The moment John Tavares was hit by Latvia defenseman Arturs Kulda at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the New York Islanders captain knew something was wrong.
"I just felt like there was some movement. Right away, I just didn't feel good," Tavares, who was representing Canada, told reporters at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday. "But then I got up and skated to the bench and I was like, 'OK, I was able to skate to the bench.' Our therapist then asked me to try just a couple of standing tests and that's when I realized I might be a little unstable and probably need to get checked out."
The initial thought was Tavares would need surgery, but after a visit with the Islanders' medical staff Monday, he learned it would not be required. However, New York's leading scorer (24 goals and 66 points in 59 games) is expected to miss 8-12 weeks with a torn MCL and torn meniscus in his left knee.
With the Islanders 14 points out of a wild-card Stanley Cup Playoff spot with 22 games to go, it's likely Tavares won't play again until October. But because he won't need surgery, he's expecting to be able to train throughout the summer and prepare normally for camp in September.
"I've had this MCL before (as a teenager), so I kind of got an idea of what it's like and what it's all about," Tavares said. "I had a real good response the first time around my first season back from that injury. I'm just hoping to come back even better and stronger and I've got a good amount of time to work on that.
"Anytime you can avoid [surgery], and that's not necessary, I think that can make a big difference. This will really give me a good offseason to get some rest and get stronger and work on a lot of things again, so I'm really looking forward to that. That's where I'm trying to put my focus now, so certainly that's a big step."
The injury caused Tavares to miss Canada's final two games at the Olympics, where it won a second straight gold medal. Though he was disappointed that he couldn't play, he said he was thrilled to be a part of the experience.
"I'm still having a tough time with [the fact] I'm not going to be playing for quite a while," Tavares said. "Certainly I missed the last couple of games there, and those two games that I missed were the biggest ones and ones as a kid if you ever got those opportunities, you know there might only be one chance at that. It was tough missing them, but certainly we had such a great team to still be able to play and achieve that gold medal was pretty special."
With Islanders center Frans Nielsen out with a hand injury, they recalled forwards Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Mike Halmo from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League. All three are expected to play Thursday, when the Islanders host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For now, Tavares is limited to the role of cheerleader.
"I think people know how much I care about this team and this organization and the guys in the locker room and the battles you go through," Tavares said. "I got the call to represent my country at the Olympic Games and I was fortunate that we're allowed to go play. It's an opportunity that I think anybody would want to have and would enjoy. I had full support from everybody here. Hopefully I can come back and make an impact when I'm healthy again.
"It [stinks] missing games. Obviously for these guys, I hope they play well and can do a great job."