A worker cleans around an empty Nashville Predators practice rink in Tennessee. During the NHL lockout, players have had to find other places to practice. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

A worker cleans around an empty Nashville Predators practice rink in Tennessee. During the NHL lockout, players have had to find other places to practice. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Around eight members of the Nashville Predators started meeting weekday mornings at a suburban ice rink near Nashville, which they rented for a couple hundred dollars an hour.

Locked out of their regular practice rink and cut off from head coach Barry Trotz, players for the Predators have had to find other ways to keep in practice. They lift weights, work on controlling the puck while barreling between cones, and, toward the end of practice, they scrimmage.

“This is just kind of a cross-ice 3-on-3,” said Tim McAllister, the youth hockey directory of the rink.

For a while after the lockout took hold, the team had a ringer of a substitute coach – Shawn Allard, a retired European pro, pushing hard skating. But he went home a few weeks ago. Recently, the players asked McAllister to join them on the ice and put them through drills.

“You still are a little star struck with these guys. I found myself kind of asking them – they ask me what we’re doing and I say, ‘well, what do you guys want to do?’”

McAllister runs practices to build control in tight spaces, as well as endurance. The downtime offers a chance to build strength, and hone skills. And, McAllister said, the mini-game is also just fun.

“Myself being from Canada, it’s like just going out on the pond and skating and just having fun with some guys and playing around a little bit. But they still push that pace really well, and this way the fans can come see them skate and see them after practice and get an autograph signed and it’s still good for everybody.”

The Predators’ alternate captain Mike Fisher was one player who signed autographs on his way to the locker-room after practice. Fisher said while players enjoyed hockey, lately it had also taken hard work and tenacity.

“We’re just doing all we can to get ready, and hopefully the fans will be patient like we have to be right now. But hopefully we’ll be back there soon, and everyone’ll be happy and we’ll get back to doing what we love to do. The business side of hockey is not the fun part.”