The red jersey is off. Very good news for the Atlanta Thrashers.
Dany Heatley participated Wednesday in a full-contact, 90-minute, off-day practice with the team in suburban Duluth, Ga. Afterward, Heatley told reporters that it was "purely coincidental" that his first full practice fell on his 23rd birthday, but added, "It's a good birthday present."
"It feels good to be out there with the guys again and getting a feel for things," Heatley said.
Heatley underwent surgery in October to repair tears in his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee. Wednesday's full-contact skate in a standard off-day practice was the first for Heatley since the September car crash that led to the death of teammate Dan Snyder.
While he wouldn't pin down his return to the lineup, projections that he will be playing again next month seem on target. Following the All-Star break, the Thrashers begin an eight-game road trip in Calgary, where Heatley was raised, on Feb. 10. The trip ends Feb. 21 at Philadelphia.
"That'll be the doctors' and the trainers' calls, and [coach Bob Hartley's] call. Right now, I'm just skating and doing what they tell me," he said.
Heatley began partaking in game-day skates with the Thrashers on Friday, and he frequently has been skating and working out with Hartley. But Wednesday, he was no longer wearing the red "off limits" jersey.
"I don't think it was the same thing you'd see in a game, but there
was some bumping around," Heatley said. "That was the first step from
skating by myself, and I felt pretty good."
Heatley declined to say how close he is to being 100 percent physically.
"Until you play a game, I don't think you really know how it is, but right now I feel very good," he said, adding there is "nothing" he can't do.
"I'm turning and doing everything right now, so obviously I'm getting comfortable," Heatley said.
Heatley said his knee "has gotten better every week. I feel really
good about that practice. It was the first thing with bumping, and I'm
pretty happy how I came out of that. What you're worried about is the freak
bump, the accidental running into a teammate, or something like that. It
happened a couple of times today, but I feel pretty good."
At one point during the practice, Heatley got tangled up with Patrik Stefan and slid into the boards feet-first.
"That was a penalty on my part," Heatley said, smiling. "That was fine, and that's pretty easy on me. It was more on my bottom."
Hartley noted that Heatley played the point in power-play drills.
"He was excited," Hartley said. "We skated many miles together in the last
couple of weeks. It was great for him to be back with the team, to take a
hit, give a hit, and be part of traffic. That's great news. And now we're
going to keep working him in in our system. We'll let the medical staff do the rest."
Tamer, who has six points and 55 penalty minutes in 37 games this season, had missed the past four games. The 33-year-old is one of three original Thrashers on the roster, according to the team's Web site. The others are Patrik Stefan and Yannick Tremblay.
Piros, 25, had one assist in 11 games with the Thrashers earlier this season. He has seven goals and 12 assists in 32 games with the Wolves.