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Practice Report: Hejduk Returns To The Ice

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Veteran forward Milan Hejduk returned to the ice Tuesday morning at Family Sports Center and went through the majority of practice with the rest of his teammates.

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Hejduk, who had been kept off the ice in recent days due to a back injury, wore an orange non-contact jersey this morning. During drills the assistant captain worked on a line with David Jones and Mark Olver.

When Hejduk spoke to reporters following today’s practice, he said that he’s “feeling pretty good” and is optimistic about being in the lineup on opening night despite his recent back troubles.

“Sometimes it takes time, it’s just freaky stuff,” said Hejduk. “You pull something in the back and you have to wait. There’s not much you can do. There are a few exercises, but other than that, it’s just rest.”

Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco said that he’s not overly concerned about limiting the 34-year-old Hejduk’s minutes this season, but rather will try to use those minutes as efficiently as possible.

“I look at the players and how they’re performing during a certain game, and that’s how I determine ice time,” said Sacco. “I can’t look at a guy like Hedgie and say ‘I’m only going to play him this amount of minutes.’ That’s impossible to do.

“The one thing I will do with Milan this year that I started to do last year is probably give him less time on the penalty killing unit. I will use him when I have to, but I’ll try to maybe pull back on some of his penalty killing time.”

Elsewhere at today’s practice the line of T.J. Galiardi, Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart skated together, Ryan O’Reilly centered Daniel Winnik and Brandon Yip, while Philippe Dupuis, Kevin Porter and Cody McLeod comprised the final combination.

Notably absent from today’s practice was Matt Duchene. The sophomore center stayed home today due to an illness, and also wasn’t able to participate in yesterday’s Avalanche Charity Golf Classic.

“Today was more just kind of precautionary to make sure he’s 100 percent so he can practice with us tomorrow,” said Sacco.

Countdown To Opening Night
An NHL team’s home opener is always a special event. Opening night signals the start of a new season, and a renewed sense of optimism, and can often mark the NHL debuts of a handful of young players.

Colorado’s home opener a season ago was also made special by the fact that the organization retired the number of its long-time captain, Joe Sakic, in a pre-game ceremony.

This year, as many as five players could be playing their first NHL home openers on Thursday night – a list comprised of Philippe Dupuis, Jonas Holos, Mark Olver, Ryan Wilson and Brandon Yip. Rookies Holos and Olver would be playing in their first NHL game, while Dupuis, Wilson and Yip are making their first appearances on an NHL team’s opening night roster.

Add in the festivities surrounding the 15-year reunion of the 1996 Avalanche Stanley Cup team, and it’s shaping up to be an exhilarating night at Pepsi Center.

“I’m excited. This is going to be my first home opener,” said Yip. “It will also be exciting to see all the guys who have won the Stanley Cup in the past. I’m sure they’ll throw a little video up there and we’ll get to see what it’s like to be a champion. When you see it in front of you, it’ll definitely get the heart going and the emotions going. We’ll be fired up and ready to go.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Hejduk, who played with many members of the 1996 Stanley Cup team. Despite the fact that he’s entering his 12th NHL season, Hejduk says that opening night never becomes oldhat.

“A lot of people will come to see them,” said Hejduk. “We’ll play a good team that won the Stanley Cup last year. People will definitely be into it and we’ll be pumped, so it should be a very good atmosphere and a good game.”
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