It’s startling how many injuries the Tampa Bay Lightning had to endure last year. The team limped across the finish line with more than 300 man-games lost to injury. Compare that with the 2003-04 season, when the Bolts took the Stanley Cup while suffering a remarkable 20 man-games lost.
So, a portion of the roster, by necessity, has spent the bulk of the summer working their way back from a specific, and sometimes serious, injury.
For more than half of last season, Lightning defenseman Andrej Meszaros was a bulwark on the blueline, partnering with a seemingly endless string of defensive partners, while still putting in the maximum effort and delivering an average of more than 24 minutes of ice time per night.
On February 4 in Pittsburgh, he was hit by the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin and added his name to the walking wounded for the remainder of the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. The injury ended Meszaros streak of 298 consecutive games played.
After arthroscopic surgery Meszaros remained in Tampa for four weeks following the end of the season, working on his rehab program with the Lightning trainers. On his return to his hometown in Povazska Bystrica, Slovakia, a city of 40,000 people tucked into the folds of the mountains of northwestern Slovakia, he was primed for a break.
“I had already been working out in Tampa for four weeks,” Meszaros explained. “So I took a week off and drove to Milan, Italy with some buddies to catch a soccer match.”
Turned out to be a soccer match unlike any Meszaros had seen before.
“It was AC Milan against AS Roma,” Meszaros recalled. “There were 80,000 people there and they were going crazy! I’d never seen a soccer game at that kind of level. Unbelievable!”
Unfortunately for Meszaros, who was backing AC Milan, the Roma squad pulled out a 3-2 victory.
“But it was a great game – an up and down game,” Meszaros said. “There were a lot of stars there, like Beckham, Ronaldinho and Totti – all those guys. It was great.”
After the game, there was an eight-hour car ride home and then back to the grind. Workouts were twice a day, featuring a mixture of exercises that Lightning Strength and Conditioning Coach Chuck Lobe had devised along with some input from his personal trainer at home, followed by a session with a physical therapist to specifically rehab the repaired shoulder.
For Meszaros, it added up to a short summer.
“I didn’t do much this summer because of the injury,” Meszaros explained. “There were so many workouts that it was tough to do something more.”
Except for Paris. There was that week in Paris.
When the NHLPA decided to call a meeting in Paris this off-season, Meszaros decided to attend. He and his girlfriend Sandra flew into town, arriving three days before the start of the meeting. That gave them time to be tourists.
“It was my first time in Paris,” Meszaros said. “We went to see all those great places like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. What a great experience.”
And what, in the City of Lights, did he enjoy most?
“Everything. I’m the kind of guy that loves to travel and see history,” Meszaros said. “I was just surprised when we went to the Louvre – it was crazy. There must have been 1,000 people on the line to see the Mona Lisa.”
They waited it out, though, and finally came face-to-face with Leonardo’s masterpiece.
“I took a picture of the Mona Lisa,” Meszaros recalled. “Too bad she didn’t smile. Other than that, everything was beautiful.”
One evening the couple dropped by the Moulin Rouge, the world-famous Paris cabaret.
“That was amazing,” Meszaros smiled. “They were doing the Can-Can. They were. I was not.”
Between the sights, Meszaros did manage to drop in on the meeting, where he picked up lots of information on how the NHL works.
Back in Tampa now, and working out daily at the team practice facility in Brandon, Meszaros is only waiting for the doctor to give the all clear on his shoulder. And in whatever free time he can manage, he plans his future off-season adventures.
“I want to go to Rome,” Meszaros said. “I want to go to the Vatican. I want to go to Amsterdam and London. There are a lot of places I want to go to. Maybe next year.”
And then he catches himself and stops short.
“No, hopefully not,” he explained. “Because hopefully we’re going to play until June. That would be the best thing of all.”
And, when that happens, the rest of the world will have to wait.