With stick taps and cheers rising to greet him in Centennial Sportsplex, the 6-foot-5 goaltender stepped onto the ice.

On any normal day when Pekka Rinne skates with his Predators teammates, there is no such cause for celebration. It’s just work.

This was different, however. It was the first time the 31-year-old Rinne had been on the ice with his teammates since October, when he fell ill with a hip infection which followed offseason hip surgery.

He’d played in only nine games, and more surgery was required for the infection.

“It feels great to be on the ice with the boys and just taking shots,” a beaming but sweaty Rinne said after taking part in one hour of the two-hour practice. “It has been a long time.”

There is still no timetable for his return to game action. But in the first practice for the Predators after a 10-day break because of the Olympics, Rinne dropped to his knees, moved side-to-side and took shots from teammates.

“You still have to be smart even though there aren’t really restrictions,” said Rinne, who is in the second season of a seven-year, $49 million contract. “That was a good hour for the first day. We worked hard, and I think we want to kind of take it one step at a time and increase your workload and the strain you put on your hip and all that stuff, every day a little bit more and more. I think that’s the plan.”

The mere sight of Rinne seemed to lift the spirits of several players.

“Don’t get me wrong, our goalies have played really well for us,” defenseman Michael Del Zotto said. “But any time you have one of the best goalies in the league coming back, it provides a boost for the team.”

But after two major operations in the past year, the Predators still don’t exactly know what type of goaltender they’re going to get. Not only does Rinne need to get back in shape, but he also needs to get acclimated with NHL competition again. Although he said he wasn’t under many restrictions, it was clear that he was moving somewhat gingerly and still is less than 100 percent.