Stride by tenuous stride, Worcester forward Graham Mink has spent the past several months skating from fear to frustration and now, finally, to peace of mind.
The journey almost makes skating through opponents seem easy by comparison. These days, Mink is getting a lot of practice doing that.
Mink has torched the AHL since Jan. 1, with a total of 16 goals and 12 assists in 31 games. The run coincides with the calm of knowing that a sports hernia that tagged him since early last season is gone.
“There’s not that hesitation now,’’ said Mink, 27. “It started gradually, and it faded gradually. It’s not like you can wake up at one point and say, boom, I’m cured.’’
That was a painful mental lesson, one that rivaled the physical anguish. Mink started feeling discomfort in the area in November 2005, when he played with Hershey. He tried to rest, but it only got worse. A cortisone injection into his pelvis – and that’s exactly as gruesome as it sounds – was only a stopgap measure. In February 2006, he underwent surgery. Trouble was, he came back from it after only six weeks, which was maybe a month too early. He battled it during the playoffs, the hurt eased by Hershey’s run to the Calder Cup. Mink gutted that out for 21 points in 21 games.
This season, Lindsay Kramer, NHL.com's AHL correspondent, profiles an up-and-coming player each week. Lindsay's AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
“It was one of those things where you have to be dead to miss it,’’ Mink said. “By June, it was pretty sore. I’m glad we didn’t have another round.’’
Mink hoped a summer off would finally end his ordeal, but it only teased him again. A week into training camp with San Jose, the pain started biting. Turns out he was tearing his scar tissue.
“For awhile, I was pretty scared I was going to always have to deal with it,’’ Mink said. “The hardest thing was that no one could tell me what was really wrong, directly.’’
Mink rested some more, playing only four games total for Worcester in October and November. Finally, around Christmas, the irritation went away for good.
“I’m real aware of it right now, if anything’s going on down there,’’ Mink said. “ I have a sense of what’s going on down there like never before.’’
It almost matches his sense around the net. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound power forward has been digging up points, especially on the power play, where he’s been a force along with Mathieu Darche and Mike Iggulden.
“I just try to roll with it,’’ Mink said. “Now, I don’t have that mental block in my head anymore.’’
Mink’s real heavy lifting will come in the playoff run. Last season, he was one of a large group of motivators that pushed the Bears to the top. This season, he’s the lead voice on a Sharks squad that’s battling for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic.
“On our team this year, I see a lot of positive,’’ he said. “We’ve had a consistent effort. You have to bring the same work ethic and mentality every day to the rink.’’