CENTENNIAL, Colo.--Colorado Avalanche forward John Mitchell, who has missed the first five games of the season with a hip flexor injury, took part in a full team practice on Sunday and could return to the lineup for Friday's contest against the Winnipeg Jets.
Mitchell has been out since the preseason but has quietly been skating on his own for the past few weeks before practices, testing his hip to make sure it will be able to hold up to the grind of an NHL contest, whenever that comes.
"It was nice to be able to skate with your teammates and players and shoot on actual goalies," Mitchell said after practice at Family Sports Center. "It felt nice to actually be out there, and the hip felt great."
He spent the past week in Colorado to continue his rehab and skate with Avs development consultant Brett Clark, missing out on the team's first road trip of the year.
Clark, the former Avalanche player who lives in the Denver area full time, was a welcomed addition on the ice for Mitchell. He gave the Oakville, Ontario, native some company, a person he could get passes from and push him when needed.
"It's a little difficult because it gets pretty boring out there when you're the only guy on the ice," Mitchell said. "Thankfully, I had Brett Clark with me this past week to pass me pucks and give me some drills and whatnot. I was really happy that I was able to have him here because it would have been a really long week if it was just myself."
Battling back from the injury was a process for Mitchell, who is entering his fifth season with the Avalanche.
He didn't play in any preseason games because of the ailment, and there were a few times where he thought he was getting better, only to then be faced with a minor setback.
"It was a long process. Thinking it was OK, so I would go skate and then it would flare up and I would take a couple days off," Mitchell recalled. "Then I would try and practice again and it completely blew up on me at that point. It's just painstaking to sit here and not play in any preseason games, not practice. Then you miss opening night--I think everyone enjoys that and wants to play in that game. Just to miss the first road trip with all your teammates, that's some good bonding time, especially with the new guys on the team. That was really frustrating that I had to miss that."
Staying patient and not trying to rush it was one of the toughest things Mitchell had to deal with in his recovery.
"It's a trying time. It's very frustrating, but at the same time you have to listen to the training staff and everybody," he said. "They'll want you to be patient, as much as it's tedious--it's long hours here. You're the first one in, the last one out, and you're just doing treatment, exercises, strengthening this, icing that, stimulating this. It's kind of Groundhog Day. It's the same thing every day."
Video: John Mitchell returns to Avalanche practice
When he wasn't on the ice or getting treatment, Mitchell kept busy by watching a lot of early-season hockey, whether it was the Avs or other teams around the league.
He admitted it was good to watch "tape" and analyze what was happening in real time, but it also brought the yearning to get back on the ice with his teammates.
"It's sad when you sit on the couch and watch these games and all I want to do is play," Mitchell said. "I've played hockey my whole life, so it's tough there to sit and watch. So, I'm very excited to get back in the lineup and get into some games."
However, Mitchell didn't just go straight from the rink to his couch this past week. He also volunteered to do some community outreach and visit young patients at local children's hospitals.
"I was able to go to two different children's hospitals and see some kids and play with them and give them some toys and some blankets and whatnot," Mitchell said. "Just trying to take their mind off of whatever is going on in their life and see if I can crack a smile. They were all great kids."
The next week sets up nicely for a possible return to the Avs lineup for Mitchell.
Colorado will have four practices and five days between contests, which will give him time to get re-acclimated to the pace of the game and the structure that new head coach Jared Bednar wants his troops to play.
"I just want to be fully prepared for every practice. Go out there and skate and work hard," Mitchell said. "This is an opportunity for me to get my legs underneath me even more. I'll have some opportunities to watch some video and skate and practice a lot. I haven't had a lot of practice time with the team or anybody, really, so it's kind of nice that we have that many practices in a row."