The Buffalo Sabres received a boost today with the return of veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen to the ice.
The seasoned blueliner practiced with the team for the first time since undergoing corrective heart surgery on a faulty valve in September.
While Numminen admits he is still on the road to recovery, he said was happy just to begin the process of returning to the Sabres.
“After everything, to be back on the ice with the team and your friends, to be skating again, was a great feeling,” he said.
“It was tough but it was still good. It was kind of what I expected; good passes, bad passes, good shots, bad shots, skating well, falling down. So you know, it’s like training camp.”
Numminen has certainly been conditioning that way. General manager Darcy Regier believes that Numminen’s discipline will undoubtedly help him get back to the team.
“I think we’re talking in terms of weeks, not months,” Regier said. “As far as his conditioning, I spoke with Doug McKenney, who is our strength and conditioning coach. Teppo is in good shape.
“He’s cleared to practice with the team and based on what I watched out there he looked pretty good. It’s a good start and we’re excited.”
No one is as anxious as Numminen. Prior to practicing with the team Wednesday, he had been skating on his own at HSBC Arena for several weeks. He also watched the team practice in early October after being released from the hospital.
“I think just for the guys to see him around, your initial thought is you are happy for him,” Lindy Ruff said. “Teppo has been a big part of this team. For him to go through what he went through, I think a lot of guys agonize with that. But to see him put his stuff back on, get out there, and see his smiling face out there at practice, I think it should give the guys a boost.”
In particular, a knowledgeable veteran in Numminen could benefit a young defense corps.
“Teppo brings a wealth of experience and stability,” Regier said. “I think he definitely impacts our defense with regard to stabilizing and settling things down.
Teppo previously underwent two procedures to correct a dilated aorta he was diagnosed with in 2004. He has suffered from a heart murmur since childhood. He found out he needed surgery on his heart when the team reported for physicals in training camp.
“Every time after an injury, you don’t know how it’s going to work, how you’re going to feel,” Numminen said. “So I look at it as the same kind of situation. I got the green light, everything is fixed that needs to be fixed. I feel comfortable with it. I feel comfortable with the decision and looking forward to the challenge. It’s a big challenge ahead.”
Regier believes the type of game Numminen plays will make it easier for the defenseman to return, as physical play is not a prominent part of his style.
“He’s never been a muscle man,” Regier said. “He’s about smarts, intelligence, good feet, good hands, good head.”
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.