GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Michael Del Zotto was never so happy to get whacked and rocked by a body check as he was Wednesday. He was minding his own business during a drill at Rangers practice when, pow, he was hit hard by Chris Drury.
"There was no pain there," Del Zotto said. "That was a good sign."
The 19-year-old defenseman was able to shake it off, which is what any player wants to do the first time he is hit after having 50 stitches removed from his chest. Not only that, he is well enough to play Thursday night at the Garden against the Penguins. The same cannot be said about Marian Gaborik, who was injured during the Winter Games and did not practice Wednesday.
While other players around the league were anxious Wednesday before the 3 p.m. trade deadline and everyone in the NHL was going through a re-entry phase after the Olympics break, Del Zotto was going through a big personal comeback. It is no small thing, returning to contact hockey after you have taken a huge gash from Evgeni Malkin's skate. That freakish accident happened to Del Zotto in Pittsburgh Feb. 12 and he has not played since.
"You definitely know it's there, it was a scary scenario," Del Zotto said. "But we did everything we could to get it better."
That meant staying off the ice completely until Sunday. The medical staff believed it was better that he not play in the Rangers' first post-Olympics game, a surprisingly crisp 4-1 win in Ottawa Tuesday, so that he could get in better shape. He is more than ready now, especially knowing he can take a hit.
"I don't enjoy watching. I'm pretty loud when I'm watching, I like to scream out plays and stuff like that," he said, adding that he did enjoy watching the Olympics. "That was awesome. I talked to the guys who were there and they said it was amazing hockey."
Coach John Tortorella gave his team a pretty intense exhortation at the end of practice, even though the players had been sharp Tuesday.
He did credit the work the non-Olympic Rangers did over the past week.
"They skated hard. Some guys got away from the game. How much skating they did during the break, we didn't monitor that," Tortorella said. "We felt they needed a break. But when they came back in here in those four or five days, they handled themselves very well and did the work they needed to do to start that last quarter of the season."