Ryan Murray almost forgot what it was like to skate with people other than himself.
For the last five months, though, he's endured a long and difficult road to recovery after a serious shoulder injury ended his season. At the time, he was a star defenseman for the Everett Silvertips (WHL), but there stood a chance that Murray could have been traded to a contender before the league's trading deadline.
That could have meant another opportunity to represent Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, or a run at the Mastercard Memorial Cup - something he didn't get to experience in a decorated junior hockey career. But for Murray, it's all in the past now and the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter by the day.
Another important and exciting step in his rehabilitation process took place today, when the 19-year-old stepped on to Nationwide Arena ice with 10 of the Blue Jackets for an optional practice. It wasn't anything major or too involved - just a few drills and shooting some pucks here and there - but merely being on the ice with familiar faces was something Murray was longingly looking forward to.
It's been a lonely feeling at times, he admitted, skating by himself or with a strength coach nearby. But today's practice wasn't as much about progress as it was what comes along with it - being able to spend on-ice time in a "team" setting for the first time since his November injury.
"To get out there and do some drills with the NHL guys, that was a great step for me," Murray told BlueJackets.com. "It's good to get out with them, for sure. Before today it was just me skating by myself, so it was nice to be on the ice and interact with them.
Murray is on track to be back to "regular hockey mode" by July, he said, and just in time for the Blue Jackets' annual development camp. But in the short term, he's anxiously awaiting the chance to reflect on the recovery process rather than counting down the days until it's finally over.
"There's been three steps to this," he said. "The first step, you can't do anything at all and it's no fun. The second step you start doing some lifting and leg weights, with range of motion stuff. In the third stage where I am now, I can start getting back to what I'm used to doing. Shooting, skating, practicing...all of it feels great.
"Looking back on it, it's actually been a really long process. It's taken quite a while, over five months now but I'm glad that part's over and I'm able to get back on the ice and go forward with it."