EDMONTON - For two straight summers Ryan Whitney's damaged right ankle prevented any sort of leg training in preparation for a regularly scheduled training camp. Surgery in January of 2011 meant a long and arduous recovery period, delaying his start to the 2011-12 season by four games and causing another mid-season hiccup when he missed another 14 around this time last year.
But for the first time in the three seasons he's spent in Edmonton, injuries aren't of his concern as the 2013 season is set to get underway in a little over a week.
"I feel good," said the 29-year-old veteran Thursday at Rexall Place. "It's good to get back. I did so much skating, trained hard this summer and put in a lot of work.
"I had a long day of travel (Wednesday), but I had a smile on my face the whole time knowing I was coming back here," he added about the NHL/NHLPA's lengthy CBA negotiation. "I got to my place last night and let out a huge sigh of relief that we're getting going again."
The Boston, Mass. product spent the 113-day-long work stoppage back home in Beantown, skating with local NHLers and participating in practices and off-ice workouts coordinated by Sidney Crosby. While he briefly entertained a stint across the pond in the KHL, his priority was on his health and making sure he'd be at 100 percent if and when called upon to report for duty as an Oiler.
"We went to Vail (Colorado), Dallas and Scottsdale a couple times with about 20 guys and it was a really intense couple of weeks," Whitney said. "We did that every three weeks or so. Other than that I was in Boston with some Bruins, Keith Yandle (Phoenix Coyotes defenceman) and a couple other guys. It was good. We tried to keep it as intense as we could. But it's going to take a little bit of getting used to, I'm sure, as the season is about to start.
"I looked at a couple teams, but for me it was about getting healthy and going over there -- I thought it would be better to be at home. Honestly, the skates we had were good. It would have helped a little bit to go play but at the same time, I didn't want to risk anything. I wanted to be ready for the start of camp and you never know what can happen over there. I've heard some horror stories, but I've also heard of guys that had a great time.
"If the season got canceled I would have gone over, but beforehand I didn't really want to."
Fellow Oilers defenceman Jeff Petry, who had a breakout season last year, was in a similar boat. Like Whitney, Europe wasn't an option for the newlywed sophomore.
"I came out to Edmonton as if camp was going to start on time and stayed for a while, but then went home in early December to skate with some guys from around the League," said the 25-year-old.
The 6'3", 196-pound native of Ann Arbor, Michigan posted career highs in 2011-12 with two goals and 25 points in 73 games. By season's end, he was regularly leading the Oilers in ice time and was counted upon to produce in every situation imaginable. While it's nearly impossible to replicate the pace of an NHL game, most recently practicing with members of the Detroit Red Wings helped as best it could.
Led by Mike Eaves, head coach of the University of Wisconsin Badgers and father of Red Wings forward Patrick, Petry feels as though he's thoroughly prepared for the rigours of a shortened season.
"I probably put in about five weeks with them and we had some drills written up," he said. "We were doing those to help get back to the pace and physicality that we needed. It helped quite a bit.
"I'm feeling good -- healthy and everything."
With a 48-game season to be played in about 100 days through to the end of April, health and wellness will be everyone's priority. But it won't be a distraction.
"It's great to be back," Whitney said.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick