This was a very different looking Dave Bolland than the one that had been hobbling around the rink last month.
The injured Toronto Maple Leafs centre not only skated hard at the Air Canada on Saturday morning but spent a few minutes chatting and joking for the first time in a while with the media about his recovery.
It's been a long road to this point for Bolland, who was injured in the 15th game of the season when Vancouver Canucks forward Zack Kassian's skate cut a tendon in his ankle way back on Nov. 2.
But after 34 games (and counting) out of the lineup, he can finally start to see an end in sight.
"There's my good days and my bad days," Bolland said when asked about the pain in his ankle, which he has been skating on using a modified boot that has a hollow portion for where the injury was. "It gets sore once in a while when I'm on the ice."
The Leafs have been mum on just when they expect Bolland back, although there have been rumblings recently he could potentially play before the team goes on the Olympic break on Feb. 9. Including Saturday's game against the Montreal Canadiens, however, there are only 11 games remaining before the hiatus, and that speedy a return seems overly optimistic.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said Bolland would return only when he's 100 per cent recovered, meaning they likely wouldn't attempt to ease him in at three-quarters speed in limited minutes.
Even so, Bolland could go on the Leafs road trip out West next week to spend more time with his teammates and begin training with them.
"We can't afford to take any type of risk with this type of injury," Carlyle said. "We all know it's a tough one to come back from. It's a long, tedious process. Where it was and the tendon that was injured, it's pretty dramatic."
"It's a slow rehab," Bolland added. "It's not like any other rehab when you break an ankle and you can just say six weeks and then you're back and it's healed… it's not fun. It's gruelling.
"When you're watching and you're off the ice, it does screw with your head a lot. When you cut a tendon, it's a big deal. I've heard a lot of stories of Mike Modano… what was it, six months? It was the same thing. You hear some of those things and you have that in the back of your head [thinking about] when you're going to come back and when it's going to happen. You do get a little mentally broken down."
The toughest part with Bolland's comeback, whenever it happens, is going to be managing expectations. The Leafs were fortunate to be 10-4-0 when he went down with the injury, and Bolland was perhaps the team's best skater in those games.
But others who have come back from tendon cuts, such as Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson, weren't nearly as effective as before the injury when they first retook the ice, and it's likely Bolland will have a similar adjustment period of weeks or months to get to where he was.
Toronto will still have 22 games remaining after the Olympic break to make a playoff push, so if his return doesn't come until that point, it could be enough time to get back in the swing of things.
Right now, however, after nearly three months of relative inactivity, basic things like his conditioning isn't where it needs to be.
And even he doesn't have any idea when he'll be ready to play.
"Who knows?" Bolland said.
- The Leafs will start Jonathan Bernier for the 10th time in the last 12 games while Carey Price will get the call for Montreal after a wild overtime win in Ottawa on Thursday. Both teams have been picking up points regularly, with Toronto on a three-game win streak and Montreal 6-3-2 in its last 11 games.
- The Leafs recalled Troy Bodie to fill in on the fourth line with both David Clarkson and Frazer McLaren added to injured reserve on Friday. Defencemen Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger are the expected scratches.
- Montreal, meanwhile, will sit Rene Bourque and work Finnish rookie Joonas Nattinen in for his NHL debut on the fourth line with George Parros and Travis Moen. Nattinen joked this morning he had always envisioned getting a hat trick in his first game, but that seems unlikely given he has five goals all year in the minors.
- Leafs centre Peter Holland missed the morning skate as the latest player to come down with the flu, but Carlyle expects he’ll be able to play. If he does, it will be his 25th game in the Leafs lineup, the threshold where the third-round pick Toronto sent to Anaheim Ducks will become a second-rounder. The Leafs now don’t have a second-round pick in 2014 or 2015 as the result of recent trades.