CALGARY, AB -- Long after his teammates had finished their morning skate on Tuesday, Calgary Flames defenceman Derek Smith came trudging into the locker room, looking a little emotional as he headed to his stall.
"It's been a while, I'm a little flustered right now," he chuckled, wiping his eyes.
The reason Smith was sporting red eyes and was looking a little more worn-out than usual? He spent his morning being put through the paces by assistant coach Dave Lowry. The 27 year-old has missed 22 games with a high ankle sprain he suffered on Dec. 29 in a game against the New York Islanders and is now working on getting his fitness level back where it needs to be.
"It's tough. Those guys skate you hard out there. It's not easy but it's got to be done. They're doing it for the right reasons. When we do get back, we're in a good position."
Smith has been skating with other injured teammates in recent weeks but he is now feeling well enough to take part in team practices.
"Really good," was his response when asked how he felt. "There was no issues out there. I felt good and now it's just about getting back into game shape and get my timing back."
It is definitely a positive sign that Smith has no lingering issues from the malady but nailing down a date for his return to lineup is still tricky.
"Honestly, it's just whenever I feel comfortable - good enough shape to get out there. This late in the season, I can't be in the lineup if I'm not ready. Now it's just up to me and the coaches, to try to get back as soon as possible but making sure I'm ready at the same time."
Even with the intense on and off ice workouts, Smith is relishing being back in the locker room with his teammates.
"It's awesome. They've been on the road a lot lately too so we haven't spent a lot of time with them. So, to be back in the dressing room with the guys, it feels really good."
Throughout the course of his recovery, Smith tried to glean as much as he could from not only his teammates play but from players around the NHL.
"It's been really tough but watching, you learn a lot. There's a lot of good players on the team and in this League that you can learn from. You just try to get better even when you're hurt and I think I've been trying to do a good job of that."
In 32 games with the Flames this season, Smith has potted two goals and 10 points. He has a plus-two rating and has amassed 12 penalty minutes in that span.