For Rangers goaltender Dan Blackburn, the past year has been one of frustration and waiting. After suffering nerve damage in his left shoulder last summer while working out, the recently-turned 21-year old was sidelined for the entire 2003-04 season due to the difficult injury that would not heal.
Two months ago, on March 31, Blackburn's road to recovery may have been given a jump start. The netminder underwent nerve exploration surgery on his left shoulder, which has led to a significant improvement in the healing and rehabilitation process over the past eight weeks.
Blackburn has begun to step-up his conditioning program at the team's practice facility in Westchester, New York over the past few weeks under the watchful eye of the Rangers' medical staff.
Recently, MSG Network caught up with the 2001-02 NHL All-Rookie Team selection as well as with Rangers Medical Trainer Jim Ramsay for an update on his recovery process.
"Everything is headed in the right direction ... finally," said Blackburn after a workout that consisted of an off-ice and on-ice session. "I'm starting to do some weights in the weight room and just recently have been able to get on the ice, so that's pretty exciting."
"Two months ago, I didn't really know what was going to happen," added Blackburn. "I didn't think anybody really knew what was. Now we're at least getting some positive signs, so it's encouraging."
"He's getting stronger, he's becoming more functional and confident with his shoulder to the point where we're actually able to take him out on the ice now and do some drills with him," said Ramsay. "It's more positional stuff (on the ice). We're not really challenging his shoulder too much or putting him at risk of hurting the shoulder, but just getting him hungry again to be back out on that ice."
New York's first pick, 10th overall, in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Blackburn has appeared in 63 career games for the Rangers, posting a 20-32-4 record, along with a 3.22 goals against average and a .894 save percentage.
In 2001-02, his rookie campaign in the National Hockey League, he was selected to the NHL All-Rookie Team after posting a 12-16-0 mark, along with a 3.28 goals against average and a .898 save percentage in 31 games with New York. He became just the second goaltender in NHL history under the age of 19 to post a five-game winning streak, recording a 5-0-0 mark from March 30 to April 8 (Tom Barrasso - 1983-84).
Blackburn registered his first Rangers/NHL win on October 15, 2001 at Montreal, stopping 22 of 23 shots in a 2-1 victory, becoming the third youngest goaltender to ever record a NHL victory (18 years, 148 days) and the second youngest netminder in franchise history to record a NHL win (John Vanbiesbrouck, 18 years, 93 days).
The 6-0, 191-pounder made his Rangers/NHL debut on October 10, 2001 vs. Washington, becoming the fifth youngest goaltender to appear in a NHL match (18 years, 143 days) and the second youngest in franchise history (John Vanbiesbrouck, 18 years, 93 days).
In 2002-03, Blackburn appeared in 32 matches, posting a record of 8-16-4, along with a 3.17 goals against average and a .890 save percentage. Blackburn posted his first career shutout on November 7, 2002 vs. Calgary, stopping all 26 shots in a 1-0 overtime victory. With the shutout, he became the youngest goaltender in franchise history to record a shutout (19 years, 171 days) and third youngest in NHL history.
The netminder also made 18 consecutive starts from November 7 to December 14, 2002 posting a 7-8-2 mark over the span, along with a 3.14 goals against average, becoming just the fourth goaltender in NHL history to make 15 or more consecutive starts as a teenager (Harry Lumley, Allan Bester and Harvey Bennett).