Teppo Numminen was back on the ice with his Buffalo teammates yesterday, a giant step he hopes will lead to a return to the Sabres lineup this season.
Numminen had open-heart surgery to repair a faulty valve in September, then underwent bursa sac surgery on his ankle in January. Despite lightly skating with the team a couple of months ago, fears of the potential repercussions a blow to the chest might have, caused doctors to not give him full clearance until six months after the surgery.
Thursday was the magical six-month date, allowing Numminen to get the green light. While participating in the morning skate yesterday, it is not known when -- or if -- he'll be back in action by the time the regular season ends.
"It's been a long journey but it's great to be back," Numminen told a scrum of Buffalo- and Toronto-based reporters, adding that he has to work on "everything, like timing, shooting, you name it."
Numminen said there are no medical issues to be concerned about.
"I'm not worried about anything health-wise. When I feel comfortable, I'll be ready to go."
Of course, the Sabres ultimately will have the final say if Numminen returns.
And right now they are in a dispute with the veteran defenceman, one that is in the hands of the lawyers and the National Hockey League players' association.
Numminen was suspended without pay on the opening day of training camp when he failed his physical. He said yesterday he is "disappointed" the Sabres continue to have him on the suspended list. The team claims his heart ailment is not hockey-related, meaning he does not get paid again until he plays in a game.
For his part, Numminen, 39, has a grievance pending that has been filed on his behalf by the NHLPA.
Former San Jose Shark Steve Bernier, acquired by the Sabres at the trade deadline along with a first round pick for Brian Campbell, had a chuckle when ex-Shark Rob Davison, now with the Islanders, scored from 178 feet away on ex-Shark Vesa Toskala Tuesday night. "I phoned Davison right away and told him 'Good job,'" Bernier said.