HAMILTON - Adversity is something Nik Antropov has had enough of in his short, yet promising hockey career.
Two torn anterior cruciate ligaments in successive years have wasted prime development time for the former first-round selection. His left knee imploded after an awkward fall while playing with the St. John's Maple Leafs last February. Previous to that his right knee suffered the same fate.
Now the 22-year-old forward is trying to regain his form but getting over the injury bug is making the task an ominous one.
| Shayne Corson and Nik Antropov share some thoughts during Day 1 of training camp. |
During his first training camp scrimmage Friday morning at Copps Coliseum, Antropov felt pain in his left knee after being tripped up on his first shift and then was leveled by new blueliner Richard Jackman soon thereafter. Not exactly the way the he wanted to start his return to the ice.
"I was kind of a little nervous because of my knee," said Antropov, whose ACL is now 15-16 millimeters wide compared to 8-10 millimeters prior to surgery. "Two serious injuries in two years and you get nervous."
Though he reported pain after the first incident it subsided and didn't hinder him the rest of the way. Only his ego was bruised after the huge hit by Jackman. Though he said his streak of injuries hasn't changed his style of play, clearly he was tentative. In his defence it was his first day of full contact.
"I think everyone can go through this with the injuries," Antropov said. "You can just get out there and play."
There's a lot riding on this training camp for the Kazakhstan native. His contract is up at the end of this season and he just became a father for the second time this summer. He and his family are prepared to spend another season in St. John's after being in Toronto for his rehab.
That may not come to pass because of the collective bargaining agreement. In order for the Leafs to send Antropov to the minors he must first clear waivers, which isn't likely to happen.
"You like to wait on your young guys and suddenly you have to make tough decision," GM/coach Pat Quinn said of the situation. "He may still be a special guy. Unfortunately he has missed two years of development and we're going to be faced with hard decision coming up."
Quinn knows what his young player needs to be successful.
"Confidence is an issue with every athlete. You have to have it to be a top performer."
"Rehabilitation comes not only on the physical side but has to come on the mental side as well. If you've had a remade knee then you have to start to believe in that knee and start to believe that it's going to allow you to do the work. Sometimes the mental side is the hardest to overcome."
Antropov remains optimistic that he can compete at the NHL level but he realizes the minors may be the place to retool.
"I was playing there over 20 minutes every night in (St. John's) every situation PK, PP, then the injury came," Antropov said. CAMP NOTES:
The Tre Kroner line of Mats Sundin, Mikael Renberg and Jonas Hoglund was in tact to start training camp. Hoglund was the best of the bunch on Day 1 ... Jackman impressed with a nice goal and with his huge hit on Antropov ... Karel Pilar scored the prettiest goal in either scrimmage on the first day ... There were three fights in the second scrimmage, two involving walk-on Rob Palahnuk. In the third, Darcy Tucker came to Travis Green's defence after he was high-sticked by Riley Cote, another walk-on. Things didn't go Tucker's way in that tilt.