August 18, 2005
Tim Connolly is hungry, very hungry.
"I'm starving. I haven't eaten all summer to get into shape,'' joked Connolly following a morning workout at the Amherst Pepsi Center. ''I'm ready and excited to play.''
After a two-year layoff from professional hockey, the Syracuse, N.Y., native is poised and ready for a comeback season in 2005-06.
Connolly's return trip to professional hockey has been a long one. A severe concussion - and subsequent post-concussion syndrome - suffered during a preseason game against Chicago in Rochester, N.Y., on October 2, 2003 ended his 2003-04 season prematurely.
The NHL lockout erased 2004-05.
Connolly hasn't appeared in an NHL sanctioned game in 685 days and still has two games remaining in a four-game suspension for a high-sticking incident against Atlanta on March 2, 2003.
''It's been a while since I played in the NHL,'' said Connolly. ''Still have to serve a suspension, but as soon as that's over, I'll be ready to go.''
The extended layoff has instilled Connolly with a new sense of vigor and determination. The 6'1'', 186-pound center is emerging from two of the toughest years of his career with a focus the Sabres staff has never seen from him and a physique to match.
"(Connolly's) body composition is better than I've seen it in a long time," stated Sabres Strength and Conditioning Coach, Doug McKenney. "He's put on some muscle weight, his percent fat is down and he's definitely gotten stronger in his upper and lower body. He's fit and lean, and that's what we are looking for this time of the year."
Connolly began his preparations for the season in Syracuse this past summer, meeting with a personal trainer who developed a regimented workout of weight training, sprints, stairs and plyometrics - sets of exercises designed to improve power through the rapid stretching and contracting of muscles.
"I'm in the best possible shape that I could be in right now," stated the four-year NHL veteran. "Hopefully, that helps bring me to another level."
"Because of the lockout, we didn't get to see what anyone was doing through the course of last year," stated McKinney. "I know he was playing over in Europe and working hard to get his hockey game back together. Since I've seen him over the past two or three weeks, I'm impressed. I'm impressed with his dedication, discipline and the direction he is going in."
Connolly was productive for Langnau SC, appearing in 16 Swiss-league games during the NHL's absence, notching 11 points (8+3) and 14 penalty minutes.
"That was a good league to get my feet back under me," said Connolly. "It was a really offensive league with a lot of skating and not as much hitting, although there were a few NHL guys on each team. It was a pretty good league, and I enjoyed (playing) a lot."
One factor Connolly capitalized on in particular - while in Switzerland - was the absence of a red line. Like the NHL this season, the Swiss league encourages and favors offensive creativity.
"(Removing the red line) opens up the game a lot more and benefits my style of play," stated Connolly. "You have a lot more space out there to work. You can wind it up a little bit more and send guys for breakaways without worrying. Players with speed and finesse will have an advantage."
"I just want to get back into playing, get in the lineup and have a good all around year," said Connelly. "We've got all training camp and preseason to get into game shape, and I just want to be there when the season starts."
When the 2005-06 season begins, Connolly's two-year journey back to the NHL will end.