Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Buff's knee not ready for game action

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DUSTIN Byfuglien said Saturday he misses the fun and is desperate to play.

But recovering from his knee injury is not going as well as planned and now it appears he certainly won't be playing in next weekend's NHL all-star game in Ottawa.

He will not be traveling with his teammates today to Raleigh, N.C., for the final two games, both on the road, before the all-star break.

"You get close to the guys and you end up sitting at home," Byfuglien said Saturday after skating with his teammates for the first time since he left the lineup at Christmas. "You come to the rink and the only ones here are the trainers. I like messing around with the boys and there's no one here to have fun with. It's part of getting injured."

During his absence, Byfuglien and his girlfriend have had a baby.

And the hulking Jets defenceman has done other things with his idle time, like getting a haircut.

"You get bored, you get some weird things in your mind you go do," he laughed on Saturday.

Saturday was also the day he tried out a new knee brace, and he didn't sound terribly happy to be wearing it.

"It was a little different," He said. "Pretty much the first day on the brace. Just wanted to go out and see how it goes. Not very good yet. I'm just not used to it, having something down there that allows you to not turn as tight and it's not as strong."

The practice with his teammates was a good step, but there's still a way to go, he said.

"Just getting back on the ice is a good thing. I've sat out long enough. It's hard to be off, have to watch everyone, not be a part of everything.

"I'm more worried about our team right now than worried about the all-star game. The all-star game is something that would be fun to be a part of but I'm more worried about getting a Jet jersey on."

Jets coach Claude Noel confirmed that Byfuglien won't get a quick return to action.

"I'm not sure that he's going to be a player in the next couple of games," Noel said.

Could he play Tuesday, Noel was asked?

After a long pause came the answer: "We don't practise a lot. It's going to be hard to say. He's been off for a month. I wouldn't say yes or no but I'd want to take it day by day, I'd want to be conservative and not say yes or no.

"I'd sooner wait. He has to be ready to go."

Noel said it will not be up to Byfuglien when he returns.

"The players don't dictate when they play," he said. "When it's an injury, we have to look at it between our medical staff and our doctors. We have to take the player out of it and make the right call for him because if we didn't do it that way, players would play at 60 per cent and subject themselves to potential further injury."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2012 B2

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