Photo by Andy Devlin Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
Edmonton Oilers players had a familiar face join them at practice today for the first time this season. Number 34 skated in a full practice, moving that much closer to returning to the club.
During the summer, Pisani’s career looked to be in jeopardy when he was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and his condition was not improving but he started to get better after a change in medication in September. He started skating in late October and is now able to join his teammates on the ice.
“It’s encouraging for all of us to see him out there for the first day of practicing with us,” said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. “It’s quite an improvement from where he was a month or certainly two months ago.”
Pisani’s improvement couldn’t have come at a better time for an Oilers team that has a number of key veterans on the shelf, including Captain Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen and Matt Greene.
“We miss guys like that; guys who have been here,” MacTavish remarked. “As a coach you just know what you’re going to get out of Fernie every night. You know the situations that he thrives in and there are a lot of situations throughout the course of the game where I’m thinking ‘it’d be nice to have Fernie on the bench in this situation.’”
Many nights, the Oilers have gone with six or seven players in the lineup with less than 100 games experience.
“You miss that veteran leadership, along with Ethan as well – another guy who’s sorely missed for virtually the same reasons.
“He’s a guy who brings a lot of energy, too. He’s never a guy who’s ever too down. It’s important, especially when you’ve gone through the travails that we have this year.
“You need guys that can come in and regardless of the situation bring some energy to the group.”
When asked for a timeline on Pisani’s return, MacTavish was tight lipped.
“There’s a definitive timetable for him. I’m not going to divulge it right now. It’s not days, that’s for sure. It’s weeks,” he said. “There are things he has to go through and obstacles he has to clear in front of him and then he’ll be ready.”
With recent setbacks to Moreau, Souray and Pitkanen, MacTavish stressed patience.
“We’re just trying to be patient and do the right thing for Fernie, make sure that everything’s all set medically. I’ll be the first guy to welcome him back as soon as that obstacle’s cleared.”
For Fernando, it was just great to be back on the ice skating alongside his teammates.
“It’s good to get back to that kind of pace, shooting pucks and having fun out there,” Pisani said. “It was a good hour of practice and it was good to see where I was at.”
The players on the ice were joking around with Pisani, providing him with some much-needed camaraderie.
“It was getting kind of lonely and boring skating by myself,” he said. “It’s just great to be out there with the guys and it’s a huge lift. It’s a lot of fun to get out there and enjoy it again.”
Horcoff in particular was kidding around with Pisani on the ice.
“Absolutely,” Horcoff said when asked if he was giving Pisani the gears in his return. “You’ve got to get him integrated back into the team. We’re obviously roommates so I try to give it to him as much as I possibly can, and I usually win those battles.”
“Timing wise, he hasn’t been around the guys for seven or eight months so I’m sure a couple good weeks of practice and he’ll be ready to go,” Horcoff continued.
“He’s a big part of the team and even more so in the locker room. So just to have him back for practice is a huge lift to the guys.”
With it being his first full practice, Pisani wanted to see how he will respond before thinking of any concrete return date.
“I’m going to skate a couple more times with the team and then I’ll have a more definite idea of when I’m coming back,” Pisani stated. “Once I start getting out there and doing one-on-ones with the defencemen, battling in the corners and seeing how strong I am on the puck I’ll have a better idea.”
Like many Oiler fans, MacTavish was happy to see him skating with the team but knows it will still take some time.
“All things are positive right now so you hate to get too far ahead of yourself. We’d love to have him in the lineup and he’ll be in there as soon as he’s ready.”PITKANEN TOMORROW?
Joni Pitkanen and Mathieu Roy both skated today and both looked close to returning to the lineup.
“They’re starting to get close. We’ll see how Joni came through (after today)," said MacTavish.
The return of both players would help aid a depleted Oilers blueline that currently has four regulars out.
“Joni’s closer than Matty (Roy). Matty had a little bit of a setback the other day when he was battling. His shoulder felt a little vulnerable so we’ll wait a little bit on him.”
Pitkanen had a setback earlier this week but has felt good after being on the ice a few days in a row.
“Joni could be a decision for tomorrow. He could possibly play tomorrow.”