All Raffi Torres
wanted to do was make a good first impression in Columbus. Coming from Edmonton in a trade over the summer, he wanted to fit in right away with his new teammates in his new market.
Off the ice, Torres was a hit, but on the ice he couldn't be. He couldn't get any traction.
"It was frustrating because you can't do what you want to do out there," Torres, who is the Columbus' candidate for the Bill Masterton
Memorial Trophy, told NHL.com. "There are limitations and you're not thinking about playing, you're thinking about injuries. I felt like I was letting these guys down."
He isn't anymore. Injuries might have derailed his start in Columbus, but following a shoulder injury and a second surgery on his right knee in 11 months, Torres has been at the heart of the Blue Jackets' surge toward their first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance.
Torres had 12 goals, six of which were game-winners, and 8 assists in 51 games. He played a lot with fellow energy players Jared Boll
and Michael Peca
on the Jackets' third line, and Torres is energized because he was healthy for the playoff push.
"That's been the goal from the start of the year, get in the playoffs," Torres said. "We knew we had the team and there was no reason we couldn't get there. It's a good feeling in the room right now. I feel we're getting stronger every day."
Torres can say the same thing about himself. It's about time.
His 2007-08 season ended prematurely when he blew out his knee Dec. 15 at Detroit. It was his first major injury, but Torres figured he'd be right on target to start the 2008-09 season 100 percent healthy after undergoing season-ending ACL surgery in January.
Three weeks into his offseason training, pain in Torres' surgically repaired knee flared up, forcing him to shut down his regimen until training camp. Then, in his first preseason game he separated his shoulder during an ill-advised fight with Chicago's Ben Eager
Torres wound up missing the first 10 games of the regular season, but when he returned Nov. 1, his knee problem was again an issue. His right knee still wasn't stable, and at the time Torres said it felt like it was getting worse, not better.
"I asked my wife, 'What is going on here?' " Torres said. " 'Did I do something wrong? Is it me? Is it the training I was doing?' I had a lot of questions. I played every game until (that first knee injury) and then I was like, 'Wow, what is going on here?' "
Torres played in all 13 games in November after returning from the shoulder injury, but had just 1 goal and 3 assists. After fighting to stay effective in about 10 minutes of ice time on Dec. 1 against Vancouver, Torres had enough.
He sought medical opinions on the balky knee and found out another surgery was basically his only option.
"They originally said this nagging pain would go away, but I was just useless out there," Torres said. "I said, 'Let's do it.' "
Torres went under the knife again Dec. 5 to remove the scar tissue that was causing his problems. His doctors told him he'd miss six weeks, and this time they were dead on. He returned to the lineup Jan. 16 against New Jersey and has barely missed a beat.
"What he's meant (to the team) is what we knew he would mean," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This is what Scott (Howson) said he would do: 'Score big goals for you and when the focus got narrower he would be a better player.' That's exactly what has happened."
"I asked my wife, 'What is going on here? Did I do something wrong? Is it me? Is it the training I was doing?' I had a lot of questions. I played every game until (that first knee injury) and then I was like, 'Wow, what is going on here?'"
-- Raffi Torres
Hitchcock believes this last injury-filled year has "been a real lesson in life for him on how hard it is to come back from injury." The coach also sees Torres enjoying everything about the game.
"He doesn't take anything for granted now," Hitchcock said. "He's appreciating this time of year and he's appreciating a chance to feel good physically. It's been almost a year-long process for him to get back healthy again."
Torres isn't completely there yet. He said his shoulder still is tender and it does take a little bit away from his the way he likes to play, which he terms "with reckless abandon." However, "the good thing," Torres said, "is my knee feels like I never had surgery.
"Before it felt like there was always something wrong with me," he later added, "and you never know if your game is going to take off again."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com