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Hejda Returns, Mitchell To Play In 300th Game

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Jan Hejda admitted that his knee injury Dec. 5 at Edmonton looked a lot worse than it really was.

Chasing the puck in the Avalanche zone during the first period of the game with the Oilers, the defenseman hit an edge on the ice and fell feet first into the right wing boards. Hejda immediately grabbed his leg and remained on the ice for several moments before Colorado head athletic trainer Matt Sokolowski and teammate Nate Guenin were able to help him to the Avalanche locker room.

"Just bad luck that I tripped a little bit right before the board," Hejda said.

It appeared as if Hejda might be out for weeks or even months, but the team reported soon after that he would just miss 10-14 days with a sprain.

Nine days after crashing into the wall, Hejda will make his return to the Avalanche's lineup and play in tonight's game against the Minnesota Wild.

"If it didn't feel good I wouldn't play tonight," Hejda said after morning skate. "It wasn't as bad as it looked on television, but right now I feel 100 percent."

The Czech d-man said he is excited to be back playing so soon and is confident he is still in game shape since he didn't miss that much time. He's skated the last three days and has been a full participant in the Avs' last two practices in Colorado.

"It feels great because nobody wants to be out for a long time," he said. "First, it's hard to watch your teammates play on television, and second, I didn't want to lose my game shape right now. I'm very glad I was able to make it back in little more than a week."

Hejda has been paired on defense with Erik Johnson for much of the season, and the blue liners are expected to be reunited for the contest against the Wild. Johnson and Hejda have made a pretty good duo this season as they lead the team in plus/minus with plus-18 and plus-17 ratings, respectively, which are also ranked in the top eight in the league.

Colorado coach Patrick Roy said Hejda would replace Nick Holden in the lineup this evening. Roy has said he's been pleased with Holden's play late but had to make a "coach's decision."

Hejda's return comes at a crucial time for the Avs as they had lost three of their previous four games before a shootout victory over Winnipeg on Thursday. Looking to build on that win tonight, the Avalanche faces a Wild squad it has already defeated twice this season but only holds a one-point lead in the standings.

Colorado has played four fewer games than Minnesota and can gain separation in the standings over the next two weeks as its next seven games are against Western Conference clubs

"It's a huge game for us," Hejda said, "and I hope that I will be able to help this team get the two points because if you watch our upcoming schedule right now we have a lot of important games in front of us."


Colorado center John Mitchell is expected to play in his 300th career NHL contest tonight, but when asked about the mark after morning skate he kind of brushed off the question like it wasn't that big of a deal and this evening's game against Minnesota was just like any other.

"I guess it’s a good number to get to, to get to 300 games, and hopefully many more," Mitchell said. "I'm certainly excited to get that mark."

John Mitchell

However after thinking about it a little longer, Mitchell, 28, said hitting the milestone and playing in the NHL for now six seasons is special to him.

"It's important to me to play that many games in the league," he said. "Growing up as a young kid watching the NHL, playing hockey as a young guy and obviously wanting to play in this league, you realize that dream and then you make it, and now you've played 300 games, so its certainly fun."

Selected in the fifth round (158th overall) by Toronto in the 2003 Entry Draft, Mitchell made his NHL debut Oct. 8, 2008 in Detroit, on the night the Red Wings raised their 2008 Stanley Cup Championship banner.

"It was a little nerve-racking," Mitchell said of his first game. "We were playing in Detroit the year after they won the Cup so they had the whole banner raising and all that stuff. [Toronto head coach] Ron Wilson wanted us to all to be on the bench to see it and not just sit in the dressing room and wait for the game to start. It was actually pretty cool to be on the bench and watch it all go up."

Mitchell's Maple Leafs would get the last laugh as they won the season-opening contest 3-2.

Mitchell played three seasons with the Maple Leafs before having a strong 2011-12 campaign with the New York Rangers, scoring 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 63 games.

The Avalanche signed Mitchell as a free agent in June 2012, and he's been a solid two-way forward for the club ever since. He has 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) and 34 penalty minutes in 77 games with Colorado, including 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in all 30 contests this season.

Three other Avs players are also close to reaching the 300-game mark: Jamie McGinn (five games away), Ryan O'Reilly (five games away) and Matt Duchene (seven games away).


- Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will get his third straight start in net for the Avalanche. He made 35 saves and stopped both shots he faced in the shootout in the Avs' 4-3 win Thursday in Winnipeg.

- Defenseman Ryan Wilson (back injury) participated fully in morning skate, but Roy said he would not return to the lineup for tonight's game. Roy said he wants Wilson to participate in a few more practices before getting back into a contest. He's been out since Nov. 6.

- Roy delivered some good news on Alex Tanguay (knee/hip injuries), saying the forward "was better" this morning. However, Roy reiterated there is still no timetable for his return.

- The Avalanche and Wild are meeting for the third time this season. Colorado swept a back-to-back, home-and-home series against the Wild at the end of November. The Avs won 3-1 on Nov. 29 in St. Paul and 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 30 at Pepsi Center. These two division rivals will meet five times this year, three times here in Denver. The Avalanche and Wild will compete in the Central Division this year after meeting as Northwest Division foes for each of the last 12 seasons.

- At 21-9-0, the Avs have equaled their most wins through 30 games in franchise history. The 2000-01 Avalanche and 1994-95 Nordiques also won 21 of their first 30 contests. Colorado's 42 points this year are its third-most after 30 games in club history.

- NHL TROPHY NIGHT: The Avalanche will help celebrate the history of hockey tonight at Pepsi Center as the organization will hold NHL Trophy Night. Among the league trophies that will be displayed include the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe (playoff MVP), Vezina (top goalie), Calder Memorial (top rookie), Art Ross (top scorer), and Hart (regular season MVP). Fans will have a chance to take pictures with these historic NHL trophies before and during the game. Doors will open for all ticket holders at 3 p.m. to ensure fans plenty of time to see and take pictures with all of the trophies. Each fan will be limited to one picture with the Stanley Cup. Fans will not be able to sit in their seats until 5:30 p.m. when the doors officially open for the game, but they will be able to leave the building and re-enter at that time.

- HOLIDAY TREE SALE: The Avs Better Halves Holiday Tree Auction will also be held during Colorado's game this evening against the Minnesota Wild. Fans will be able to bid on one-of-a-kind trees designed by the Avs Better Halves for each player and one tree for the coaching staff. Each tree will have a different theme to it. The auction will take place on the Pepsi Center's level 1 concourse near section 144 and will begin when the doors open and will go through the second intermission. Proceeds benefit Avs Better Halves community programs supported by Kroenke Sports Charities. View photos of the trees

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