Friday, September 15, 2006

Koivu takes part in first camp scrimmage

MONTREAL (CP) - Neither Michael Ryder's new visor nor Saku Koivu's blind spot prevented the Montreal Canadiens linemates from seeing eye to eye on the ice Friday.
Koivu had no trouble finding Ryder and winger Chris Higgins with passes in his first scrimmage since he suffered a serious left eye injury in the NHL playoffs in April.
The Canadiens captain even fed a pretty pass from the left side to Higgins for a goal.
"I thought it went well," said Koivu. "Physically, I felt fine and more important, I'm surprised I felt that comfortable with my eye.
"It will be a different scenario when we play against another team, but this was a first step and we have a couple of days before the first pre-season games. I hope that every day I feel a little more comfortable out there."
Koivu wore a contact lens on the eye, which still has a blind spot and recently developed a small cataract after off-season surgery to repair a detached retina.
He also wore a larger visor than the one he had on when Justin Williams' stick clipped his eye during a playoff game against Carolina on April 26.
The team's first day of on-ice workouts before a standing room only crowd at the Sportsplex 4-Glaces boosted Koivu's confidence that he will be ready for the Canadiens' regular season opener Oct. 6 in Buffalo.
"I had some doubts before today how I'd feel and what to expect. but the vision was OK," he said. "I didn't lose the puck in my feet too many times, so it was a pleasant surprise.
"If I don't face any setbacks and the vision is the way it is now, I don't see a problem for the season opener. But the first couple of exhibition games will tell a lot more."
Montreal's first two pre-season matches are against Boston at home on Tuesday and Wednesday. Koivu expects to play a game or two more than usual in the pre-season to get used to his slightly reduced vision.
Ryder is also adjusting to altered vision.
The 30-goal scorer is experimenting with a visor, although it will depend on how well he adapts in the pre-season whether he'll wear it in games that count.
The winger from Bonavista, N.L., said he considered wearing a visor even before Koivu's injury.
"It's a little different, just getting used to the sweat and snow that gets on it," he said. "It feels like you're inside something, looking through. Hopefully, I'll get used to it."
Koivu applauded his linemate's decision.
"Sometimes when something happens to a teammate, you see what might happen if you don't wear one," he said. "I'm hoping that it woke a few guys up and they realize that by wearing one, they might avoid an injury like that.
"I know there's a lot of guys who aren't used to wearing one but for us Europeans, it's never been a problem."
Ryder also showed up 12 pounds lighter than last season at 192 pounds after a summer of therapy for a pinched nerve in his neck.
"Because of my injury, I couldn't work out much," he said. "I was just trying to watch what I eat and make sure I didn't get out of shape and I ended up losing 12 pounds.
"Hopefully, I'm quicker. I don't really feel any pain now. It was in my neck, but I felt it more in my side. But it's gone. Now I'm just trying to rebuild the muscles."
Guy Carbonneau, who directed his first scrimmage since taking over as head coach, opted to keep his veterans together when making up lines.
Koivu, Ryder and Higgins ended last season together, while newcomer Sergei Samsonov showed energy in skating with Mike Ribeiro and Alex Kovalev. That line scored twice in the scrimmage.
Another new acquisition, Mike Johnson, scored a goal playing with Tomas Plekanec and Alexander Perezhogin while Radek Bonk centred Steve Begin and tough guy Aaron Downey, who also scored.
Garth Murray skated with two players competing for a vacant spot at forward - Andrei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovsky.
"It's a short camp," said Carbonneau. "I have to get my team ready first.
"But we had (rookie) Kyle Chipchura's line against Ribeiro's line and they did well. That's good. It shows them what they have to do to play at this level. The first day went well."
One who looked sharp was six-foot-five defenceman Ryan O'Byrne, a 2003 third round draft pick who joined the team from Cornell University.
There is a spot open on defence to start the season as Francis Bouillon recovers from off-season knee surgery. Bouillon is to resume skating in two weeks, but isn't expected back until November.
The public was admitted free and they jammed the 1,200-seat arena. Fans were stacked three deep in the standing room area for the scrimmages.

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