One of the worst things imaginable for an elite athlete is having to sit out and watch.
Fredrik Modin spent the past three months doing just that. A serious back injury suffered in the fall forced the big winger from Sundsvall, Sweden to the press box, all but wiping out the first half of his 2007-08 season.
Not knowing the source of the pain made the situation worse.
"I was fighting to see what was causing it, why it happened," says Modin. "It took a while for us to figure that out."
It ended up being two fractures, which though scary in itself, was also somewhat of a relief. Modin was told it was just a matter of healing the bones and when that happened, he could get back on the ice.
Though he couldn't play alongside his teammates, Modin stayed as busy as any other Blue Jacket, with grueling rehab occupying most of his time. He says he couldn’t do anything for a couple of weeks after suffering the fractures but after that, the daily process of getting back to health began – doctor meetings in the early morning, swimming to exercise his muscles and then back to Nationwide Arena for more therapy with the Jackets' staff.
"They were long days," Modin says of being on the shelf. "That's what it's like to be out."
The 33-year-old is happy his back woes are behind him. He returned to the lineup January 19 for a road game in Dallas and then got his first goal of the year the next night out in Colorado. By the end of the trip, Modin was logging close to 19 minutes a night and beginning to get his legs back.
While he recently suffered a small tear in one of his hamstrings that will keep him out 7-10 days (from Feb. 1) - a likely result of missing so much time injured. Still, Modin expects to be contributing for the stretch drive of the season.
For his teammates in the room, it's welcome news.
"He's such a great presence for us," says Dan Fritsche, who lined up with Modin and Manny Malhotra since the veteran returned. "He's such a good leader on the ice. Freddie's the kind of guy that controls games. He gets the puck down low in the offensive zone and he's impossible to get off it.
"He gets the puck and he doesn’t let anyone take it from him. That's what our team needs. Every guy in this room is excited to have him back."
From Ken Hitchcock's perspective, having someone with Modin's résumé back in the fold is invaluable.
"He's a competitive, experienced guy," says the coach. "I don't think at this time of year you can have enough experience, as long as they're competitive.
"He knows what it takes to win at this time of year. He’s been through it before."
Modin's career has been all about success. He's one of just 18 players that have won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and gold at the World Championships, a group known as the Triple Gold Club.
A two-time 30-goal man in the NHL, Modin managed to score 22 times in his first season in Columbus, adding some punch to an offense that has traditionally struggled. His biggest contributions to the Jackets are hopefully still to come but over the past few months away, Modin's actually gained a new perspective on the team from the press box.
"I became a fan sitting up there and watching the guys play," he says. "They're playing really well - a lot of close games, a lot of good games to watch, a lot of fun games.
"The details of it all, you're obviously aware of that when you're involved in the system and you're looking for specific things in the game but most of the time I was just up there being a fan."
Modin has seen the team grow in that short time. He's fully aware of the sacrifice it requires to get your name etched into the Stanley Cup, also knowing that it's a lengthy process. Modin, who scored eight goals and added 11 assists in 23 games during the Tamp Bay Lightning's Cup run in 2004, believes the Jackets are getting a good idea of what being a playoff team is about.
But there's work to do.
"It's tough to get that if you haven't been in that situation before," Modin says. "We're a young team but if you look at the roster, there are guys that have been here a few years. This is my second season now and compared to last year, we've taken a step toward that.
"It's so tight in the league. But the closer we get, the more playoff hockey is going to show. This is where we need to be strong. This is where we'll get our eyes opened to what it takes.
"We feel that we've been playing well. We need to make sure that we all know now that it's not enough. We need to step it up a little bit more. We need to be better; we need to be more disciplined in every area of the game. It's when we realize that that everything comes together and it becomes even more fun to play."
Modin's already enjoyed that feeling on many occasions throughout his professional career. Given the difficult start to his season, he's anxious to get back to work and help the Jackets reach a new level.