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An optimistic Helm readies for camp

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Other than some morning discomfort, Red Wings center Darren Helm has felt fine as he continues to recover from lower back pain that forced him to miss all but one game last season. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Though Darren Helm has skated for nearly two months in his latest rehabilitation from lower back pain, the Red Wings’ center continues to take a cautious approach to his recovery.

Since July when Helm skated at the annual development camp in northern Michigan with the organization’s prospects and recent draft picks, he has gradually felt better.

“We’ve been on a plan to get this thing better with skating, working out, different exercises, different treatments,” said Helm, following Wednesday’s informal skate at Joe Louis Arena. “I’m just taking care of my body a little bit better.”

Despite everything he does to prevent a reoccurrence, Helm understands he might be relegated to a lifetime of uncomfortable mornings.

“I know a few people who have back pain and every morning it’s a little achy, whether it’s a really sore or a little sore,” Helm said. “I’m just trying to overcome the idea that it’s going to be sore every morning. I’m trying to get the idea out of my head and not think about it. Just coming down here and it usually feels better and better the more I do, so that’s a positive.

“It’s usually a little sore in the morning. I think it may be like that … forever.”

It was last January, as players prepared for an abbreviated training camp following the NHL lockout, when Helm first injured the back while lifting weights. One setback after another, followed by countless trips to see orthopedic specialists, has frustrated the 26-year-old, who hasn’t played a regular role on the Wings’ team for the last 18 months.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock indicated on Tuesday that he expects Helm will center the third line as training camp opens next Wednesday in Traverse City. Helm is optimistic that he’ll be ready to regain his role on the team.

“I’m skating pretty good. I feel I’ve been skating pretty good these last couple of weeks,” he said. “It is something to look forward to since things are going so well going into camp. It’s good knowing that I’ve been skating so hard for this long.”

On Wednesday, Helm participated in a scrimmage at the end of practice. The impromptu game wasn’t overly physical in nature, though Helm did absorb some body contact.

“Today I got bumped a couple of times,” Helm said. “A couple weeks ago I got bumped a couple of times and it felt good. I think it’s just a gradual thing. It’s just going to have to come down to comfort between myself, the trainers and the staff.”

One thing Helm doesn’t plan to do anytime soon is excessive strength training, like squats.

“I’m still a bit away from that,” he said. “That’s one thing I do want to overcome before I start playing again. I want to be able to do the stuff I used to do, maybe not to the extreme that I used to do, but I still want to be able to do some fairly heavy lifting.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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