MONTREAL - The start of the season might still be two months away, but Ales Hemsky can't wait to get going.
That shouldn't come as a surprise. The 33-year-old right winger underwent hip surgery last October that kept him out of the Dallas Stars' lineup for four months, limiting him to just 15 games in the 2016-17 season.
Despite returning to active duty earlier than expected - with the original prognosis projecting a five-to-six month recovery - his 14th NHL campaign was still the shortest of his career to date.
Understandably, that left the veteran forward extra hungry heading into the offseason.
"You just want to get out there and start the season. You just want to be there in October and play the first game. It will be a new day for me again," said Hemsky, who inked a one-year deal with the Canadiens on July 3 following a three-year stint in Dallas. "Recovering in four months was really good. That was my goal. I was really, really happy I did it. I just want to prove that I can still play and show everybody I can help the team. It's a big year for me, even mentally, to be happy with myself."
This isn't the first time Hemsky has been forced to battle back from hip surgery. He previously went under the knife in April 2015 and bounced back by putting up 13 goals and 39 points in 75 games the following year.
Overcoming major medical setbacks is something the two-time Olympian believes will make him stronger in the long run.
"With the injuries you have, it's a mental grind. You go for surgery and deal with a long-term injury and the recovery, and then it happens all over again and you have to go through the process. It's more of a mental grind just to get back into shape. When you do it, though, it feels amazing. You know you can come back from anything," explained Hemsky, who spent the last two months training in his native Czech Republic, skating with his hometown club in Pardubice. "Hopefully I'm over that and I can just focus on the season. Right now, I'm feeling really good and getting my body ready for the year."
Hemsky flew back to Dallas recently to resume his training on this side of the pond alongside former Stars teammate and current Hab Jordie Benn. The pair spent two-plus seasons together in the Lone Star State before Benn departed for Montreal in February.
"We're really friendly. I spent a lot of time with him and his brother Jamie when I was in Dallas. They live pretty close to me. We had a good time together. Jordie's a great guy," mentioned Hemsky, who will also be reunited with countryman Tomas Plekanec and former Oilers teammate Jeff Petry in the Canadiens' locker room come September. "It's always easier when you come to a team and you know somebody."
That will no doubt help ease the transition into his new surroundings in Montreal, but Hemsky is no stranger to living in Canada. He spent the bulk of his NHL career in Edmonton, before making a brief stopover in Ottawa in 2013-14 ahead of his tenure in Dallas. He also played two seasons with the QMJHL's Hull Olympiques before making the jump to the pros, so he's looking at his move to Montreal as a homecoming of sorts.
"It's nice to be back [in Quebec] after so long. It's been 16 or 17 years; it's pretty amazing how fast the time went," said Hemsky, who developed an appreciation for the Bell Centre as a road rink over the years. "We always liked Montreal because there were so many places to go eat and visit. It's a hockey city. There's so much tradition there. Playing in that stadium is always something special. It will be nice to put on a Montreal jersey and be a part of that history."
In the meantime, Hemsky will remain in Texas while he tries to lock down some new digs north of the border. He'll likely arrive in his new hockey home in early September and he plans on making the trip up with Benn to get settled in before training camp.
"I think every season is exciting. Especially now, it's with a new team. It's a new chance. That's why it's even more exciting," he concluded. "It's a really solid team. I think it will be a lot of fun."