Tonight Pekka Rinne returns to game action, and for the first time since 2008 he'll do so donning a Milwaukee Admirals jersey.
Rinne was sent down to Milwaukee for a rehab stint, the latest development in his infection recovery. According to Admirals head coach Dean Evason, the plan is for Rinne to start both tonight against Iowa and Sunday afternoon against the Rochester Americans.
"I'm feeling great," said Rinne after the team's morning skate. "I'm excited to be back in Milwaukee and it's obviously been a long road back... I've been skating the past three weeks and with [the Predators] since during winter break. Now its one step closer to getting back on the ice with Nashville."
"He hasn't played hockey in a long time," said Evason. "So we'll see where he's at, but we know this; that he's a professional. We know the work that he's put in to get back to playing. We're going to try to support him, no different than if any of our other goaltenders was in the net."
Rinne took a good bulk of shots in practice, mostly on three-man transition drills. He seemed a bit rusty at points, but didn't need much extra time to stretch or take a breather.
"In the beginning of practice I didn't feel super sharp but as the practice went along I got more comfortable," said Rinne. "I started to feel like myself again... It's not a huge difference when you compare shots between AHL and NHL when you take Shea Weber away."
With it being his first start in a very long time, Rinne isn't expecting anything in particular tonight against the Wild.
"It's been a long time since I've played in the AHL so I don't really have any expectations," Rinne explained. "Just go at there and play my best and hopefully help the team."
Rinne is no stranger to Milwaukee and the Admirals. Before making it to the NHL, like many of Nashville's players, Rinne started down in the AHL. He played 145 games over three seasons for the team from 2005 until 2008.
"It plays a big factor in my career," said Rinne on his development. "Those three years were very big for me. On the ice, getting used to North American hockey. Especially off the ice, I think that's a really big part, feeling comfortable and fitting in. Getting comfortable with the language, learning the new language. just taking care of yourself, paying the bills, all that kind of stuff."
Two goalies that have filled in for Rinne in Nashville are both down in Milwaukee with him, Marek Mazanec and Magnus Hellberg. Mazanec split a majority of the load with Carter Hutton, playing in 25 games.
"I thought that when Marek came in he had a really good stretch of games," said Rinne. "He helped Nashville stay important and stay in the fight for playoff position. Same with Magnus. He didn't get a lot of games but obviously I got to know him over the past few years and the last couple training camps. I'm really happy for both those guys to have that chance to get that taste."
It's been a long road for Rinne since his surgery in May. He's happy that he can now get back and start helping the team again.
"It's been tough just watching games and not knowing when you get back," said Rinne. "That's mentally been the toughest to handle."
The rest of the team is certainly excited to have Rinne with them for the weekend.
"We had an optional skate this morning, and no one took their option," said Evason with a laugh.
Tonight's game against Iowa begins at 7:00 p.m., while Sunday's game against Rochester starts at 3:00. Rinne is allowed to stay in the AHL for his conditioning stint for fourteen days, but if all goes as planned he likely will be back in Nashville after the weekend. After Sunday's game Milwaukee does not play again until Friday night against Rockford.