DETROIT – It’s been nearly two months since Stephen Weiss last appeared in Detroit’s lineup, and while most of his teammates will either be in Sochi or vacationing over the next two weeks, the center won’t be missing any more ice time as he prepares to make his return following the Olympic break.
“It’s a great feeling,” Weiss said. “It’s been a tough stretch the last while for me. But to be out with the team the last few days has been nice, kind of perks you up a bit. It’s been tough skating on your own for a while, so to be out with the team in a team atmosphere, get that feeling again, has been nice.”
It’s been an injury-ridden season for Weiss, who missed six games in November due to a sore groin before undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia on Dec. 23. The center gradually eased his way back onto the ice, skating on his own in late January before practicing with the team leading into the Olympic break, and is on track to return for Detroit’s first game following the 2014 Winter Games.
“It feels like a lot less work to be healthy and not have that pain is a nice feeling,” Weiss said. “It’s easier to get around the ice and it doesn’t feel like it’s as much work as it was before, so hopefully that’s a good sign and it stays that way.”
This week Weiss will continue his road to recovery by practicing with the Plymouth Whalers, the OHL team that he once played for, and is expected to begin a conditioning stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins Feb. 21-23 when the AHL club hosts three straight home games against the Oklahoma City Barons and Milwaukee Admirals.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Weiss said. “I haven’t been back, haven’t been in the locker room. Looking forward to meeting the guys. It should hopefully spark something.
“To be back to go back there and skate with them, almost 15 years is pretty cool.”
Barring any setbacks with the OHL and AHL clubs, Weiss could return to the Wings’ lineup on Jan. 26 in Montreal. But the center understands he’ll have to work hard to earn his roster spot back and is willing to take on any role that will help Detroit be successful.
“I’ve been out for a while, so I got to claw my way back into the lineup and whatever role I’m given just try to do that the best I can and help the team in whatever way they want me to,” Weiss said. “I’m not thinking about too much, just trying to get back, get healthy and try to find my way back in the lineup and if I do whatever role I’m given do that the best I can and keep trying to get better.”
Weiss’ return comes at a pivotal point of the season, as Detroit currently occupies the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference behind 64 points with just 24 games left in the regular season. Although the club’s streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is in jeopardy, history oftentimes repeats itself, and the Wings have a strong post-Olympic break record (57-19-7-6) from 1998-2010.
But when Detroit begins the last stretch of the season leading into the playoffs, there are a few young and familiar faces that may not be in the lineup.
On Monday, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco were assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins. Jurco will report to Grand Rapids once he returns from the Olympics, while Sheahan will suit up for the Griffins Friday. Center Luke Glendening, who earned a mandatory 10-day break since he played at least 16 of 20 games with the Wings before the Olympic break, will join Jurco and Sheahan when he is eligible to return to Grand Rapids on Feb. 19.
“I still have a lot to work on, that’s part of the reason I don’t have a guaranteed spot here,” Glendening said. “There will be some confidence when I go back but at the same time I know there’s a lot of work that needs to be done still. I can’t just sit on the fact that I’ve been up here for a month or whatever. I got to go back and work hard.”
The youngsters haven’t been told where they will play after the Olympic break yet, as injuries, roster space and cap space will affect whether or not they will return to Detroit.
The Wings will resume practice on Feb. 19, and although the non-Olympians get to enjoy a 10-day break, coach Mike Babcock expects them to be in shape when they return to Detroit.
“Especially at the start, make sure the fun meter’s on high, get lots of sun and get refreshed and recharged and make sure you get to the gym enough that when we get started you’re ready to go,” was Babcock’s advice to those not participating in the Olympics. “Obviously, we start with back to back, the push out will be important.
“But I think the guys that go to the Olympics are going to be really energized because of the opportunity – for some guys it’s more than a once-in-a-lifetime, but for more of us it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity -- and for the guys that get to go to Turks and Caicos or wherever the heck they’re going, that sounds like a good opportunity to me as well.”
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