-- It felt "weird." That was the only way Max Pacioretty
could describe it.
It's been more than four months since Pacioretty suffered a season-ending fractured vertebra on a hit by Boston's Zdeno Chara
. Pacioretty hasn't played competitive hockey since then.
On Wednesday, the 22-year-old Montreal Canadiens
left wing made a giant step in his recovery. Pacioretty suited up for a full 60-minute contest at Terry Conners Rink for the Big Assist annual charity hockey game. It benefits the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation, which works to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries and diseases.
Pacioretty skated on a line with Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis
and Matt Moulson
of the New York Islanders
, and he didn't miss a shift. He skated well, even picking up a goal and a few assists.
So how did it feel to get back out there?
"It felt … I don't know, I guess it just felt weird," Pacioretty said following the game. "It was weird at first, but as the game went on I think I felt a little more comfortable, and I'm looking forward now to gaining some momentum off of that."
Pacioretty said that while he's been skating for a few months, the Big Assist game was the most competitive outing he's had since the injury.
"I had a lot of time off since my injury, and now I'm just working on putting on muscle and trying to get as big and as fast as possible," he said. "I've done a pretty good job of that so far and I hope to keep doing that through August."
Pacioretty said he feels like he is back to his pre-injury strength level -- in fact, he said he might be even stronger. He's never had this much time in the summer to work out, so he's taking full advantage of it.
At the rink Wednesday, Pacioretty was a fan favorite. The fans erupted when his name was called in pregame introductions, and dozens of kids waited behind his team's bench after each period to get his autograph.
"It's good to see so many people care about hockey in the area, and my experience in particular,' said Pacioretty, who grew up in nearby New Canaan, Conn. "It's the one positive I can get out of my experience, that a lot of people have shown me great support and have stuck with me through the situation."
As for the injury, Pacioretty reiterated what he has said before -- he's ready to move on.
"The past is the past, and I can dwell on it as much as I want, but that will do me no good," he said. "So I'm going to do everything I can to work toward the future and get ready for next year."