After long periods of off-ice rehab, Hurricanes forwards Chad LaRose and Justin Williams are finally back on their skates to resume practicing with their teammates.
Both players took the ice with the team for the first time at last Saturday’s practice and also participated in Monday morning’s session at the RBC Center
. LaRose has missed the Canes’ last 20 games with a broken leg, while Williams has been on the sidelines for the last 40 contests with a torn ACL in his left knee.
LaRose’s broken bone is fully healed, but wearing a skate puts pressure directly on his fracture, which is still causing him soreness. He lists himself as week-to-week, while Williams, who also tore his ACL while playing for Philadelphia
in 2002-03 and missed 36 games, will likely be out longer.
According to Pete Friesen, the Hurricanes’ Head Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach, how each player responds both physically and mentally to being back on the ice will go a long way in determining exactly when they can return.
“I think it becomes a real sports medicine decision,” he said. “One, the athlete has to feel confident and he has to give you confident statements and say ‘Yeah, I’m ready to take a hit going 200 miles an hour into the boards.’ He’s got to have that, I’ve got to feel comfortable that the joint is not going to swell up and he’s going to be able to take those pressures, and so does the doctor.”
At this stage of the rehabilitation process, which Friesen says is the toughest, each player will go through a feeling-out process, adding different drills to their routines as they go along. Once they get more comfortable, they’ll be able to shed the non-contact jerseys they’ve been wearing and start preparing for game situations.
With the Hurricanes playing well and in good position to lock up a playoff spot in the last two weeks of the regular season, the team has the luxury of not having to rush either player just yet. Instead, LaRose and Williams will spend the time making sure they’ll be able to contribute once called upon.
“You have to have confidence that you’re able, because if you go out there and don’t think you’re 100 percent, that’s when you get hurt,” said Williams. “I’m confident in my knee and whenever that time may be that I can get back out there, I’ll be confident.”
Regardless of when they do get back into the lineup, getting back on the ice and back in the locker room with their teammates is a big step in the right direction after a long, tough road of dry-land rehab.
“There’s nothing like skating,” said Williams, who last played against Florida on December 20th. “It’s different. You can do so much slide board and endurance stuff, but when you get back on the ice it takes a little time. You’ve just got to work hard on getting the feel back with the puck and getting your hands back.”
“As soon as I broke my leg, you’ve got to have confidence just to walk on it, period,” said LaRose, who was on crutches for four weeks. “Then to get back [on the ice] like this, it really takes some confidence.”
Williams’ recovery, which has lasted approximately three months, has gone somewhat faster than expected. Originally given a prognosis of four to six months, he should be on the front end of that time frame, if not sooner.
“Willy has really done well, especially with this being his second one,” said Friesen. “He had a brilliant surgery really quick right after the incident happened, so we’re really fortunate where he’s at. It’s actually quicker than what we anticipated.”
While keeping himself in good physical condition is the main reason for his fast recovery, keeping a good attitude doesn’t hurt either.
“It’s what you make of it,” said Williams. “If you want to sulk and baby yourself about it, you’re not going to be any better for it. You’ve got to look in the opposite direction.”