He already knew before training camp that his right shoulder was healthy and ready for contact, but that didn't mean the rest of Martin Havlat was prepared for the grind.
Forgive the Chicago sniper if he forgot what a full NHL season feels like. The last time he even came remotely close to playing one was in the pre-work stoppage days.
"After three surgeries, you do think about it," Havlat told NHL.com. "Really, starting two months ago, I started feeling that I'm doing all that I want to do on the ice and I haven't thought about it too much. Right now I know how to play every night. It's been a big difference."
Havlat will look to make a difference in the Blackhawks' final two games, a home-and-home series with the Detroit Red Wings. The Blackhawks will visit Detroit on Saturday, then close the season at home Sunday in the NHL on NBC Game of the Week at 2 p.m. ET.
Havlat has managed to stay injury-free this season and he's finally giving the Blackhawks all they had hoped for when they traded for him in the summer of 2006. After playing in only 91 games the previous two seasons and only 109 in the past three, he has appeared in all but one game this season and is Chicago's leading scorer with a career-high 74 points.
His triumphant resurgent season after years of pitfalls was enough to convince the Chicago chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association to nominate Havlat as the Blackhawks' representative for the Masterton Trophy.
"You see a lot of the newspaper articles and the headlines about other players on the team and that's deservingly so, absolutely, but one guy you don't hear too much about is Marty Havlat, and he's been our offensive leader all year long," Hawks forward Patrick Sharp
told NHL.com. "He's been playing on the checking line for most of the year and playing against other teams' top-scoring units and he's still a plus-20 or so. He's definitely been one of our most important players and most valuable players. It's nice to see that he's healthy and we just want him to remain healthy."
Havlat's recent history of injuries would make any hockey player quiver in his skates.
It started when he was still with Ottawa coming out of the work stoppage. He had his first operation on his right shoulder early in the season, forcing him out of 58 games. He came back in time for the playoffs and was hoping everything would be better.
Next up for Havlat was a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for two months early in his first season with the Blackhawks. His right shoulder failed him again at the end of the season, requiring a second surgery during the summer in 2007.
Oh, but wait, there's more.
That same shoulder got popped in last season's opening game, and Havlat managed to play in only 35 games, none after Feb. 27, because he needed yet another surgery.
"I knew things weren't the way I wanted them to be with my shoulder," Havlat said. "It's been hard for me personally, but I never got anything easy in terms of hockey."
He can't be certain that his shoulder won't go on him again, but Havlat credits a lot of his success and health this season to the work he put in during the summer.
"It was my goal the whole summer to get in the best shape I can to show everybody that I'm healthy and everything is fine," Havlat said.
He stayed in Montreal during the summer for nearly two months and worked out hard with fellow NHL players, including Marc-Andre Fleury, Michael Frolik
, Milan and Zbynek Michalek, Rostislav Olesz
and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
"I was working hard with all the people around me and they helped me a lot," Havlat said. "During the season, everything has been fine except for the little things; but the big injuries -- especially the shoulder -- feel pretty good. The whole season just wrapped up around it. It's been a great season. I'm enjoying being healthy."
Havlat has missed one game this season -- March 11 vs. Carolina.
"I was itching to get into the longer stretches of games in a row and this year it has been pretty good," Havlat said. "If you're playing every night and you practice every day with the guys, everything comes automatically."
The Hawks originally acquired Havlat hoping he would serve as a top-line, scoring forward. He came from Ottawa, where he had 68 points in 68 games in 2003-04 and another 16 points in only 18 games in 2005-06.
He's kept up his near point-per-game pace, while also playing surprisingly good defense.
Coach Joel Quenneville has had Havlat playing with two-way forwards Dave Bolland
and Andrew Ladd for most of the season on the Hawks' checking line. Havlat still has 29 goals and 45 assists, but he's also a plus-26.
It remains to be seen if Havlat stays on the checking line for the playoffs, or if he moves up to play on one of the top-two scoring lines.
"Every night we play against the top offensive guys and it works," Havlat said. "It is a big challenge every night for us and we click. Everybody is trying to do their all. It's really everybody. It's been great to play with them."
Sharp said Havlat's defense, and his work on that part of his game in practice, has definitely been noticeable.
"Marty is such a threat offensively that sometimes it puts teams on their heels," Sharp said. "He comes back hard in his own end and finishes his checks. He's been doing things that a great two-way player does all year long."Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer