The Windsor Spitfires are anxious for things to return to normal.
The Ontario Hockey League team held its first practice Sunday since the sudden death of captain Mickey Renaud. The Spitfires players welcomed a return to the ice after an emotional week away while dealing with the death of their 19-year-old teammate.
"It was nice to get back," said defenceman Elgin Reid. "The guys are so used to routine every day - working out and skating. Obviously, with the tragedy it's been tough the last week to stay in that routine.
"Today was just kind of our first normal day back and it felt good to get out there and get our minds off of what's happened. I think we're starting to slowly move forward here as a team."
The Spitfires had two games postponed following Renaud's death on Feb. 18. The team says it will play its first game since the incident on Thursday when the Belleville Bulls visit Windsor Arena.
Prior to Sunday's practice, the Spitfires held a players meeting to discuss how they will move forward without Renaud. They were then put through a 90-minute skate and coach Bob Boughner saw signs that the mood was lifting.
"There was actually some smiles and guys looking like they're really trying hard to get back at it and get ready for Thursday," said Boughner.
It promises to be an emotional evening.
The team will honour Renaud before the game and wear patches with his No. 18 on their jerseys. His number will also be painted on the ice behind both goals.
Boughner and assistant coaches D.J. Smith and Bob Jones will do all they can in the coming days to help their players get ready for the game.
"We've tried to be strong but there's no hiding the fact that everybody is extrememly hurt and emotional," said Boughner. "I think Thursday night is going to be a difficult night but we're going to prepare these guys as best as we can.
"We'll see what happens."
The Spitfires are in the latter stages of what has been a resurgent season.
With a record of 33-15-6-4, Windsor has already earned 33 more points than it had a year ago with 10 games still to play. That includes the postponed games with Plymouth and Oshawa that are still to be rescheduled.
"As a team, we've exceeded all our expectations," said defenceman Harry Young. "We've set a lot of goals that we've already accomplished. Right now we're just trying to move on from here and really try to finish off strong."
Grief counsellors have been brought in to help the team, which is mostly comprised of teenagers that have never been through an experience like this.
Boughner already noticed a change in his players when he saw them greeting one another before practice.
"Guys used to come and just say, 'Hey, how's it going' and 'What's up?' Now you've got guys hugging each other," said Boughner. "They've grown, they've matured over the last three or four days. People that haven't had to deal with this, this is something that really makes you grow up quick.
"As coaches, it's not going to be X's and O's as much as it's going to be a life lesson."
He expects his team to respond well to that.
"Our team has obviously grown a lot tighter," said Boughner. "Hopefully that pain that we've gone through will show up on the ice and that tightness will helps us win some hockey games."
The Spitfires will retire Renaud's number next September and the team will not name another captain this season.
The rest of the season will be played in his honour.
"Mickey would want us to go on and play like he played," said Young. "He was the hardest working guy on the team. He played with a lot of heart and we're trying to do that.
"All the guys know the way that we've got to work to get back at things here."