Kelly apologized as he cleared the drops from his eye. But in reality, it was a nice problem to have.
“I’m sweating, so that’s a good thing,” Kelly quipped.
Four months into his recovery from a fractured left femur, suffered against Dallas on Nov. 3, Kelly hit the ice with his teammates for the first time, joining the Bruins for their optional pregame skate ahead of their meeting with the Sharks.
It was a meaningful, albeit small, step in his recovery.
“Every day it gets better,” said Kelly. “Just getting back out there with the guys for an optional morning skate was nice. I think they’re baby steps, but they’re steps. It’s part of the process and it was good to get out there.”
The initial prognosis was that Kelly would miss six to eight months, though he was hesitant to forecast any further timeline.
“I find with injuries, everybody wants a timetable, we do,” said Kelly. “As people being injured, the first thing you ask is how long. But timetables are tough because everyone heals differently and you could have some bumps along the way. Doesn’t mean you’re not working hard.
“To say I’m ahead or behind, it’s tough to say, especially with such a long-term injury.”
With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, time is running out for Kelly to get back for the stretch run, or even the postseason, should the Bruins qualify. He is not, however, giving up on there being a chance.
“You always hold out hope, I think you need something to work for,” said Kelly. “The guys have been playing really well and that makes it easier in the recovery time, to know that your teammates are playing well and doing well and you can focus on yourself getting better.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien is taking direction from the medical staff in regards to how he should handle Kelly’s progression. For now, light skating is the extent of Kelly’s practice plan, with the hope that as the California road trip continues his workload can begin to ramp up.
“If anything on this trip, we’re hoping that he can slowly jump into line rushes and that kind of stuff,” said Julien. “But definitely no contact at this point, until we get a better sense from the medical staff that we can move on to the next step.
“But it’s nice just to get him with us and skating with some movement around him besides skating by himself. He’s at that stage right now.”
Kelly began skating under the watch of physical therapist Scott Waugh and strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides earlier this month, while also participating in extensive off-ice workouts.
“The training staff has done a great job,” said Kelly. “I’ve been with Scotty Waugh and John Whitesides every day. I’m sure they’re happy to see me on this trip because they get a little break from me.
“It’s been huge that they’ve been working together with me and helping me get on the ice for an optional morning skate in March.”
Kelly said the injury is healed and the bone in the right place. But he is still working to get his skating legs back underneath him after spending so much time away from the rink.
“I think the confidence maybe isn’t where it needs to be,” said Kelly. “The time I’ve been off has been the longest I’ve ever been off the ice since maybe when I was a kid not playing any summer hockey or things like that.
“It comes back quickly, but you also do lose certain things, that fast switch and certain things. But I’ve noticed the more and more I get out there, [I’m] handling the puck better, I’m using my edging better, but it takes time.”
Though he will be an unrestricted free agent coming off a major injury at season’s end, the 35-year-old has every intention of returning for his 14th NHL campaign.
“I love playing hockey, I love being a Bruin and being around the guys,” said Kelly. “You realize how much you do miss going on the road, the little things, being part of the guys, going out for dinner and things like that.
“That’s always been why you come to the rink every day and work hard when the end goal is so far away.
“But you just keep pushing, keep pushing because it’s something we all love to do and want to continue to do.”