. “And now, we're walking in the back door. You just have to get used to it and make the most of the situation.”

Many of the Penguins players expressed varying levels of frustration about the lack of talks between the NHLPA and NHL the past few days.

That the league-imposed lockout date has come and gone, however, isn't too distressing.

“Sept. 15,” Crosby said. “Why Sept. 15 when camps are supposed to start on Sept. 21?”

Crosby paid close attention to the lack of progress over the weekend but wasn't insulted when NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announced Saturday — only hours before the lockout time — that the league wasn't interested in speaking with the NHLPA during the weekend.

“That's negotiations,” Crosby said. “It's somewhat of a game sometime. I don't know what their reasoning was. Maybe there's a good reason why. We don't know. It's easy to read into every little thing like that. As a player, you can only wait until there is actual news.”

The waiting game will continue, perhaps for some time.

“When we get later in the month here,” Crosby admitted, “when you're getting to the time when the season starts ... Hopefully, our routine doesn't change. But it isn't looking great right now.”

Crosby and many of his teammates will continue skating this week and beyond.

“It's frustrating,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “I want to play hockey. But it needs to be done the right way. It needs to be beneficial for both sides.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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