With Chris Pronger’s recent foot injury, fans of the Philadelphia Flyers have been quick to remind the rest of the hockey world that, if there’s anywhere they can afford to lose some talent, it’s at the defense position.
But for the players on the New York Islanders, when multi-million dollar defenseman Mark Streit went down before the season...“For how long? The year!?”...the team couldn’t claim they’d still be fine. They wanted Streit to stroll into the medical room, take a pill, have him walk out and say “OK, I’m ready to run the power play again.”
Unfortunately, no such magic cure-all exists. Recovering from injuries takes a lot of patience.
For injured players, the medical room goes from being a fun place to meet and stretch and lounge on the tables to a place of repetition and frustration.
I had largely stayed out of the place, aside from social time or to grab the odd Sudafed or Advil, but in my last year of pro, I spent more time in there than I would prefer.
A torn MCL, a re-torn MCL and my jaw being turned into a jigsaw puzzle saw me play all of 11 games that season, after missing precisely zero games to injury in the previous 10 years.
Your typical day in that training room involves spending endless one-on-one hours with your trainer, so it’s crucial the team has a good guy doing that job. It’s actually not so bad being forced to spend some time with one of the few guys in the organization who has functioning brain cells, unlike a sizable chunk of your team.
Ice and “stim” (the electrodes that produce stimulation to an area to promote healing) is to hockey what Tylenol is to the real world. Something hurts? Try this.
The type of injury changes how difficult each day on the IR is going to be, given that you try to stay in decent condition while the team practices. It can be a weird feeling being in the dressing room, hearing the sounds of pucks ringing off the glass, laughter and the coach’s whistle off in the distance, while you exercise alone.
For shoulder injuries - upper body injuries in general, really - you work on straight cardio. After your ice and stim session (and before your next one), you spin your legs on the bike every day and endure the endless “trying out for the Tour de France?” jokes, doing whatever it is you can to make your return to the team a step easier.
For knee and other lower body injuries, it’s just the opposite. You can get your upper body pretty puffed up in the gym with no cardio and endless time to train. When you’re not lifting, trainers will strap your knee in the “Game Ready” – a compression sleeve filled with icy water that speeds along recovery, providing a constant squeeze on the area like a blood-pressure test.
With my MCL tear, they had me balancing on a Bosu ball, doing hamstring workouts with the elastic bands, groin exercises - the works. You have to stabilize everything around an injury to take the strain off it when you try to return. As you can imagine, doing so hurts like hell.
The worst, of course, is the concussion. You’re allowed to do absolutely nothing.
So you wait. You literally just sit and wait.
Then one day, you test it with a 10-minute spin on the bike and vomit at minute five. Then you wait again.
It’s no wonder pro sports are wising up (to some extent) to the severity and long-term damage these injuries cause. There’s very little joking with the concussion cases - having a scrambled mind is no laughing matter.
While Pronger waits for his ankle to heal - using ice and stim, of course - you’ll be able to find him in the gym, in the press box and more commonly, in that medical room. For certain players it becomes like a second home, as it was for me two years ago. You try to remain patient, but frustration can overwhelm.
Because of that, we see players rush back from injury all the time, re-injure themselves and be relegated to more time in that medical room. So you talk yourself into doing the right things - otherwise, you know what your future looks like:
Ice. Stim. And more medical room.
Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and is currently a columnist for USA Today. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. Justin will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.