Talent can be tweaked and practice makes perfect. But Florida Panthers defensemen Branislav Mezei now knows that being healthy takes a lot of work.
It’s been a rough couple of years for the 26-year old from Nitra, Slovakia. Mezei missed the final 66 games of the 2005-06 season with an injured ACL/MCL and missed the final 36 games of the 2006-07 season with an injured shoulder. However, Mezei is not giving up hope on his NHL career. In fact, he is quite sure he will be a major contributor to the Panthers come this October.
“Obviously the injuries are frustrating,” Mezei said “It’s frustrating to miss so much hockey in your prime. But there is nothing I can do.”
Each day since the injury to his shoulder took place, Mezei has been rehabbing, preparing himself for next season. For six to seven days a week, four hours a day, it’s shoulder movements and strengthening exercises. It’s tough to stay motivated under these circumstances, but Mezei will not give up hope for a successful season in the fall.
“I am 90-95 percent now. I will be fine for the season,” Mezei said. “Hockey is what I live for. You rehab and try to get healthy. If you want to do something, you really don’t need people to motivate you and I really want to play hockey and contribute.”
Mezei has one year left on his contract with the Panthers. Florida is a place that he likes and wants to stay. He still believes he can compete in the NHL and that North American hockey fits his game better then back home in Europe.
“I like Florida, I like playing here. I know I will have to perform this year to stay here,” Mezei admitted. “I think I’m made for the North American hockey game. I like the smaller ice and the more physical game.”
This fall, when Mezei hits the ice for the first practice in training camp, he knows what will be at stake. Every move he makes will be watched and his coaches, and teammates will once again count on him to produce. This upcoming season, Mezei will try to prove he does belong in the NHL with the Panthers.
“Every year I have something to prove, whether it’s making the team or the top spot,” Mezei said. “Because of what I’ve been through, I have a lot to prove to everybody and I’m looking forward to doing that this season.”