Though the men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament in Sochi has yet to crown its gold medal winner, back in New Jersey, it was back to work.
The Devils returned to the ice Wednesday for their first practice since the start of the Olympic break. Following some time off, head coach Peter DeBoer resumed his preparations for a final postseason push.
"It was good,” DeBoer said of the break. "I think whenever you can take a break like that, get away from it, you get a little perspective and you get to recharge. The schedule was so condensed, and obviously you’re playing pressure-filled games every night, you get kind of caught up in the moment. I think it was good for us as a group to take a step back and get ready for the last 23 games.”
Cory Schneider was ready to get back at it after the opportunity for a little R & R.
"Feels like it was a while, but it also went by pretty quickly at the same time,” Schneider said. "It’s kind of strange. You do get a little stir crazy sometimes, not doing anything. You want to get up and go play or do something after a while, so it’s nice to get back and be back with the guys and get back on the ice and get a good workout in.”
Martin Brodeur welcomed the chance to strap on the pads again for an uptempo skate.
“When you get away from the game for as long as we did, you’re kind of anxious,” Brodeur said. “You’re itching to get back and play hockey and that was the case. I think the pace was pretty nice out there. I’m sure after the fifth day of this, it might die down a little bit, but we were excited today. It was good.”
DeBoer hopes the extra practice time before the season resumes on Feb. 27 will mean improvements where the team needs it most: on offense.
"I really believe we’re creating enough opportunities on a night," DeBoer said. "It’s not like we’re getting three or four. We’re creating as many or more than the other team on any given night. We’ve got to find a way to put a couple more in."
Missing at AmeriHealth Pavilion were the Devils’ Olympians: Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky were eliminated with Wednesday's 5-2 quarterfinal loss to the United States; Damien Brunner and the Swiss fell to Latvia in Tuesday’s qualification play.
"It’s unfortunate that the Czechs and the Swiss lost out, but the good news is, those guys aren’t coming back after a gold medal game and jumping right into the season,” DeBoer said. "They’re going to have plenty of time to be ready to go for our first game back.”
Said the coach: "You want to see those guys do well. You get attached to people and players. You take pride when you see how well Jagr played and Zidlicky. Elias had some unfortunate injury issues. I don’t make any secret around the room that I’m cheering for Canada to win and for our guys to get home healthy.”
Zidlicky finished tied for the team lead with four points (2g-2a) in five games. Jagr was right behind him with three points (2g-1a). Elias missed two games with an illness before returning Wednesday, and ended the tournament with one assist.
The U.S. faces Canada in Friday’s semifinals for the right to play the winner of Sweden-Finland for gold.
Brodeur, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, admitted to some nervous moments during Canada’s 2-1 win over Latvia in Wednesday's quarterfinal. Tied 1-1 after two periods, the Latvians kept it close despite what ended up being a 57-16 shots advantage for the Canadians.
“You have to give [Latvia] a lot of credit,” Brodeur said. “They played an awesome game, but Canada deserved to win by a bigger margin. They got a little scared, but sometimes it’s good. They learned to play a tight game, it’s going to pay off for them in the next few games. Hopefully in the next game, at least.”
Schneider, a native of Marblehead, Mass., is leaning the other way.
"I'm rooting for the U.S. all the way now that our guys are out of it, the Jersey guys," he said.