By Adam Brady
While the Ducks as a team have borne the ups-and-downs of the season’s first month, one particular Duck has endured them on a personal level.
Veteran center Nate Thompson has yet to appear in a game so far this season, as he continues to fight back from an injury that required surgery last June. Thompson had two labral tears repaired in his left shoulder, causing him to spend the majority of the summer and the first part of this season rehabbing.
Somewhat remarkably for Thompson, a 31-year-old veteran of 10 NHL seasons, it was the first time he had ever undergone surgery for an injury. “I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to be relatively healthy and not have major injuries,” said Thompson, a native of Anchorage, Alaska. “This is my first one, and the first time I’ve dealt with something like this, not starting the season on time.
“I guess you have to go through some adversity at some point in your career and go through everything once. It’s been tough, not so much the physical part but the mental part. It’s just making sure I’m ready and when I come back, I’m good to go.”
|“I’ve been on the ice by myself, but it was nice to have some guys to joke around and have some fun. You can definitely see a light at the end of the tunnel.” |
Thompson had an impressive and workmanlike first season with the Ducks in 2014-15, playing 80 of the team’s 82 games, leading the team in hits (204) and ranking third among club forwards in blocked shots (52). But a collision into the wall in the regular season finale at Arizona did some damage to his shoulder and kept him out of a first-round playoff sweep of Winnipeg.
He fought his way back into the second round series with Calgary and the conference final with Chicago, finishing the postseason with a couple of goals, six points and a plus-5 rating in 12 games. As so many players do during that time of year, he gutted it out despite prevailing shoulder pain that ultimately required him to go under the knife soon after the Ducks were eliminated.
“When you’re playing for that big shiny mug,” he says, “you’ll do whatever it takes and you’ll go through anything. It was painful, but just like anything when you get out there and it’s the playoffs and the adrenaline is going, you don’t feel too much. It’s not the first injury I’ve played through, and all guys do it. It was tough, but it was doable.”
For Thompson, a guy who had never had to experience a long-term rehab from a major injury, the recovery wasn’t easy. “It’s tough because the surgery and the recovery are all baby steps,” he says. “You have to do one thing at a time. I was in a sling, then I was in rehab, then you start skating. It’s all step by step, and it’s a long process.
“You have to learn to be patient, know your body and know what you can and can’t do. You have to be smart about it. It’s major surgery, and it’s something you want to come back from 100 percent.”
Thompson was able to lean on the Ducks medical staff for support throughout the process, something he says was invaluable to him from both a physical and mental standpoint. “That’s why I have trainers and a strength coach and doctors,” he says. “All those guys have been fantastic for me. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to them for helping me get where I am right now, pushing me but at the same time holding me back too.”
|“When you’re playing for that big shiny mug, you’ll do whatever it takes and you’ll go through anything." |
He reached an encouraging checkpoint in the recovery last week when he joined teammates for a morning skate before the Ducks played Florida at Honda Center. It was a significant milestone for a guy who has had to watch all of this season’s home games from the Honda Center press box.
“It was exciting. It was like my game out there,” said Thompson. “I’ve been on the ice by myself, but it was nice to have some guys to joke around and have some fun. You can definitely see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The depth Thompson provides at center has been missed by the Ducks, who have had to find reinforcements after injuries to Ryan Getzlaf (appendectomy) and Rickard Rakell (upper body) in the season’s first month.
Thompson continues to skate, but hasn’t taken part in a full practice with the team yet, something he hopes is just around the corner. “Hopefully the plan is to start practicing with the guys this week,” he says. “Once I get into that, it’s really up in the air because I’ve got to start getting into some contact. We’ll have to go off that, see how it goes.”
When Thompson first had the surgery in June, the prognosis was that he wouldn’t return to until December, yet he remains coy about whether his targeted return date has changed.
“I can’t tell you that,” he says with a laugh. “There is still a timetable, I guess. It’s still up in the air. I have my own goals that I’m going to keep to myself, and we’ll go from there.”