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Uncertainty plagues NHL training camps

AP photo In this Feb. 8 file photo, Arizona Coyotes’ Phil Kessel (81) moves the puck against the Boston Bruins, in Boston.

Andrew Copp got a chance to skate in Michigan but isn’t sure how many of his Winnipeg teammates have been on the ice.

Voluntary player workouts have been going on for more than a month, but full NHL teams will be together Monday for the first time since March. Mixed with the excitement of hockey being back is the uncertainty of which and how many players might opt out and how the long layoff could contribute to injuries.

“(It’s about) trying to make sure that when you come back your hips and groins are all right,” Copp said. “For some guys, it’s going to be ease in and make sure you make it through the first four or five games healthy and making sure you don’t hurt yourself. At the same time, we are getting ready for the playoffs.”

It’s a training camp unlike any in history, with expanded rosters on 24 teams coming back from a four-month absence to compete for the Stanley Cup. It’s a two-week sprint from home cities to Toronto for Eastern teams and Edmonton, Alberta, for their Western counterparts.

Already, a handful of players have opted out of participating and more could make the same decision before a Monday afternoon deadline.

More than half the eligible players have already been skating at team facilities trying to get their legs under them, and ramping up for the resumption of the season takes another step with the start of organized workouts.

“It will be different for everybody,” Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford said. “It’s a camp in the middle of the summer after guys have had time off. It will be interesting to see how certain guys have prepared.”

Islanders coach Barry Trotz figures this will be a chance to gauge how mentally and physically prepared players are for this grind. There was no mandatory ice time or workout regimen before this point, though some players skated overseas when rinks were closed in North America for the COVID-19 pandemic and others have since made sure that their skates are laced up.

The race’s intrigue wasn’t shocking the concerns centered around Kentucky’s first day race since Kenseth won a rain-postponed event in 2013. While it favored previous winners — including five Cup champions who combined for nine wins — the opportunity was there.

Aric Almirola made his case at the start, pushing pole-sitter Kyle Busch forward from the outside and chasing in the early laps before taking over nine laps later and threatening to run away from it. Almirola led 128 of the first 137 laps — nearly 40 more than he has led all season.

Blaney and DiBenedetto took their turns in front before Keselowski inherited it on pit road during green-flag pit cycles. That didn’t last long as Truex quickly stalked him on the last-stage restart and took over on 181 in hopes of his third Kentucky win in four years.

Truex gave it a good run against Harvick but instead settled for watching Custer take the win.

“The 41 (Custer) just came with a big head of steam and there was no way I was going to be able to block that,” Truex said. “He was just in the right place at the right time, I guess.”

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