– The last time we saw Nathan Horton
on the ice, it wasn't a very comforting sight.
In fact, it was downright scary to anyone who saw him laying on the ice in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after being levelled by a late check from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome
So when Horton suited up with the Boston Bruins
in Halifax on Sunday night to face the rival Montreal Canadiens
in a preseason game, it wasn't only a huge relief for him, but to anyone who witnessed the aftermath of the hit that sidelined Horton for the final four games of Boston's Stanley Cup triumph against the Canucks.
"To me he looked like a guy who hadn't missed a beat, he skated well, he moved the puck well, he made some tough plays, won some battles, had some quality chances," Bruins coach Claude Julien
said Monday, hours before his team was to play the Canadiens for the second time in as many nights. "I really liked his game for a guy who hadn't played since midway through the Finals."
Horton was given a day off from the media Monday after four straight days of heavy lifting in terms of interviews and appearances. But he admitted Sunday night after the Bruins big 7-3 win what a relief it was to get that first game out of the way.
"I was a little bit nervous, but once I got back on the ice it was fine. It really felt good," Horton told reporters in Halifax. "I didn't think about anything too much, I just tried to work hard, tried to move my feet. I want to get back into game shape as quick as possible."
Horton's importance to the Bruins cannot be underestimated, though for a time last season it appeared as though the underachiever label that was attached to him in Florida for years would follow him to Boston.
After busting out of the gate with 9 points in his first six games, Horton got only 19 during his next 42. But then he settled onto a line with Milan Lucic
and David Krejci
and finished the season on fire, with 25 points in his final 32 games and 17 points in 21 Stanley cup Playoff games before his run came to an abrupt, frightening end.
His bookend winger on that line was very happy to see Horton doing his thing in Halifax.
"It's great to see he was able to make a full recovery and was able to go out there and play the way that he does," Lucic said Monday. "It was obviously a pleasure and real exciting to play with him last year, and I'm looking forward to playing with him again."
Lucic, however, was quick to note that the high-powered line cannot expect everything to go as well this season as it did the last one.
"The main thing for us is we can't get complacent, we can't expect things to happen, we can't expect it to be easy just because we had a good thing going last year," he said. "We need to go out there and work just as hard, if not harder to maintain that level of play."
That's something Julien will be very happy to hear.
He spoke Monday of having the latitude with the roster given to him by general manager Peter Chiarelli to move players up and down the lineup based on "injury or merit," and how players who are used to certain combinations should not be overly cozy in their spots.
"I don't want the guys to feel comfortable," Julien said. "I want the guys to start the season by wanting to keep their spots, and for other guys to earn enough respect and trust to be moved up in certain situations."
But for Horton, those concerns are still far down the road.
For now, he is simply happy to be playing again, happy to leave what could have been a horrific ordeal behind him, happy to carry on the resurgence of his career he began last season.
"I was just worried about trying to feel good again," Horton said. "It was just nice to be out there."