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Rolston happy to be back after nearly two months

Friday, 12.12.2008 / 11:14 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"I really don't remember missing any significant time in my career, so for me it was definitely foreign. You have to accept it and you have to try not to get too frustrated when you come back."
-- Brian Rolston

Brian Rolston didn't have a chance to be lazy during his 48-day stay out of the New Jersey Devils' lineup with a high-ankle sprain.

"I have three boys," the veteran forward told NHL.com. "They kept me pretty busy."

Ryder, Brody and Stone couldn't keep daddy in playing shape, though. That, Rolston said, was the worst part about his injury. Since he couldn't skate or work out any part of his lower body, all he could do was control his diet.

"You're basically off your legs for two months," said Rolston, who returned to the lineup Dec. 4 against Philadelphia. "It's almost like taking another summer off without the opportunity to really work on yourself. You try to stay in the best shape you possibly can and right now I'm starting to feel normal. I'm just starting to get there now."

It's a process, one in which Rolston has lacked experience.

Prior to spraining his ankle Oct. 16 in Atlanta, the Devils' fourth game of the season, the last time Rolston had to miss a significant chunk of time was when he broke his leg during the 1995-96 season.

He sat for 24 games that season. He missed 23 games during the following 11 seasons before sitting out 18 straight this season.

"I really don't remember missing any significant time in my career, so for me it was definitely foreign," Rolston said before being reminded of '95-96 injury. "You have to accept it and you have to try not to get too frustrated when you come back that, say, you're not catching passes the way you used. It's just a matter of time."

As Sidney Crosby can attest, that time seems like forever.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' captain suffered a similar high right ankle sprain last season with about a third of the schedule left to play. He sat out for 21 games before coming back. He then played in three straight, didn't feel right, and sat out another seven before returning in time for the playoffs.

Crosby's 27 playoff points tied him with Henrik Zetterberg for the League lead and the Penguins made it all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, but he told NHL.com he did it despite playing on a balky right ankle.

"I didn't really feel good until this year," Crosby said. "It's a long process. Not to say that (Rolston) is not going to feel good because it depends on the extent of the injury and how you're body responds. With me, I played four games before the playoffs started so I was thrown right into the thick of things pretty quick. It was pretty intense and when you get fatigued it becomes a little bit more sore."

Rolston is experiencing that soreness on a daily basis now. He said the ligaments in his ankle need time to strengthen. And, on top of that, he's still trying to get back into the shape he's accustomed to being in by this point of the season.

Rolston came to the Devils after three straight 30-goal seasons in Minnesota.

"A guy like (Devils defenseman) Andy Greene, he broke his hand, but he gets to skate the whole time," Rolston said. "It's another training camp over again and not only the conditioning part of it but getting your hands back and all those things you use training camp for. It's going to take me a few games to get back to where I need to be, but patience is what you need and you have to accept the fact that not everything is going to be perfect."

Rolston was hoping for a perfect return to the Devils after signing with his original team July 1.

Even though he sauntered into the locker room with League-wide respect for the type of player, teammate and person he has been since the Devils traded him to Colorado early in the 1999-2000 season, Rolston was hoping to convince his new teammates that he was worth the fuss over the summer.

 
It wasn't necessary.

"I think that just shows how good of a guy he is saying that's how he felt," Devils forward David Clarkson told NHL.com. "When I found out he was coming here I must have had a hundred phone calls from people saying, 'He's unbelievable player.' My first day skating with him, seeing how hard he shot the puck and how hard he was skating, he became one of my favorite players right away.

"To lose him, at first is pretty scary. You're like, 'Wow, we don't have anything else like him.' "

Clarkson said Rolston's absence was felt two-fold.

"I think it affected our power play a little bit, but it has gotten better since he's been back," Clarkson said of Rolston, who scored 39 power-play goals for the Wild. "You don't just lose one of your top-two line guys, you lose a guy who is the leader in the room. I think we dealt with it well."

Actually, for a while the Devils struggled. They won only four of the first 12 games Rolston missed, but their struggles were escalated thanks to a community of players on injured reserve, most notably Martin Brodeur and Bobby Holik.

Backed by Scott Clemmensen and the return of everybody but Brodeur, the Devils have won eight of nine entering tonight's game against the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center.

Even better, Rolston, although he's still fighting to get back into shape, has found a silver lining to his 48-day absence.

"I think I'm going to be fresher at the end of the season," he said. "I averaged over 20 minutes a game in Minnesota and toward the end of the year that gets a bit taxing. The positive is at the end of the season you'll be in better shape and ready to go."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.
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