With injuries to several core defencemen plaguing the Vancouver Canucks, it may come as a relief to many fans that Bieksa returned to skating, undergoing an individual session at the Agrodome.
The Canucks bluechip blueliner lost three months of his young career due to a lacerated calf muscle that has prevented him from skating, and provided him with a reserved seat in the press box. Coming off a break-out season which earned him a new contract, Bieksa was expected to play as a top four defencemen on the Canucks backend.
The injury occurred three months ago at GM Place in a contest against the Nashville Predators. Bieksa attempted to finish a check along the end boards and got tangled up with Nashville’s Vern Fiddler. The two clumsily separated with Bieksa ending up on the ground, and Fiddler’s skate grazing his calf. There was no maliciousness or intent in the action; it was simply unfortunately accidental for Bieksa, the Canucks, and all of their fans.
The seriousness of this injury kept Bieksa on crutches for weeks, and prevented him from engaging in any physical activity. He was relieved to be able to skate again, but found he had to work through a little bit of rust before he started to feel comfortable.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time and I had some fun out there today,” said Bieksa. “I felt like I had the balance like when I was a kid. It was a little wobbly at first but it came back pretty quick. It felt good [in the end], my leg feels fine and it was nice to get the first one out of the way.”
“We’ll take it skate by skate. Today I was doing some tight turns, maybe next skate we’ll ramp it up a bit and make it a little more difficult. I’ll communicate back and forth with the training staff and the doctors and we’ll figure it out, but I don’t imagine I’ll be going too much harder than I did today for a week or two.”
Bieksa did not feel any pain throughout the morning skate, appearing to be strong and capable in each drill. The parameters of his rehabilitation produce no timeline for recovery, but it is expected that he will skate on his own for some time before jumping into a team practice.
“There’s no pain, there’s been no pain for a while, and it’s just a matter of getting the strength back,” said Bieksa. “It’s not 100% right now, and that’s why I kind of feel it when I’m pushing off with that leg more so than the other one. I’ll keep working it in the gym, and keep strengthening it, and hopefully I’ll feel better on the ice when I do that.”
With the recent struggles on Vancouver’s backend, there may be surmounting pressure on Bieksa to push along his recovery and rush into the line-up. However, his rehab program should, and will, cater towards ensuring Bieksa's longevity and the team's future.
“Obviously there is temptation [to try and get into the line-up] but at the same time I’m trying to get a feel for my leg out there and trying to feel how it reacts to turning right and turning left. I don’t want to be stupid my first skate, push it too much and re-aggravate it,” insisted Bieksa.
“I’m kind of going through this whole process being very cautious. I am looking to get better as quick as possible, but also as smart as possible.”
With that being said, Bieksa’s competitive nature makes it increasingly frustrating to be rendered useless in an important part of the season in which his team is faulting.
“That does make it [even more] difficult not to be on the ice helping out and contributing, but that can’t affect my process in terms of speeding anything up with me, but it is tough to watch,” said Bieksa.
Bieksa individual session saw him skating with long time defensive partner Willie Mitchell, who is also battling injury.
“[To see Kevin back was] great, obviously; it’s been a while since we played together,” said Mitchell. “He looks good for being off the ice that long, he’s skating pretty well and it’s nice to have him out there.”
“Obviously he brings a different dimension to our team which at certain times this year we’ve been lacking. Last year we got a lot of secondary scoring and he was one of the guys [contributing], this year we’re not scoring a lot of goals so any guy who can create some offence you’d love to have back.”
Although Bieksa may be far from taking part in an actual game, the fact that he has overcome such a dramatic grievance and returned to skating instills an encouraging hope and inspiration within many of his teammates.
“It’s exciting to see him back not only for the team but personally. It’s a big injury and a real serious injury, and to see him back skating and doing the things that he loves to do, which is obviously play hockey, is exciting for me as a friend and it’s good to see,” said Mitchell.
In his second-full season in the NHL Bieksa has the potential to be a threatening force in a defensively-minded system; to the demise of both himself and the team, he has not received the opportunity to prove himself. With a full-recovery on the horizon, Canuck fans can expect to see a motivated Bieksa that will instill stability and confidence into a currently fragile blueline.
While Bieksa may be the answer to Vancouver’s defensive woes, we will have to wait until he has completed a full and healthy recovery.
“It was my first skate [and nothing more]; I’m trying not to look too far ahead.”
And neither should we.