Before Monday, it had been almost a full calendar year since Brett Pesce was on the ice for a Carolina Hurricanes practice.
It was a long time coming.
"It was awesome. I've been waiting for this for a long time now," he said on episode 157 of CanesCast. "It was just good to be out there working hard with the guys."
Though Feb. 22 in Toronto was arguably the most memorable night of 2020 for the Canes, it came at a price. They lost three players on their active roster, including Pesce, who injured his right shoulder in the second period.
Pesce underwent surgery in early March, and even though there was an outside opportunity to bring him into the bubble had the Canes made a deep playoff run, Pesce was ultimately shelved for the balance of the 2019-20 season.
"When you're watching your team go to battle without you, it's tough. It's not a good feeling," he said. "I'm just glad that we're back and I'm healthy."
With the months of rehab that followed, it was a grind to obtain that full bill of health following surgery.
"It was a pretty difficult and painful process. It wasn't fun in the first few months," Pesce said. "My shoulder hasn't felt this good in a long time, so I'm thankful."
Pesce, who the Canes selected in the third round (66th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, skated alongside Brady Skjei in Monday's first training camp skate. Two days after Pesce was injured in Toronto, the Canes acquired Skjei from the New York Rangers, one of a trio of moves made on trade deadline day.
While the Canes might tinker with defensive pairs over the next week, the Skjei-Pesce combo could be one that makes its debut on Jan. 14 in Detroit.
"The first thing that sticks out is his skating ability. He's such a good skater, and he's really good with the puck. He's just a really good player," Pesce said of his partner. "He's a stud, and I'm fortunate to be playing with him."
The Canes are fortunate to have Pesce back in the lineup. And the most important part? He's healthy. That's a refreshing feeling.
"I feel 100 percent, and I haven't felt like that in a long time," he said. "It was a long time coming, and I'm just excited that hockey's back."