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Camp Stories To Watch: Returning Healthy

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning
Injuries in the National Hockey League present quite the anomaly.

No matter how small or minor they are, they always make for big returns.

At least that's what a number of Lightning players have in mind as the start of training camp rapidly approaches, as several Bolts including Adam Hall, Vincent Lecavalier, Dana Tyrell, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Mathieu Garon are looking forward to beginning the 2012-13 season with a full bill of health.

"Everything is looking great," Garon said. "We have a good lineup and everyone's coming to camp healthy, so just knowing that certainly helps a lot. It seems like last year every week we would lose one guy, and at the end it was draining a lot of energy out of the players, so this is good to see."

Collectively, the team is coming off a season unlike any other, and one in which the index of troubles was well documented.

Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron is expected to return to camp healthy after he missed 40 of the Lightning's final 41 games
The Lightning lost 321 man-games to injury, its highest total since losing 351 during the 2008-09 season. Even Martin St. Louis missed five games, and was sidelined on the morning he was supposed to play in his 500th-consecutive game, which at the time, was among the league's longest active streaks.

And then, at seemingly the worst moments, the injuries came, which proved to be the most detrimental of road blocks faced by the team during what proved to be a long, arduous season.

Mattias Ohlund, a cornerstone of the Bolts' blue line, missed each of the team's 82 regular-season games due to surgery on both knees, while Bergeron, a power-play specialist, left the blue line in flux as he underwent back surgery in February and missed the 40 of the team's final 41 contests.

Lecavalier, meanwhile, missed a stint of 18 games during the crucial months of February and March, a time when both his offensive production, as well as his off-ice veteran presence proved essential for the playoff hunt.

There was also two-thirds of the "DNA Line," specifically Hall and Tyrell, who remained absent from a number of key games during a late-season push for the postseason. Hall had been dominant on draws, but whose absence from the lineup resulted in fewer wins within the faceoff circle, which perhaps contributed to a struggling power play.

Among those looking ahead to making a highly-anticipated return is Garon himself, who had won six of his previous nine games including a four-game winning streak over that stretch, and had just appeared to be getting into a rhythm before sustaining a season-ending groin injury on March 6.

And, after an approximate four-month hiatus, Lecavalier and Hall are each expected to return fully healthy, while Tyrell recently went on the record in July to say that his surgically reconstructed right knee is "real close" to 100 percent.

Overall, the Lightning had only three players make it through all 82 games last season, and at one point, had nine regular starters out of the lineup. That the injury-battered squad managed to finish just eight points out of a playoff spot, while also tying the franchise single-season record for most home wins only served as a testament to the team's character, not to mention provides a bright outlook for the upcoming campaign.

"I think we're all anxious to get back on the ice and prove that last season was just a fluke," Garon added. "Every time a guy got injured, it was like the team had just been let down. It was very frustrating."

After all, perhaps that sentiment alone hurt more than the injuries themselves.
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