The moment remains clear in Cal O’Reilly’s mind, as well as for those who witnessed it.
It was Jan. 2 and the Nashville Predators were playing Columbus at Bridgestone Arena. Midway through the third period, O’Reilly fell awkwardly to the ice. The forward gave a valiant effort and tried to crawl to the bench, but play was stopped so he could be helped from the ice.
“I knew right away something was bad,” O’Reilly said earlier this week.
Tests revealed a broken fibula in his right leg. He did not play another game in 2010-11.
Flash to the present. During informal skates being held this week at Centennial Sportsplex, O’Reilly was buzzing around the ice, showing his skills and strengths and proving he is fully healthy.
“I feel great, 100%,” O’Reilly said. “I have the strength back in that leg. Strength-wise and power-wise, I feel just as good as I’ve felt coming into any camp.”
O’Reilly, who turns 25 on Sept. 30, was a bright spot for the Predators early last season. He had a three-assist game against St. Louis in Nashville’s third game of the regular season. During a five-game stretch in November, O’Reilly had three goals and an assist. And Nashville won three of those five games.
“He was one of our - if not our - best offensive player to start the year,” Predators Captain Shea Weber
said. “He had a lot of points and was contributing a lot. Hopefully he can build off that confidence. He looks strong and ready to go.”
Following the injury, O’Reilly worked hard to get back by the end of the regular season. It resulted in him being available for part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But O’Reilly did not record any ice time during the playoff run.
“I understand where (the coaching staff) was coming from,” O’Reilly said. “The team was doing great and I hadn’t played since Jan. 2. It’s tough to just throw a guy in there. I understand that.”
O’Reilly, who had six goals and 12 assists in 38 games last season, will be counted on in 2011-12. He said he trained “full-out” for most of the summer. Now, entering this season, O’Reilly may be more dangerous than ever. He has more experience (80 total NHL games played) and is stronger and healthier than years past.
“I want to come in, have a great start and help this team win,” O’Reilly said.