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Notes: Ninkovich back at practice, Vollmer still out

Some good injury news for the Patriots on the final day of 2015. Defensive end/co-captain Rob Ninkovich (left shin) was able to suit up again for practice after sitting out Wednesday's session. Ninkovich was nicked up this past Sunday during the loss to the Jets in New York.

Also back on the practice field, linebacker Jonathan Freeny (right hand), who's been on the shelf since sustaining his injury in Week 14 at Houston. Freeny donned a red, non-contact jersey to avoid being hit during practice. Safety Patrick Chung (foot) also continues to wear a red jersey at practice for the second straight day.

Meanwhile, left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (left ankle) remains sidelined after being carted off the MetLife Stadium turf Sunday. His status for the regular season finale at Miami this weekend is now even more in doubt after he missed his second consecutive workout.

Rookie cornerback Justin Coleman (concussion) also is unlikely to play now that he's missed two straight sessions. Coleman was shaken up at the Jets last weekend.

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Classic response

On New Year's Day, Gillette Stadium will play host to the NHL's Winter Classic, the annual outdoor tradition which this year features the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick got in the spirit of the occasion by wearing a Winter Classic winter hat during his early-morning press briefing on Thursday.

"I'm ready for that Winter Classic, yes sir... I'm pretty excited," he smiled.

Belichick also took a little time to lace up his skates and take a spin on the temporary ice rink out on the field. He was joined by Bruins boss Claude Julien, who attended Patriots practice on Wednesday.

"I love Claude. He's a great guy," Belichick added. "I think we probably have a lot in common just in the way we coach and look at the game and look at the team and things like that. I mean I don't know anything about hockey, but it's a pretty simple game – put the puck in the net. No, I love Claude and the job that he's done."

Before Belichick and Julien passed the puck around on the ice for a while, the Patriots head coach reminisced about his brief history playing hockey.

"We didn't have a lot of ice [where I grew up] in Maryland, but skated at [Phillips Academy] Andover, skated Wesleyan. I played in the old huff-and-puff league when I was in New Jersey with the Giants.

"You know it's like 30, 40-year-old guys playing at midnight – it's the only time you could get ice time – drive 45 minutes to go out there and fall around and slash each other. I wish I could have played hockey. That's a great sport. It's fast, lot of action, contact, skill, speed."

After practice, a few Patriots players spoke to reporters, including tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was clad in full Winter Classic garb. He had a winter pom-pom hat, Bruins throwback jersey, and NHL scarf over his shoulder... all on top of his practice pads and football gear.

Gronk declared himself a huge hockey fan and said if he were to play, he'd be a left wing. Very precise answer by the Pro Bowler.

Check out photos from access to players and coaches as the New England Patriots prepare to play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday down in Miami.

On to south Florida

With all the hubbub surrounding the Winter Classic, Gillette Stadium is a beehive of activity this week. Which is one reason why Belichick elected to depart early for south Florida with his team. The Patriots are leaving on New Year's Eve, practicing at Florida Atlantic University on New Year's Day, and getting acclimated to the warmer weather until kickoff against the Miami Dolphins at 1 p.m. Sunday. 

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