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Niittymaki Gets Through First Practice

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

(Voorhees, NJ, October 3, 2006) – A week ago, it looked like the next time Antero Niittymaki would be back on the ice would be in December.

But things changed quickly, and one cortisone shot later, Niittymaki was back practicing with his teammates on Tuesday despite a torn labrum in his left hip. Even better for the goaltender is that he felt fine afterwards.

"I had a lot of shots [on goal] and so far it feels really good, no problems," said the 26-year-old goaltender after practice. "The [cortisone] shot helps a lot. It is a lot better than it was two or three days ago."

Niittymaki injured the hip during practice on Tuesday, September 26. Surgery would require a minimum of six-to-eight weeks recovery time, which would have sidelined the Finland native for much of the first half of the season.

After visiting with Dr. Thomas Byrd in Nashville, however, it was determined that a series of cortisone shots would allow Niittymaki to play throughout the entire season. His next shot would be around the end of December, while a third shot would occur before the start of the NHL playoffs in April.

Still, it was just one single good day of practice. There may still be some unanswered questions, according to Ken Hitchcock.

"Our evaluation on him won't start until tomorrow. We'll move his level up tomorrow and see what he is like," said Hitchcock on Tuesday. "He felt great, and he went through 80 minutes of practice and 25 minutes before practice with the exercises he needed to do and he felt great. If he is able to come back tomorrow with a similar type of practice, then we're off to the races.

"Once he's declared good to go we're not going to save him or protect against it. There are a lot of players who played last year and a lot more who will play this year with a similar situation that had no problems. He played through the same thing last year, the whole year, and got the operation at the end," he said, referring to the surgery Niittymaki received on his torn right labrum following last season.

Nedved Adjusting to New Role

Center Petr Nedved is currently adapting to a new role on the team as a defensive oriented player designed to shut down opponents' top scoring lines. He talked about it after Tuesday's practice.

"I have done it here and there, but not as much. Most of the time it was the other way around," said Nedved, who returned to practice after sitting out on Monday with a sore back. "It's going to be a big challenge for me and I am looking forward to it. I spoke to Hitch about it he told me about it and asked how I felt about taking that kind of role, and we went from there.

"Obviously it's a big responsibility. You have to be playing extremely well on the defensive side of the puck. If you're playing against the other teams offensive line and play well, there should be some offensive chances."

Hitchcock said that Denis Gauthier, who practiced without contact on Tuesday, would do the same on Wednesday and would miss Thursday's season opening game in Pittsburgh. Gauthier could play by the home opener on Saturday. … Lars Jonsson had his cast removed but is still sidelined with a high right ankle sprain. … Hitchcock said that Riley Cote would not play Thursday but still has not decided on the rest of the lineup.
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