laced up the skates and returned to the ice on Saturday at Raleigh Center Ice for the first time since suffering a fracture in his right fibula during the preseason.
Today’s session on the ice was a light, 10-minute twirl, nothing too heavy or too strenuous for Staal, who has been walking and training on the bike without his protective boot for a few weeks.
“It wasn’t anything crazy. From now on, it will be that day-to-day stuff,” he said. “We’ll push it some more and see how it feels and reacts. Today was really good, and I felt really good. We’ll go from here.”
“That’s a sight for sore eyes. That’s very encouraging,” head coach Bill Peters said. “I know it’s been progressing real well. … It’s definitely a positive sign.”
It was late in the third period on Sept. 23, the Hurricanes second preseason game in Buffalo. Staal was skating in his first game action. An innocent-looking collision with Josh Gorges resulted in Staal using crutches to navigate the hallways after the game, his right leg immobilized.
“For the most part, I kind of found a way to break my own leg, which isn’t very easy to do. You can call it a freak accident. I’m just surprised how well my skate got caught in the ice there,” he said. “I guess I’m heavy enough to break my own leg. I kind of flipped over on it, and now I’m here.”
He underwent surgery days later at Raleigh Orthopaedic with recovery time estimated at three to four months.
“It’s tough. If you really think about it, there aren’t a whole lot of players who don’t go through injuries throughout their career, so it happens,” he said. “But it’s been frustrating. It’s nice to get out there again, put on the skates and go for a little stroll.”
Since surgery, it’s been a steady rehabilitation process that will next progress to more intensive on-ice work followed by team practices followed by, eventually, game action.
“It’s a process. Mentally, for the first bit, it sucks,” Staal said of the recovery process. “After that, you just drive into rehab, drive into being back in this room and hanging with these guys, all the things you miss.”
Compounding the frustration of a serious injury suffered in the exhibition season was the fact that Staal had come into camp in the best shape of his career. At the same time, though, that conditioning has paid dividends in the rehab process.
“It’s going to help you down the road no matter what,” Staal said. “I still feel really good about where I’m at.”
Frustration in having to watch the first few months of the season from the press box versus being actively involved admittedly has gotten the best of Staal, but he said it’s clear the direction in which the team is headed.
“Not going to lie. I threw a few things after the last game. I was starting to get a little fed up with watching. It’s not fun, but at the same time, you’re still a part of the team,” he said. “You can tell our team is well-coached, and you can tell there is a plan. … I know a lot of the guys are really enjoying what’s going on, the atmosphere and the work ethic that everyone is driving [toward] each other. I’m very excited about that. I’ve seen it on the ice and in the room.”
As Staal was dressing to return to the ice, Jiri Tlusty, who sits beside him at the team’s practice facility, teased him.
“That one goes on the left foot,” Tlusty joked.
Anton Khudobin was one of the handful of Hurricanes still on the ice when Staal skated on. He threw up his arms in celebration when Staal skated by.
“They know he’s close. He’s been around a lot more at the rink and with the guys,” Peters said. “It’s good for them, for sure.”
“You can see everyone is pushing in the right direction here. It’s exciting,” Staal said. “I’m excited about it and excited to get back and be a part of it.”