When I was here a month ago, it was a lot different because there was no skating. It was different, mentally, how I felt. Now that I’m skating, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. - Sam Bennett
CALGARY, AB -- If he had it his way, Sam Bennett would be in the lineup on Thursday when the Calgary Flames face off against the Arizona Coyotes.
The fact he just began skating last Wednesday, following a lengthy recovery from shoulder surgery?
He's that eager to get back to playing hockey.
However, head coach Bob Hartley and the Flames organization have a different view on Bennett’s timeline to get back into action.
"The one thing with Sam – he’s going to tell you the opposite – but he’s far from being close," Hartley cautioned. "He’s far from being close. We’re in absolute no rush to bring him back.
"We will not risk anything as an organization. We had meetings, we know him. He’s like a tiger in a cage that didn’t eat for about a month. He’s declaring himself probably ready to play …That’s who he is and that’s what we appreciate. But knowing this, there’s stop signs all over."
The fourth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft hadn't been on the ice in just over three months until Wednesday's skate and while he was feeling a step or two behind, the 18-year-old is optimistic that he will be back in game shape sooner than later.
"A little rusty," he said of his first skate. "The hands, they weren’t too good.
"I’m going to be on the ice every day, probably an hour every day, and probably keep ramping it up every day. [On Wednesday], I got eased into it a little bit but I think as the weeks go on, definitely it’s going to get tougher and tougher."
There are always question marks about an injury and if there will be lingering effects when a player first returns to the ice but Bennett hasn't had any issues with his shoulder and didn't notice any stiffness or soreness last week.
"I have full range [of motion.] The strength is coming. I didn’t even really notice out there [on Wednesday], shooting or anything. I’m feeling really good."
While he anticipates quite a few tough practices, likely featuring bag skates to get him back to shape he was in during training camp, he is simply thrilled to be back on the ice.
It has been a frustrating last couple of months for the pivot, watching the Flames play from the press box and being unable to go for a casual skate.
"This time of the year, you’re not used to training every day – training off-ice and not being on the ice," he stated. "It was definitely tough for awhile, when I wasn’t playing at this time of the year, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get back here.
"When I was here a month ago, it was a lot different because there was no skating. It was different, mentally, how I felt. Now that I’m skating, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Like Hartley and the Flames management, Bennett has no date targeted for his return. Right now, he's taking a day-by-day approach to the recovery process.
"I’m more just focused on each day. Each day getting better, each day getting stronger. If everything keeps going well, I hope it’s not going to be too much longer."
After he is deemed ready to play, the next question is where he will play. Will he stick with the Flames or head back to the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL?
His goal remains the same as it did back in September during the Flames training camp.
"Obviously I would want to stay here," Bennett said. "I’ve been with these guys for a lot of this year and I think when it comes down to when I’m ready to play again, I’m just going to give it all I’ve got. The same thing I did at training camp, prove to everyone I am still ready to play in the NHL, but ultimately that will be up to the management.”