Tyler Ennis wore a red no-contact jersey when he finally made his return to practice with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday morning. It was the team's final practice of the season, but Ennis' first since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 30.
When it was all said and done, Ennis found himself wishing the team had another 82 games on its schedule.
"You can look at it as a positive or a negative," he said. "It's negative because the season's basically over. It's positive because I feel great. There are stories of guys that obviously never feel better. I feel fantastic. "
Whether or not he'd become the subject of one of those stories was a thought that may have crept into Ennis' mind as he rehabilitated from his concussion, a roller coaster of emotions marred by its ups and downs. Some days he'd feel great, and then the next day his symptoms would return.
After three months of uncertainty, Ennis was ready to focus on the positives on Thursday.
"To say I wasn’t scared at some point would probably be a lie," he said. "But I feel so good right now. I feel 100 percent. It gave me a lot of time to reflect and appreciate what I have. This is such a great job. I can't wait to take different facets of my game and my profession to the next level.
"… Today was a great day. It was fun to be with the team. It's so fun to be out there, joke around with the boys. Yeah, I'm in a good mood."
While Ennis led the team in scoring last season, he talked about improving his game going forward with the same optimism that he began this season with, when it still remained to be seen how he might mesh with some of the new faces on Buffalo's roster.
In some ways, the answer to that question still isn’t known. Between his concussion and an earlier injury, Ennis has played just 23 games and tallied 11 points (3+8). Meanwhile, the rest of the team has begun to mesh dramatically over the past two months.
Buffalo is already a full 25 points better than they were last year, and Ennis is one of the holdovers who remember those tough times. Of course, he's disappointed he hasn't gotten to join his teammates on the ice as they've begun to reverse their fortunes.
"Totally, 100 percent," he said. "But I watch the games and I like what I see. We're playing good hockey. We're not giving up chances … We seem to have some nice chemistries throughout the lineup, young guys are playing well, we're gelling.
"I know there are only two games left, but I think the last month or two we've taken our game to another level in my opinion."
Ennis won't be a part of either of Buffalo last two games this season, but don't let the brevity of his return to practice on Thursday undermine its importance.
"It's kind of just how the timing worked out, really," he said. "It's important because I know I can play hockey. It's important because I feel great and it's important because I got to be with the boys, be with the team and it was fun. But mostly it was important because I'm healthy."