by Jim Cerny, Hat Tricks Insider

Jonny Ruiz was skating dreaded suicides at the end of practice Thursday, but the Danbury Hat Tricks captain was happy to do it.

Ruiz was one of several veteran Hat Tricks players who lost a bet to some of the newcomers in a team bowling outing the night before.

“It was fun, it was a good time,” Ruiz said with a laugh. “I was halfway through [the bowling competition] and started calculating the numbers and was like ‘Man, I should just tell them it’s just like golf, the lower score is better.’ But they earned it. They weren’t goofing around … they really turned it on. It was funny to see. … a great way for everyone to get to know each other.”

The Hat Tricks have an extended break in the schedule, 10 days between games, and are using it to work hard in practice and develop team chemistry, both on and off the ice.

The bowling event was one of several outings scheduled for the players this week. They will also play arcade games and race go-karts at Grand Prix New York in Mount Kisco on Friday and go for a group hike Saturday.

“We’re going to wind down for a bit, get away from the hockey part of it after some good hard skates and enjoy ourselves, let that inner child come out and have fun away from the rink,” Ruiz said. “We could have just as easily not done things like this and then later in the season when you need that chemistry, it’s not there.”

Of course, there’s also what’s been taking place at practice. Conditioning drills. Specialized instruction. And players building a rapport together on the ice.

“We got some good work in at practice this week so far and some real good team bonding,” coach Dave McIsaac said. “It’s the best of both worlds and a really good opportunity for us to work on things this early in the season.”

The Hat Tricks won their first two games last weekend against the Port Huron Prowlers (7-5 on opening night Friday and 5-4 in overtime Saturday). The schedule picks up again Wednesday at home against the Watertown Wolves, the start of three games in four nights.

“It’s huge for us, especially this early on,” the forward said. “Training camp was short, but I know we did the most we could with it and then got the two big wins to start off the season. But these days off really help us focus on our conditioning, specific parts of our game we need to get better at, and the off-ice stuff.”

Saturday will also feature a captain’s practice. McIsaac and the coaches will be absent and Ruiz and the other team leaders will run the show.

“I think it’s healthy for the hockey team to get away from me for a day or so and do their own thing,” McIsaac explained. “They hear my voice all the time, so this is something we’ll do at different times during the season.”

Ruiz promised that it won’t be all fun and games at the captain’s practice.

“We’ve been going at it pretty hard, but we still have that compete level going, so we want to build off that,” Ruiz said. “We may play some mini games, just stay active, compete, we’ll see. But most important is to keep the guys together on and off the ice.”

Kasek, Susi return to practice

Matyas Kasek has been skating on his own and will return to practice Friday, McIsaac said.

The 24-year-old was injured midway through the second period Saturday after being checked in open ice. He did not play the rest of the game.

“He’s been doing his rehab, has been skating here (at Danbury Arena) and is a full-go Friday,” McIsaac said.

Ironically, Kasek, a forward, was playing out of position when he was injured against Port Huron. Kasek filled in for defenseman Vinnie Susi, who was injured after falling hard into the boards in the third period Friday and unable to play the next night.

Susi took part in pregame warmups Saturday and has been practicing this week.

“He’s a full-go too, he just needed a few more days after being shaken up a little bit,” the Hat Tricks coach explained.