|Teppo Numminen (photo: Getty Images) |
Teppo Numminen's long and winding road to recovery from heart surgery may finally find it's destination.
In a press conference during the second intermission of Buffalo's 7-4 comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, general manager Darcy Regier announced that the veteran blueliner will resume practicing with the team effective Thursday.
At the time off the announcement, Regier said that an accurate timetable for Numminen's return to active roster couldn't be determined until the team could evaluate the defenseman's fitness level.
"Obviously, the loss of Teppo at the start of the year was a big hit; he's a very good player," said Regier.
"It [Numminen's status] really just comes down to his ability to play in a game."
Numminen has not seen game action since undergoing heart surgery to repair a faulty heart valve in Cleveland, O.H. in late September.
The veteran briefly rejoined the squad in January for off-ice workouts but never regained active status and was encouraged to rest by doctors before continuing workouts.
"It will be a boost for the guys here," said alternate captain Derek Roy
. "He's a great guy and even better hockey player. He's a veteran player that we need."
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Injuries have decimated the team's backend, forcing head coach Lindy Ruff to start three rookies who boast a combined 47 games played at the NHL level.
While Michael Funk, Andrej Sekera
and Michael Weber have maybe exceeded expectations in the past four games, the presence of Numminen in the locker room should add a calming factor to their youth.
"Obviously, they have a lot to learn," Roy continued. "Teppo will be able to go out and show them a few things. He so poised with the puck and he's been around for such a long time."
Numminen has played two seasons with the Sabres, signing as a free agent in 2004. Last season he scored 29 points (2+27) in 79 games and recorded four assists in 16 playoff games.
On Nov. 13, 2006, Numminen played his 1,252nd game to break the mark set by Hall of Famer Jarri Kurri and finished the season with 1,314 games in his 18-year career. He has recorded a total of 115 goals and 505 assists.
The three-time all-star was a 1989 draft-pick, taken 29th overall by the Winnipeg Jets.
The Finnish player has had a heart murmur since childhood and was diagnosed with a dilated aorta in March 2004, when he was playing for the Dallas Stars. Numminen missed five games because of the condition before he was cleared to play.
The condition also forced him to miss one game and part of another during a playoff series against Philadelphia in spring 2006.