As the Olympic medal picture became clearer out west in Vancouver, the Devils not taking part in the Winter Games practiced Wednesday at AmeriHealth Pavilion.
Joining the group for the first time in eight weeks was David Clarkson
, who missed the last 23 games to fully recover from a non-displaced right leg fracture suffered at Boston on Nov. 27.
That's when he blocked a slapshot by Boston's Zdeno Chara and left the ice on his hands and knees. He would remain in Boston overnight following minor surgery to repair the laceration that the shot had left behind.
After missing 13 games, Clarkson returned on Dec. 28 but played only twice before going back on the shelf. Having watched his team compete without him for a total of 36 games, the right wing is eager to be back and said he expects to play when the Devils resume the regular season at San Jose on March 2.
The setback was unexpected, especially for a player that had been among the Devils' most durable in recent seasons. Clarkson, in his third full campaign, had missed just one game prior to this season. He enjoyed a strong start with seven goals and eight assists in his first 23 appearances.
"I've never been a part of anything like this in my entire career," Clarkson said. "Through junior and the last two years I’ve played (almost) 82 games each year, so this has been a definite bump in the road for me and mentally pretty tough. Now that it’s over, I’m excited. I feel good on the ice, I don’t know how I look, but I feel good. I’m ready to play and come back to do what I can to help the team."
He admitted to feeling frustrated about how his year has unfolded and hopes he can contribute right away. The Devils got off to the best first half in club history before winning five of their final 17 games before the Olympic break.
"It was tough on me as a competitor and a kid that doesn’t like watching my team," Clarkson said. "I’m somebody who will do anything for the team. I think when this happened to me and taking as long as it did was tough, but I think I learned something from it. I think you always learn something from things that happen to you. There’s bumps in the road and this was just a little bump in the road. Everything’s good now, and I just need to look to the future on what I can do and what this team can do."
Clarkson said nothing he has felt during his career has compared to the Chara shot.
"To be honest, when I saw him winding up, I thought, 'There’s no way he’s going to shoot this,' " he said. "Just because I was in the lane, I was in the way, there was no way the guy was going to shoot. To get hit from something that hard and that quick, when I stood back up is when I realized I broke it. It was probably one of the worst pains I’ve had so far while playing. I’ve done some bad things to myself and that was definitely number one."
As if watching games from home weren't already bad enough, Clarkson said it has been worse seeing the team struggle. But the fan favorite says he's finally 100 percent pain-free.
"If you’re in the lineup, it’s not like you’re going to (always) score a goal, but maybe you can fight or you can do something to try and help," he said. "But you’re kind of helpless; you’re sitting on your couch, watching from a TV. That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through – watching. I’ve only played (25) games this year. It was a bumpy road, but it’s over with and behind me so I’m just looking forward to what’s ahead. I’m hoping that things go back to where they were." Zajac gets reel in Costa Rica
A handful of the Devils returned from the break sporting some impressive winter tans. Travis Zajac
and his wife spent a few days in Costa Rica with the Niedermayers, but couldn't reel in the big one while deep sea fishing.
"I don’t think Niedsy even touched the reel," Zajac said. "He didn’t get a bite. I reeled one in but I lost it right before the boat. My wife didn’t catch anything, but his wife caught a 140-pound marlin."
Zajac still enjoyed the trip, though.
"It was just relaxing," he said. "Nice weather, great scenery. It’s a beautiful country."
Coverage of the Winter Games was somewhat spotty in tropical Costa Rica, but Zajac did manage to see the United States oust Switzerland in Wednesday's quarterfinal. Zach Parise
had both goals in a 2-0 U.S. win, and skated on a line with captain Jamie Langenbrunner.
Zajac, who normally centers Parise and Langenbrunner in New Jersey, wasn't surprised to see his linemates faring well.
"They looked really good," he said. "In fact, they were two of the best players on the ice. It’s pretty exciting to see them out there having that much success."
Colorado's Paul Stastny has been playing the middle for the Devils' duo.
"They’re both great players, and whoever they put with them in the middle, they’re going to make it easy on them," Zajac said.