By Brian Hedger
For the Sun-Times
Two things stood out Friday during the opening of training camp at Johnny’s IceHouse West.
One was the absence of big names like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Joel Quenneville, thanks to the World Cup of Hockey. The other was the presence of star defenseman Duncan Keith, who’s only at camp because a lingering issue in his surgically repaired right knee kept him out of the World Cup.
Keith wasn’t expected to get on the ice, but emerged from the locker room after a two-period scrimmage and participated in the final practice session. It only lasted about 25 minutes, but he looked like himself on skates. He wouldn’t, however, commit to being ready for the start of the regular season Oct. 12 against the Blues.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead, but at the same time I like the progression,” said Keith, who removed himself from Canada’s World Cup roster Aug. 24 because of his knee injury. “Today was good to get back out there and in the swing of things, even though it was a short practice.”
Keith is being held out of scrimmages, including the annual Training Camp Festival on Saturday at the United Center. The Blackhawks plan to bring him along slowly, but Keith is a workaholic. He’s already pushing the envelope with his on-ice work, according to assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who’s leading camp until Quenneville returns.
“We just pull him in, pull the reins in,” Kitchen said of Keith. “He wanted to know if he could go out for two practices, and we said, ‘No, just go one.’ We’re early in camp, so there’s no reason for us to push him at all.”
Keith, 33, had surgery Oct. 20, 2015 to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee. He missed a month, including six of seven games in the Hawks’ first-round loss to the Blues.
Keith’s decision, however, to forgo the World Cup was a surprise. Asked when he again was experiencing issues with his knee, he didn’t pinpoint a specific play or game.
“It’s just kind of been basically going on for a while now,” Keith said. “I tried to use some time this summer to rest it and do some different things. Once I started skating, it didn’t react very well. So, I had to do a few different things to try and get it ready.”
One was to stop his offseason skating regimen. Another was pulling out of the World Cup, which was difficult to swallow for someone who’s won two Olympic gold medals. Keith said he began skating again during the first week of September, and the knee is doing better.
The focus now is just getting ready to play, whenever that might be.
“I think it’s like all players when you get to a certain stage in your career,” Kitchen said. “You’re going to feel different aches and pains coming up, and it’s something you probably have to manage for the rest of your career. I think he’ll come back and he’ll be fine. It’s not like it’s in March that [we’re first hearing] about it. So, we’re not that concerned about it.”
Likewise, Kitchen isn’t going to put a rush on players whose teams have been eliminated from the World Cup. That includes Kane and rookie defensemen Ville Pokka (Finland) and Michal Kempny (Czech Republic).
“We’re just going to give them some time off,” said Kitchen, who’s in daily contact with Quenneville. “I’ll just come in and play it by ear [with] them. We’ll see, because they’ve been going since the first of September, and even prior to that.”
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