EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers returned to the ice Wednesday after 12 days off for the Olympic break, several of them with red faces either from sun tanning or the hard bike riding that was part of the mini training camp/conditioning session they were put through.
"It feels a lot shorter than it was," said veteran defenceman Andrew Ference, who spent part of the break with his family in Canmore, Alta., visiting former Olympians Thomas Grandi and Sara Renner. "But it's a really good chance to get rid of all the little aches and pains."
Ference said it has to be remembered that with back-to-back condensed seasons - last year because of the lockout - players need the break both mentally and physically.
"The last calendar year I think I played 110 or 120 games, so it's a much welcomed break."
It was a break that came with the Oilers suddenly having found their game in the midst of another disastrous, non-playoff season. They went into the Olympic break having won five of their previous seven games - one of the losses was in overtime - and outscoring their opponents 18-12.
Their previous 10 games before the break - the statistic the NHL keeps - showed them at 5-3-2, a record that put them in the middle of the pack, unlike the 29th place they are in with their overall record of 20-33-7.
"It is tough from that aspect," forward Jordan Eberle said of the untimely break. "Some of the GM's around the league have been complaining, some of the teams were going well and then you get this break. It's almost like a new season starting.
"But, for me personally, I feel you get re-energized, with a little more jump and a little more excitement to play, like you did in camp. I feel really energized and ready to play."
Like many of the players, Eberle took a vacation away from the game, away from Edmonton and away from winter. But not away from working out.
"Yeah I went away but I definitely worked out," he added. "I knew today was going to be a tough day. It was just a bit of a skate but most of the stuff was in the gym and it was tough."
Ference said the players were put through a tough physical that included a hard bike ride but said everybody looked fine.
"Nobody was puking."
Veteran Ryan Smyth said it would have been nice to be playing in the Olympics again, but he appreciated the great family time he had in Mexico. And as a player turning 38 on Friday, he said "any time you get some rest for the body to recuperate, it will really help."
While players made sure they stayed physically active and in shape, they were able to mentally turn off the game and enjoy some rare family time.
"Your mind is a little off on vacation so you give yourself a break there," said Eberle, second on the Oilers scoring with 45 points. "But as far as your body you have to make sure you're still able to come back and play 22 games. So everyone took their mind away from the game, which is a good thing.
"I went on vacation somewhere hot and your mind is so out of it that you think, wow, I have to come back and play hockey? But as soon as you get to Edmonton, see the snow on the ground, it changes pretty quickly. I got on the ice, felt pretty excited to get back. It's almost like a new season here."
The Oilers resume play Feb. 27 at home against the Minnesota Wild.