Kris Versteeg playfully “hobbled” onto the ice at Johnny’s IceHouse West, shaking out the legs and working out the kinks of this lengthy Olympic break.
“Sunday hockey stroll,” he said. “It was rough for the first couple of minutes. But we brought it back together and were OK after that. It was pretty much what I expected.”
The Chicago Blackhawks who didn’t go to the Olympics shook off the on-ice rust on Sunday, gathering for their first practice since the break began earlier this month. It was a decent go for most of them – some players hit the ice the past day or two to get ready – but overall, they were ready to return.
“Feels good,” Bryan Bickell said. “It seems like the break just flew but it was nice to get back with the guys. We had a couple of days to recover and we feel energized. Mentally, I feel good. Guys are excited to be back.”
They’ll likely be practicing with half a group for a few more days. Coach Joel Quenneville said guys who came back early from the Olympics, like Michal Rozsival, Michal Handzus and Marian Hossa, could get back onto the nice in the next day or two. Those who played longer, including the six who played in the gold-medal game on Sunday morning (Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya) may not skate until Wednesday, or even not until Thursday morning’s skate in New York.
Antti Raanta, who hit the ice on Friday, was apparently champing at the bit to practice again.
“I was talking with (goaltending coach Steve) Weeks and (Corey Crawford): when you come back from the break, it’s like when you were a young kid waiting for Christmas. That was the feeling today,” Raanta said. “It’s always nice to come back after a little break, nice to get a couple saves, see lots of shots.”
Although most were excited to get back, the rust was there. As Crawford said, no matter what off-ice work you do, it doesn’t completely replace the on-ice practices. But the Blackhawks will have a few days to get those legs back and the kinks out.
“They got better as they went along out there today. It was a little tough at the start of it. But it was a good conditioning skate,” Quenneville said. “The goalies saw a lot of pucks. I expect to be better (Monday).”