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Williams Back at Canes Practice

Veteran forward returned to the ice with his team on Thursday

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

It was like the first day of school.

Or the first day of training camp.

Or seeing an old friend after some time apart.

Or, "It's kind of like, have you ever not driven a car for a long time? And then you get behind the wheel and you're like, 'Uh, it feels a little foreign'? I know how to play the game, but you're just getting back into it and being like, 'All right. I feel a little more comfortable.' As the practices go on and the days go on, I'll feel more comfortable and be able to drive the speed limit."

Whatever figure of speech you ascribe, Justin Williams was back with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, participating in practice for the first time this season after inking a bonus-heavy contract on Wednesday.

Smiles abound with a spike of verve both on and off the ice.

"I think it gave the whole group some life today," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "Every team is in the dog days now, a little bit, yet it's so important to try to get some traction. Today was a nice boost for our group."

Tweet from @Canes: Back to work 💪 pic.twitter.com/oY5h8ezBic

It was almost as if Williams had never left, as if he just showed up four months fashionably late to a party in which he was always invited. The transition has been that organic, even in a room with a handful of new faces that weren't around when Williams was last.

"It's fun," Williams said with a smile that never really left his face all morning. "Welcomed back by everybody. I got to know the new guys a little bit, and I'll continue to get to know them. I expect this to be very seamless and very easy because I had the right attitude coming in here."

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In some ways, it was just another Thursday sandwiched in the middle of two home games smack dab in the middle of a regular season.

In some ways, it was anything but for both the Canes and Williams.

"I had to get all my equipment settled, my sticks ready to go, fitness testing, green screen stuff. There's a lot of stuff to do that you don't just normally do in a day," he said. "I've got to get back into it. It's kind of like training camp for me right now. Just working hard."

Tweet from @Canes: Like he never left pic.twitter.com/zSV8obYuQF

Williams' first practice - filled with plenty of whoops and hollers and smiles - with the Canes was, of course, the next step in his journey to returning to the lineup, a journey that has no timeline.

"He looked good, but we've got to make sure we give him enough time to get up to speed," Brind'Amour said. "We're taking it really slow here to make sure it's the right time. We've got to get his game there first."

Video: Justin Williams: "I expect this to be very seamless"

"I'm a realist. I'm not naïve in the fact that, 'Hey, Roddy. I'm ready to go. Put me in now.' I can't do that," Williams said. "I need time. Fortunately for us, we have it. Whenever that time is, I'm sure Roddy will let us know."

After the question of when follows the question of where (does he fit into the lineup) and who (comes out of the lineup).

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. There's no point in even bringing that up yet because he's not an option," Brind'Amour said. "Whether it's a week or two weeks, whenever we get to the point where I feel like he can play, then I'll have to make some tough decisions."

RELATED: WHAT DOES SIGNING WILLIAMS MEAN FOR THE CANES?

Until it's time for the 38-year-old veteran to play career game No. 1,245, Williams will continue to skate, practice, work out, get back up to game speed and get to know some new teammates from his "corner office" stall in the locker room.

He's back.

"We know what he is. He's going to be a great teammate and leader," Brind'Amour said. "We know what we're getting. When you can add a quality person to your room, I have no doubts."

"They're friends, and I was a fan watching the past few months," Williams said. "Now, I get the opportunity to be here."

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