Ruutu ready for action

Wing's injury cost 15 games

Staff writerFebruary 9, 2010 

— The Carolina Hurricanes aren't sure how long goaltender Cam Ward will be out of the lineup.

As for forward Tuomo Ruutu, he's ready to go back in.

General manager Jim Rutherford said Monday that doctors will monitor Ward's back injury for a couple of weeks before a final diagnosis is made.

"After a couple of weeks, they'll have a better understanding of his condition," Rutherford said. "They'd like to see how it settles down, let him rest, then go from there."

Ward experienced back pain Wednesday during the Canes' game at Calgary, and his back tightened up on the team flight to Buffalo on Thursday. Ward left the team Friday to return to Raleigh, and he saw a back specialist in Charlotte on Monday.

Rutherford said surgery could "not be ruled in or ruled out." Ward has been slowed at times by back spasms, but Rutherford said the doctors determined the two injuries were not related.

Ruutu, who will play tonight against the Florida Panthers, has been out of the lineup for 15 games, since his Jan. 8 fisticuffs with Darcy Tucker of the Colorado Avalanche. And while the Canes have missed him, his upper-body injury also caused some consternation for Finland's Olympic team.

The Vancouver Winter Games are about to begin, and Finland's first hockey game on Feb. 17. Ruutu was chosen for the Finnish Olympic team in 2006 but missed the Games because of an injury. Would he have to miss another?

"I would lie if I say I didn't think that way," Ruutu said Monday. "Right away when I came to the doctor, the first thing on my mind was I was worried about not playing for a long time. The second thing was what about the Olympics?

"After you get hurt pretty bad, so many things go through your mind and a lot of times you're thinking about the worst-case scenario, for sure. ... I've always wanted to play in the Olympics, and last Olympics I got injured two weeks before. It was something I was really looking forward to."

In the Oct. 23 game against the Avalanche in Denver, Ruutu hit Tucker from behind near the boards in finishing a check. Tucker was knocked unconscious, and Ruutu was handed a three-game suspension by the NHL.

On Jan. 8, the Avs came to the RBC Center. Tucker dropped the gloves and challenged Ruutu, who appeared to injure his right shoulder during the fight.

Tucker missed eight games because of his concussion. Ruutu, in turn, was out 15.

"I don't really regret it," Ruutu said. "I think I did everything right. Things like that happen. I could have hurt myself hitting somebody. Just bad luck."

Ruutu said Finnish officials constantly checked up on his condition. Two other Finnish team forwards also had been injured -- Teemu Selanne with a broken jaw, Saku Koivu with a sprained knee.

"I've talked to doctors, talked to coaches," Ruutu said. "They know what's going on and they were patient with me.

"I'm not going to go out there and hurt the team. If I'm not ready to go, I'm not ready to go."

But Ruutu is ready. He's ready for tonight and ready for Vancouver, where he will be joined by Canes teammate Joni Pitkanen on the Finnish team. Selanne and Koivu also will play.

Ruutu will play the wing tonight on Brandon Sutter's line opposite Patrick Dwyer, causing him to joke that he will be the slow guy on the line.

"When he's out of the lineup, it's kind of a tough void to fill," Sutter said. "He brings some physicality, some speed. He's a battler and a warrior and a great guy to have on your line."

Canes coach Paul Maurice is more than happy to have Ruutu available. Forwards Erik Cole, Chad LaRose and Scott Walker still are on the mend, and Maurice said none may play until after the Olympic break.

"He feels good and strong," Maurice said of Ruutu. "When you look at the players we have missed out of our right wing, especially a certain style of player, he's got some speed and a little bit of bite and some good hands. We'll welcome him back."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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