With opening night just two days away, Ken Gernander and his staff put the Connectcut Whale through a 75-minute on-ice practice Wednesday morning at the XL Center in Hartford, though two of the club's top forwards were unable to take part in the workout.
Ryan Bourque and Marek Hrivik remain sidelined with undisclosed injuries and neither practiced with the team Wednesday. However Hrivik, who did not play in a single pre-season game, did take to the ice in full uniform once practice had concluded. He skated and shot pucks with several of his teammates who had lingered on ice following the workout.
Dylan McIlrath, who is still weeks away from being allowed to skate following off-season knee surgery, continued his rigorous conditioning program, which has helped create a powerful and defined upper body on the Rangers first round pick from the 2010 draft. McIlrath reported on Wednesday that he feels "really great" and that he is being patient with his knee rehab though he also remains "really anxious" to get back out on the ice.
Another of the Whale's walking wounded has returned to practice. Goaltender Cam Talbot, who broke a bone in his foot back in August, took part in his first practice on Tuesday and was back on the XL Center ice Wednesday morning. However Talbot admitted afterwards that he "probably overdid it" Tuesday---working hard for an hour and a half---and as a result he had to leave Wednesday's practice early to receive treatment on his foot.
"The goal always was to be ready to play Friday, but that's not realistic right now," said Talbot, who appeared in 33 games with the Whale a year ago. "I am close to getting back, though. I just have to be patient."
Like Talbot, defenseman Matt Gilroy practiced with the Whale for the first time the past two days. Gilroy officially signed an AHL contract on Sunday, and by Wednesday he was quarterbacking the Whale's top power play unit in practice.
"I had options on where I could sign, but this was a comfortable spot for me, close to home, somewhere I have played before, obviously," explained Gilroy. "I am just really lucky to be playing right now, and really fortunate to have the chance to learn from (Whale assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom). I have learned so much from him already. It's incredible how much he knows and how well he explains things. I am really impressed."
Gernander kept his forward lines intact for Wednesday's practice, with veteran Kris Newbury centering the top line with Chris Kreider (pictured) on left wing and Chad Kolarik on the right side. Since Newbury returned from his sprained knee late last week that threesome has skated together in two pre-season games and in every practice.
The other forward combinations were:
JT Miller-Kyle Jean-Andrew Yogan
Tommy Grant-Michael Haley-Christian Thomas
Brandon Segal-Kelsey Tessier-Shayne Wiebe
Scott Pitt was the extra forward on Wednesday.
And there were a slew of uniform number changes from pre-season. Ranger fans would be most interested to know that Kreider has reclaimed No. 20, while Miller switched to No. 10. Gilroy was given his preferred No. 97, in honor of his late brother. In fact three Whale players have numbers in the nineties: Tessier (90), Thomas (92), and Gilroy.
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