BUFFALO -- The first day of Buffalo Sabres training camp was a big day for forward Kyle Okposo for a lot of reasons, but most of all because there were moments in March and April when he feared his playing career was in jeopardy.
"There's times where things weren't going very well that I thought about, I might not play again," Okposo said Thursday. "But I'm happy to say that those thoughts are out the window now and I feel confident and I'm 100 percent good to go. There was, like I said, some tough times, but I'm good now.
"It was a long road and definitely some scary times. I'm just happy to be here and happy that I don't have any worries at all or any concerns and I'm looking forward to hopefully being better than I ever have been."
Okposo last played March 27 because of concussion symptoms, a reaction to sleep medication, and a weight loss of almost 20 pounds. The 29-year-old was hospitalized at Buffalo General Medical Center after being admitted April 2. He had played two games after returning from a rib injury that caused him to miss 10 games before becoming ill prior to a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 28.
"Intensive care is a scary place to be, but I needed a place where I could be stabilized," Okposo wrote in a letter to Buffalo fans posted on the Sabres website on July 24. "My doctors felt that the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General was the best place for that to happen."
He returned to the ice on July 19, playing in Da Beauty League in Edina, Minnesota.
"The games this summer weren't as important as staying in the routine and staying in the routine of what I was doing over the course of the summer," Okposo said. "I just wanted to play a little bit more to get the timing back.
"Anytime that you miss time with any sort of injury, I think that it's better to play a little bit more because that spatial time and that spatial awareness is the last thing to come back, so that's the reason I played in those games this summer. It was more for that timing."
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Getting back on the ice was important for the 10-year veteran, in large part because of recalibrating the cerebral part of his game.
"I think that it's a huge part of the game, I've always said it, the mental side," Okposo said. "Everybody, whether you're Sidney Crosby or you're a fourth-line guy trying to make it in the League, everybody's going to go through slumps and it's how you deal with that; it's how you handle adversity and that's where the great players really have kind of figured it out.
"They don't really have those lapses and they're able to stay mentally strong throughout the year because it is a grind, it's tough. The season is … not an easy thing. When you're playing game 53 and it's a Tuesday night and sometimes it's not as easy to get up for, it's hard and you've got to make sure you're mentally strong, mentally prepared for that. That's something I've worked really hard at throughout my career and done some more work on this summer to try and make sure I'm at my best all the time."
Okposo said he's excited to see how the Sabres respond and adjust to general manager Jason Botterill, hired May 11, and coach Phil Housley, hired June 15, after GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma were fired April 20. Housley was an assistant with the Nashville Predators.
"I think he's going to bring the way he wants to play to Buffalo," Okposo said. "You saw the way Nashville played last year; they played an exciting game and I know from when we played them over the last number of years, they're not easy to play against.
"It's going to be exciting and I think that as a team it goes without question we have some offensively talented players … and I think we got more mobile on the back end in the offseason and we've got some guys that can really move the puck and get up the ice, so I'm excited to see what his implementation of a system is going to be and how we're going to play.
"I think it's going to be a really exciting brand of hockey, but also we're going to be disciplined too. I'm really looking forward to this year."