Rats back to work .... sort of
Looking to get the team back to a sense of normalcy, River Rats head coach Jeff Daniels and assistant Geordie Kinnear led the team through a different kind of skate Saturday night at RPI's Houston Field House.
It was the first time on the ice together following the crash of the team bus early Thursday morning in western Massachusetts.
"It was absolutely a no-brainer," Daniels said. "We just skated. You could tell the guys were happy to be out there. They were pretty quiet and guys were moving slow, which is to be expected.
"It was just something to get them away from everything, even though we were only out there for 45 minutes, just to get them on the ice. We'll pick up the intensity a little bit tomorrow and as we go along."
Left-handed shooters used right-handed sticks, and vice versa. Players scrimmaged three-on-three. At one point, they even replaced pucks with tennis balls.
"It was a little unorthodox practice, and it was nice to actually have a little unorthodox time for it, too, coming at night," defenseman Bryan Rodney said. "It's just real nice to be with the guys, whatever we're doing.
"To actually be on the ice and doing what we do for a living is a little sweeter. Obviously, we're still missing some of our guys, some of our family, so it's going to be a little uneasy until we get everybody back together."
There were 17 players on the ice Saturday: goalies Justin Peters and Daniel Manzato; defensemen Rodney, Brett Carson, Mark Flood, Benn Olson and Noah Babin; and forwards Dwight Helminen, Nick Dodge, Ryan Weston, Pat Dwyer, Brad Herauf, Jerome Samson, Harrison Reed, Trevor Gillies, Jakub Petruzalek and Mike Angelidis.
Among the absent were forward Nicolas Blanchard, who remains at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Mass. Daniels visited Blachard Friday night, and said he expected Blanchard to be released on Monday.
Also missing were defensemen Casey Borer and Jonathan Paiement, who attended the skate, and forward Joe Jensen, all of whom were hospitalized overnight on Thursday, and forwards Yannick Tifu and Bobby Hughes. Tifu, who reported tingling in his legs and feet, was also at RPI.
Winger Brad Herauf, who has missed the past several games, skated Saturday and is expected to be ready to return to the lineup for Albany's next game, Wednesday night in Bridgeport. Enforcer Trevor Gillies, out since Dec. 20 with a concussion, is not yet available.
With only 14 (relatively) healthy skaters and Hughes and Jensen both question marks, Daniels said he is looking to bring in a defenseman and a forward for the upcoming week, which also includes games at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday and in Syracuse on Saturday.
Daniels said the Rats will practice today at noon at the former Knickerbocker Arena, and will also skate Monday and Tuesday to prepare for their return.
"I should know by Monday where guys are at," Daniels said. "I know for sure we'll have to bring in one defenseman; we only have five, and most likely one forward."
As far as its travel plans, Albany is scheduled to leave Wednesday for that night's game in Bridgeport, Conn. Daniels is throwing around the idea of heading straight to Wilkes-Barre after the game rather than return home, and continue on to Syracuse.
"We're looking into some different things," he said. "Normally, we'd leave the day of to go to Bridgeport,a nd that's still the plan. We were scheduled to return after the game from Bridgeport and then go to Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, but we might kind of see if we can change that around and go from Bridgeport to Wilkes-Barre, just to be together as a team and maybe go to dinner. It's still to be discussed but we're definitely looking into that."
There were about two dozen fans on hand at RPI to welcome the team. Among them was Tyler Hatch, a second-grader at Bradt Elementary School in Rotterdam.
Hatch and his mother have season tickets and attend most Rats home games. He proudly wears a Tim Conboy jersey and writes the numbers of all the players in red and white marker on his face. During the holidays, he gave the entire team and staff Christmas presents and cards.
Young Tyler was at it again. He gave each player, the coaches and even broadcaster Owen Newkirk a small teddy bear wrapped in white ribbon, on which he wrote, "Wishing you a speedy recovery." Hatch also handmade everyone a card which read, "I am sorry that you were in an accident. I'm glad you're alright."
"It's nice. We've felt that support all along," Rodney said. "It's not a surprise. It's definitely welcoming to have a core group of fans that really care about the team and in a situation like this, they're there for us."
"It was great to see people coming out and giving us gifts and all that," he said. "It speaks a lot for the people that showed up to say, we're behind you and we kind of feel your pain."