It was a regular practice on an off day during the playoffs, and not a very strenuous one at that. Still, the ice time was pretty special to Erik Cole.
He joined the Carolina Hurricanes' full-squad workout in Raleigh, N.C., yesterday for the first time in 2 1/2 months, when a compression fracture in a vertebra in his neck ended what was a career regular season.
Will he be back in the postseason? Cole won't be sure until he has a CT scan in the upcoming week to check his progress.
''I am hopeful that the next CT scan looks good and that both fractures are fully healed or close to being fully healed," he said.
''If they are, we'll sit down with the doctors and talk about what the options are, what the repercussions are, sit down with my wife and figure it out."
The Hurricanes certainly could use the left wing, and not only because they lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final series to Buffalo Saturday. With Cole in the lineup and contributing 60 points in 60 games, they were 42-14-4.
The devastating injury came when Cole was driven headfirst into the boards by Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik. A few weeks later, Orpik tried to reach Cole through Mark Recchi, a former teammate with the Penguins who was traded to Carolina.
It came at a particularly bad time for Cole. He recently had traded in a simple neck collar for a large, cumbersome brace in hopes of avoiding surgery, and he really wasn't in the mood for an apology.
''After the week that I had, and after the three weeks I had, for Reccs to come up to me and he just asked if he could pass along my number to Brooks and I told him no," Cole said. ''I told him not to bother."
Yesterday, Cole was welcomed back to practice with open arms, even if he might not be able to rejoin the team until next season. Teammates took time to tap the ice with their sticks, the hockey equivalent of a standing ovation.
For now, Cole can participate in non-contact drills and other activity. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have to find a way to end Buffalo's five-game road winning streak. The Sabres held on for a 3-2 victory in the opener, mostly on the strength of goals from defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Jay McKee.
Those players have combined for four goals in the postseason after totaling only 11 during the season, and they did it with fellow defenseman Teppo Numminen out for the final two periods.
There was some question about Numminen's injury, with coach Lindy Ruff calling it a ''lower-body" ailment before adding ''mid to lower." His status for Game 2 tonight was questionable.