• JOHNSON UP FROM HARTFORD
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, the Olympic-break vacation ended for the Rangers players outside Vancouver, and the push for securing a playoff spot in the tight Eastern Conference began in earnest as the team returned to practice at the Madison Square Garden Training Center.
Minus Olympians Henrik Lundqvist
, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan
, Marian Gaborik
, and Olli Jokinen, the Rangers spent much of the fast-paced 45-minute practice working on conditioning drills. With head coach John Tortorella in Vancouver, as well, serving as an assistant coach for Team USA, the practice was run by Rangers assistants Mike Sullivan, Jim Schoenfeld, and Benoit Allaire.
|Rangers teammates Erik Christensen and Vinny Prospal are two Blueshirts who found themselves watching a lot of Olympic hockey on television during their time away from the rink. |
“It was pretty tiring out there,” said alternate captain Vinny Prospal. “You feel it if you don’t skate for even two days, but not practicing for nine in the middle of the season really is a big deal.”
Prospal was one of the many players on the Rangers who found a nice warm spot in the middle of the cold winter to escape to over the past week. In his case, Prospal and his family headed to their home in Florida to relax and spend time with friends.
“It was really great for me and for my family,” said Prospal, a former member of the Tampa Bay Lightning who still maintains a home in Tampa. “We went to Busch Gardens, got some sun, visited restaurants that we haven’t been to in a while. It was really great.”
Young winger Enver Lisin not only found a nice warm locale, he took part in some scuba diving, adding a dose of excitement to his relaxing break from hockey. And by the looks of his tanned skin, fellow Russian Artem Anisimov
also spent some quality time in the sun.
Rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto
headed back home to Stouffville, Ontario, for a brief stay before collecting his parents and treating them to a vacation together in beautiful Turks and Caicos.
“I took my parents away, and it was real quiet and relaxing,” said Del Zotto, who was not permitted to go in the water due to the 50 stitches that are still zippered across his torso, which was cut by Evgeni Malkin’s skate blade. “I just laid out all day.”
Not all of the players sought out tropical destinations for the extended mid-season break, however. Erik Christensen, for example, went home to visit family and friends in Edmonton, Alberta, where he pointed out wryly that the temperature was “just a bit colder than it was (in New York).”
Recently-acquired winger Jody Shelley returned to San Jose to settle his affairs and pack his belongings. He then returned to New York to get settled for the remainder of the season.
And backup goaltender Chad Johnson
had the busiest schedule of all since he spent the past week-and-a-half tending goal for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford.
“Break? There was no break!” joked Johnson after practice on Wednesday.
One thing that the Rangers players held in common no matter where they were or what they did during their mini-vacation was that they all paid close attention to the men’s ice hockey action at the Olympics.
“I’ve tried to see almost all of the games,” said Prospal, a native of the Czech Republic who represented his country in the 2006 Winter Games. “It’s hard watching from far away, but the Czechs better play better than they did (Tuesday) night.”
Christensen, too, has followed the games closely.
“I might be from Canada, but really I am like Switzerland, I am neutral,” Christensen said. “I just enjoy watching the games.”
Though Christensen and his teammates will continue to follow the Olympic action, they are now back to work. And to a man the Rangers were happy to be back together and eager for the final playoff push to commence.
“I think we are rejuvenated for the last stretch here,” said Del Zotto. “We are excited for it. And we need a big run here.”
Although he was at the MSG Training Center on Wednesday, Del Zotto did not take to the ice. He explained that he will not be permitted to skate until his stitches are removed, likely sometime this upcoming weekend.
Despite not taking part in practice, Del Zotto was able to ride the stationary bike for the first time since his frightening injury back on Feb. 12.
“It’s the best it’s felt since it happened,” said the 19 year-old defenseman. “It’s been getting better and better every day, but it takes some time. Obviously I’d love to (play in Ottawa next Tuesday), but it’s not totally up to me. We’ll just play it by ear.”
That contest next Tuesday in Ottawa against the Senators will kick-start the Rangers’ race to the finish line. The Rangers will play their final 20 games in an exhausting 41 days, making this recent break in the schedule a blur in the rearview mirror very shortly.