After sustaining a severe concussion in the 2006 playoffs, missing 80 games in the 2006-07 season, he returned during the final two games of the year, and continued in the playoffs where he added nine assists in 16 games.
Yet when Buffalo was eliminated from the conference finals by the Ottawa Senators, only a month after Connolly was back in action, he was left unsatisfied and faced with waiting again for the next season.
Finally, he is ready to get back to the ice.
He will get his chance when the Sabres open the season against the New York Islanders this Friday at HSBC Arena.
“I’m excited,” Connolly said. “You get to start fresh and start from the beginning. It’s great to be starting out the season this year…and I think the guys are excited to get this season underway.”
Perhaps nobody is more anxious than Connolly for Friday night’s season opener against the Islanders.
That was clear when he played in the Sabres final preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday- his first preseason game since 2005. Head coach Lindy Ruff said Connolly “begged” to play although he was still plagued by a sore groin from training camp.
It paid off for Ruff.
With less than six minutes remaining in the third period, and the game tied at 3-3, Connolly capitalized on a rebound in front of the net, scoring the game-winning goal for Buffalo.
“He’s got some conditioning work to do,” Ruff said following the game Saturday. “But the fact that a player wants to play that bad, you put him in the lineup.”
“I feel good. I wouldn’t play if I wasn’t ready to go,” Connolly said. “I felt that I was and it was good to get in there and get that one game under your belt, get back some of the timing. Now we’ve got all week to prepare for the home opener.”
Connolly is going to need to prepare for his new role on the team as well as he is expected to become a leader in the locker room.
“As a team we are a younger team,” Connolly said. “But I think that a lot of the younger guys have a lot of experience going to the conference finals two years in a row. Everyone knows what it takes and it’s a great group of guys.
“We lost a couple but we’ve got some guys that I think will play a lot bigger roles this year. Some guys that were out of the lineup, some guys that weren’t quite getting the minutes that they probably could have played because they have a lot of depth up at forward. There are a lot of guys that are going to step up. We just want to be as good as we were last year or better.”
In 2005-06, prior to the concussion, Connolly scored 66 points (21+45) in 69 games, including 11 playoff games.
If that is any indication of where a healthy Connolly could be this season, the Sabres will have another dangerous offensive weapon.