A faintly familiar defenseman skated smoothly but cautiously around the rink as the Mighty Ducks took the ice for practice shortly before the NHL trading deadline Tuesday.
But it wasn't a new player, it was an old friend: defenseman Milos Holan, skating for the first time since undergoing a lifesaving bone-marrow transplant to treat leukemia last year.
Holan, 25, surprised his teammates in the dressing room, then skated for about 15 minutes before leaving the ice a little winded.
"I told them, 'I'm ready for the playoffs!' " said Holan, even though returning to hockey remains a longshot. "I do think about it, but I know I still have to put on some weight and be stronger. I'm just weak."
Holan's weight has risen to 165 pounds, still 25 pounds under his playing weight, but nearly 30 more than he weighed last summer.
"When I came home from the hospital, I weighed about 138," he said. "I can lift my kids now. That's a big success for me. I feel better and better."
Holan has passed the crucial one-year anniversary of his transplant and just received test results that show his leukemia remains in remission. Though he must go into the hospital when he has infections and takes about 10 pills a day, he is improving rapidly.
"He looks really great," said right wing Joe Sacco, one of the Ducks who played with Holan before his leukemia was discovered in a 1995 training-camp physical. "He's been through a lot, but he looks healthy, like he's putting on weight. Everybody's pulling for him. He's a good kid, and it's nice to see him get out there."
Even after more than a season without Holan, the Ducks still miss his ability. But only Holan can know how long and difficult a year it has been.
"When I went into the hospital, there were seven who had just what I do," he said. "Today, just three are alive."