ALL ACCESS BLOG
By Josh Plummer
Walking through the tunnel onto the visitors bench this morning is like visiting a crime scene. There are tiny smelling salt pouches, rolled up balls of tape on the ground and even some handprints on the plexi-glass; probably from Canucks fans trying to rattle Joe Thornton's cage.
I got here just in time to see Willie Mitchell and Rick Rypien testing their legs before their teammates join them in an optional skate. After gutting Thornton and the San Jose Sharks 3-1 last night, it's deserved.
Mitchell and Rypien are in the far corner with strength and conditioning coach, Roger Takahashi. Before the drills get started, Mitchell is practicing lifting the puck onto the blade of his stick, skating out front and roofing it lacrosse style.
Takahashi and Rypien watch, and finally Rypien shouts, "OK Ovechkin, let's go!"
The pair skate hard for a good 45 minutes with stops and starts and torquing skating drills. Look great to me, but that's why I'm watching from here and not standing down on the bench with trainer Mike Bernstein. DRILLS
Just after 11 o'clock, a handful of Canuck players and assistant coach Barry Smith pour onto the ice, while the rest hang back in the gym.
Yannick Tremblay, Taylor Pyatt, Marc Chouinard, Tommi Santala, Rory Fitzpatrick, Alex Burrows, Josh Green, Jeff Cowan, Dany Sabourin, Mitchell and Rypien all skate together.
It's good to see Rypien and Mitchell skating with the boys, but don't get your hopes up too high.
Rypien is the first to hit the dressing room after practice.
"The recovery is going good so far," he says. "I've been skating on my own and then today I actually didn't even know beforehand, it was just kind of as soon as the guys got out there I was still out there so I thought I'd try it with the guys."
"I'm kind of ahead of schedule and I don't want to go too crazy, but I definitely made a step today. I'm hoping for a couple of weeks."
The media scrum shifts over to Mitchell, who's missed the last two weeks with a strained groin.
"Today I felt good, I went out there and skated with the guys and did a lot of stuff," says Mitchell, a dozen voice recorders crowding his chin. "When you skate with yourself, you actually test it a lot more than you do in a practice because you're going full out the whole time when you're doing stops and starts and skating drills." Roberto Luongo
's been peppered with 82 shots in his last two starts, can we expect you back tomorrow versus the Blue Jackets?
"No way," says Mitchell. "As much as I felt really good and I skated for an hour and a half today, I'm not going to get myself in that situation when I'm this close to playing. There's probably an outside chance of the game against Edmonton."
As for the rest of practice, Smith ran an innovative drill where he turned the net around to face the back boards and four players played a check and score game behind the goal-line. Sabourin stood in net. It was great for stickhandling in traffic and working hard down low.
Chouinard and Rypien had a little impromptu competition between drills. They floated high wristers from the hashmarks all the way down the ice to the open net at the other end. I think the game was to put the puck in without hitting the ice. A few were hitting high off the glass. Some pretty good forearm strength there. RELAXING
Mattias Ohlund briefly stepped through the tunnel onto the Canucks bench and watched the drills with medical trainer Mike Burnstein. Ohlund was decked out his blue Canucks workout gear and was swigging from a bottle of green Gatorade.
I joined a bunch of other media in the Canucks dressing room afterwards and it looked strange with so many pairs of skates, shin pads and gloves hanging quietly in each stall. For once, Luongo wasn't swarmed by the media - because he was noticeably absent.
"I talked to Luongo last night before he left and I told him I was thinking of giving an optional but I might change my mind tomorrow morning," said Alain Vigneault in his post practice presser. "He told me if he felt the same way he did after last practice, he'd rather have the day off."
It was a well deserved rest for Luongo. I'm thinking today he's probably talking to his friends at RBK about getting some new goalie sticks because at this rate he's got to be running dry. Every time Luongo is named a first star, he hands his stick over the glass to a youngster in the crowd.
You better get a big bundle of them Roberto.
As I was packing up, I walked by the visitors dressing room and saw the Columbus trainers hanging the red pants and skates. Then a couple Columbus players walked by with toques and wooly jackets. Come on boys, it's not that cold in Canuckland today?
But it might be when you take the ice tomorrow night.