Although it doesn’t take much to fire up Tuomo Ruutu
, that’s the state the Hurricanes winger found himself in on Monday morning.
Ruutu had just completed a full team practice for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury on January 8 and will return to the lineup for Tuesday’s home game against the Florida Panthers.
“I’m so excited to be back playing,” he said. “Enough riding the bike and enough bag skating.”
“He feels good and strong,” coach Paul Maurice noted. “When you look at the players that we’ve missed at our right wing especially, there’s a certain style of player. He’s got some speed, he’ll play with a little bit of bite and he’s got some good hands. We’ll welcome him back.”
Ruutu’s return will coincide with his bobblehead giveaway at the RBC Center. The occasion will mark the second time a player has returned from a prolonged injury absence on their bobblehead night (Chad LaRose even scored a goal on January 18), leaving one to ponder the coincidence.
“I’m not really ready, but for the bobblehead I’ll do whatever it takes,” he said, jokingly of course.
While the Canes will be thrilled to have Ruutu return and bolster a right side of the lineup that has been decimated by injuries to Erik Cole and Scott Walker, Ruutu himself admitted that he feared missing his second consecutive Olympic games due to injury. Although named to Team Finland for the Turin games in 2006, he was forced to pull out two weeks prior.
“I would lie if I said I didn’t think that way,” he said. “The first thing in my mind was that I was worried about not playing for a long time, and then the second thing was, “What about the Olympics?
“A lot of times you’re thinking about worst-case scenario for sure,” he added. “As I calmed down, if I would have missed them I would have missed them. There was nothing really that I could do. I try to live in this day and that’s it.”
The manner in which Ruutu was injured this time around would have been especially frustrating. Ruutu was answering the bell in a first-period fight with Colorado’s Darcy Tucker, who was himself injured after a suspension-worthy hit from Ruutu in an earlier meeting on October 23.
While that demonstrated the precise reason why teams cringe when top offensive performers drop the gloves, Ruutu said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“I don’t really regret it,” he said. “I think I did everything right, and things like that happen. I could hurt myself hitting somebody. It’s just bad luck.”
As fate would have it, the 15 games missed by Ruutu easily eclipsed the eight contests Tucker spent on the sideline due to a concussion suffered in the October incident.
Ruutu is expected to start Tuesday’s game on a line with Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer – a combination Ruutu believes will be personally beneficial.
“They’re both fast, so they’ll help me,” he said, laughing. “They’ll compensate for my slowness.”
Maurice said that Manny Legace will get the start in goal Tuesday as Cam Ward awaits word from today’s back examination. However, it appears Justin Peters, who had a highly-successful NHL debut on Saturday, will start either Thursday or Saturday.
“Justin’s performance says that he deserves another shot, and we want to see him,” said Maurice.
The head coach also said that he did not expect any of the team’s injured players – namely Cole, Walker and Chad LaRose, to return before the break. Cole and Walker practiced Monday in non-contact jerseys.
“When you’re a game away from having a two-week break, unless the guys knows he’s 100 percent we’re just better off,” said Maurice. “We’ve had them out for so long now, it just makes no sense to try to squeeze them for one game.”