SUN Hockey Pool

Ritchie itches to return

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Byron Ritchie can't wait to get back into the lineup.

Although the Olympic break is less than a week away, leaving you to believe Calgary Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter will play it safe and keep Ritchie out an extra couple of days, the speedy centre wants to make his return sooner than later.

"Definitely, I'll be ready before the Olympic break," said Ritchie before pulling the verbal version of knocking on wood.

"I hope, unless a major setback happens.

"I've just got to work as hard as I can this week and try and get into game shape, leave it up to the coaches."

Ritchie went down with a serious-looking knee injury after being submarined Jan. 2 at the Saddledome by then Blackhawks defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, who has since joined the Flames' provincial rival Edmonton Oilers.

He began skating on his own about three weeks later and has been practising with his teammates since last week.

"It's good to be out there with the guys, it felt like they were gone forever," said Ritchie after the Flames returned from a pair of January road trips.

"It's coming along well. It's healed quicker than maybe expected but I feel good in the weight room, I feel good on the bike.

"It's just a matter of getting (my) game legs back."

Ritchie has missed 14 games so far but says skating pain-free is a good indication he's on the brink of a return.

"It's not painful. It's not restricting. It's just getting the conditioning back, however long that takes," he said.

"I haven't had pain for a couple of weeks now. I've been able to push it pretty hard. When you're off skates for three, three and a half weeks, it doesn't come back overnight, your conditioning.

"No matter how much you ride the bike or run the stairs or whatever, it's not the same as skating."


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