Photo Credit: Norm Hall
During the first two months of the 2006-07 season, the Phoenix Coyotes have had to continually alter their line up to compensate for a rash of injuries. The loss of players like Steven Reinprecht (18 games), Mike Comrie (ten games), Shane Doan (nine games) and now Nick Boynton, who will likely miss at least three weeks, has been difficult to handle. Yet behind the scenes of these injuries has been the steady rehabilitation and progress of center Mike Ricci.
Over the summer, Ricci sustained a serious neck injury, forcing the former Stanley Cup winner to undergo surgery, after which, Ricci would spend nearly six months in rehabilitation. The process was slow beginning with very basic movements and gradually increasing in intensity.
"It (was) frustrating for me at times, but (the doctors) have done a good job," said Ricci explaining how his workouts gradually became harder.
He began with light workouts before eventually adding skating time. From there Ricci began skating with equipment and soon was able to participate in no-contact skating.
"I'm happy," said Ricci. "They did a great job in getting me back to 100 percent."
Ricci feels he is where he wants to be, but he knows his body can still get stronger.
"I'd like my right arm to be a little stronger, but that is not going to affect me," he said. "It's pretty strong, and it's going to take me years before it comes back, but I work on it everyday."
When it was evident that Ricci was ready to return to the Coyotes lineup, Coyotes General Manager Michael Barnett sent Ricci to play a few games with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League to get his feet wet and work out the kinks.
"It felt good in back-to-back games, playing 18 and 22-minutes," said Ricci. "I think it's always good to help out the organization (by) helping out some of the young guys down there. Hopefully I did that because a lot of guys did that for me, and I am just trying to return the favor."
For some players, coming back from an injury is not easy. To come back and not be afraid of being hit or giving hits is a difficult task. Not so for Ricci.
"I wasn't apprehensive at all," said Ricci. "I knew I was ready. The way I look at it is, when (the doctors) say you're ready, you can't be pulling back. So I just tried to go all out, and I took hits, battled for pucks and it felt great. No, I am not afraid one bit."
After missing 20 games this season, Ricci says the whole experience makes him feel young again.
"It's like being a rookie again," Ricci explained. "You try and stay composed as much as you can and hopefully you don't get over-jacked and go out there after your first shift and get exhausted. So I have to stay focused and think about what I do to help this team win."
The combination of age and injury has led some to ask if Ricci will play with the same grit he had in his heyday, but Ricci promises there's no doubt about it.
"That's the way I've played my whole life," he said. "I like playing aggressively. It's an aggressive game. You're going to get mad at guys; guys are going to get mad at you. That's the way it should be. It shouldn't be a friendly game out there. That's what I have to do to help this team win and that's what I am going to do."