MONTREAL – Andrei Markov is planning on spending a lot less time with Canadiens head athletic therapist Graham Rynbend next year. But don’t worry, Graham, it’s not you; it’s him.
There are a few places Markov has gotten used to since making his NHL debut in 2000-01: the Canadiens dressing room; NHL All-Star Games; the scoresheet. But the spot he’s become most familiar with over the past year-and-a-half also happens to be the place he’s hoping to never have to set foot – or knee – in again.
After spending 483 long days as Rynbend’s most loyal customer in “The Chop Shop” – the nickname the team’s therapists have affectionately given to the Habs clinic – Markov finally got to put his knee to the test on Mar. 10 in Vancouver. Coming off his second ACL reconstruction surgery in as many years, the 33-year-old blue-liner picked up right where he left off, registering an assist in his first game back against the eventual-President’s Trophy winners.
“That whole game was emotional for me,” admitted Markov, who slid a perfect pass to P.K. Subban on the power play to pick up his first point since Nov. 10, 2011. “Plus, we were playing against one of the best teams in the league on their home ice. I’m just happy to be back playing the game. I just tried to have fun every shift and every moment.”
After spending the previous 140 games watching in a suit from the pressbox, it wasn’t hard for the 11-year NHL veteran to enjoy himself after returning to his familiar spot on the Canadiens’ blue line – even if, he admits, it could take a while to really get his groove back.
“You guys have no idea how difficult that is,” he mentioned of regaining his timing after such a long absence. “I just tried to keep it simple and tried to play my game. I wanted to take it one step at a time and one game at a time and have fun out there.”
He may be happier on the ice than watching from the sidelines, but suiting up for just 13 of his team’s 82 games gave Markov plenty of opportunity to take in the action from a different perspective than usual this season.
“It’s always disappointing not to make the playoffs but that’s going to be a good lesson for us. We have to learn from that and next season we have to play much better and we have to improve,” stressed the assistant captain. “We showed that if we play like a team with everybody on the same page, we can beat anybody. We have to continue playing like a team and improve ourselves.”
After successfully becoming a Canadian citizen two summers ago, Markov is planning on spending the offseason in his adoptive home, finally focusing more on getting better than on getting healthy.
“I need to get back that quickness on the ice and I want to feel more comfortable turning and doing pivots and that kind of thing,” shared the shifty blue-liner of his summer vacation plans. “I still have a little stiffness and tightness in my knee but that’s normal. I’m just happy to finish the season healthy and I’m looking forward to being better next season.”
His time spent in The Chop Shop getting repair work done may be over, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be avoiding Rynbend & Co. completely; he’ll still pop in to say hi every once in a while – he just won’t be making himself comfortable.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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