Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From hurt to high speed

No time for Hainsey to ease his way back during Wild encounter

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Feeling useful appears to have done a world of good for Ron Hainsey's disposition.

The Winnipeg Jets defenceman, one of the more durable NHL players over the previous five seasons, has spent the majority of his time in the sick bay in 2011-12.

He returned from a second serious injury on Tuesday night to help the Jets defeat the league-leading Minnesota Wild 2-1, playing 22 minutes, 35 seconds.

That's the kind of veteran input the team envisioned this season for its highest-salaried player, at $5 million.

Hainsey, after missing only nine games in the previous five seasons combined, missed 16 games after taking a nasty knock on the head in the season's fourth game.

He returned for one night, played more than 23 minutes in Washington on Nov. 23, but then suffered a cut on his foot which, because of the location of the wound, healed slowly.

That kept the 30-year-old native of Bolton, Conn., out for eight more games until Tuesday.

Hainsey picked an intense night to come back into the lineup this time.

"It was a really high-level game," he said with a obvious smile after sailing through Wednesday's practice at the MTS Iceplex. "I thought it was really intense the whole way through. It was tied most of the way through. They got the five-on-three goal, no big deal because we were still right there, then our crowd and us really picked it up from there for the next five minutes.

"There were a lot of battles, some scrums in front of the net, stuff you don't see a ton of now. I can't answer if it was harder or easier because I haven't done it that many times but it was a fun game to come back into, I can tell you that."

The revolving door that has been the Jets' blue-line this season -- they've used 12 different defencemen -- has given coach Claude Noel no shortage of challenges.

But Hainsey's emerging health, and the expected return of Tobias Enstrom soon, will likely settle things down.

"He looks better, good today," Noel said Wednesday, asked about Hainsey's status. "A little bit sore but we're looking to have him continue with us. That would be good. I think that he's a player here.

"It's good that we've got... days between games. That's a good thing. I think he's going to be OK for (tonight)."

The Jets meet the Washington Capitals at the MTS Centre tonight (7:30 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290).

For a team that's had to travel a long road to find some consistency this season, having a veteran blue-liner back in the lineup is a step in the right direction.

Hainsey said Wednesday his experience told him that there was one key to getting quickly back into the flow of game action.

"Keep your feet moving because it feels like they're not moving that great," he said. "That's how I felt three weeks ago when I came back the first time, and it was similar (Tuesday) night. If you keep them moving and keep yourself in position, you're going to do it.

"You're not going to be as sharp as you want to be, like everybody else who's been playing for 30 games, but it was fun to get back out there."

Earlier Tuesday, just like he had said in Washington three weeks ago, Noel intimated that Hainsey's ice time might be minimal.

It didn't turn out that way either time.

"A number of things dictate that," Hainsey said. "You come in and show you're clearly behind in the first 10 or 15 minutes, then you're probably going to have your minutes limited. But if you show you're keeping up, you're going to be out there.

"Going into those games when you've been off that long, it is somewhat of a wait-and-see approach. You just don't know. I practised one day. You just don't know where your conditioning is.

"You don't know how you'll feel or whether you can make the plays at that speed."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2011 C3

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