Overtime in hockey isnt always measured in five-minute increments, with teams skating four per side. For players trying to recover from injuries, or trying to play through them, their day starts well before morning skates and goes on well after the zamboni has made its final sweep.
Columbus Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson missed 13 games early this season with a high ankle sprain, an injury that can tend to linger for an agonizingly long time. Atkinson isnt past his injury, but he is at the point that he believes he can manage it, play through it, and contribute on the ice. It just takes extra time.
The time right before and after I go out on the ice, thats huge, said the former Boston College star. I come in before each skate and do strength work on it, like bounces, and just try to get it back to the strength that it was before I got hurt. After Im done skating, I go through an ice and massage session. Its just a process, a day-to-day process. And I cant take any days off, thats for sure.
Atkinson admits it hasnt been easy to block the injury out completely since hes returned to the Blue Jackets lineup.
Try not to be tentative, he said, but its hard not to, actually. We knew from day one when I hurt it that its going to be an ongoing thing, especially for this season specifically because were playing every other day. Its just a matter of focusing on preparation and getting it to the point where its warmed up enough that I know if I tweak it, I can still get through it.
Even though he may occasionally have the injury on his mind, Atkinson thinks hes been able to play at a level that can help the Blue Jackets ramp up the offensive side of the game. The team did have a goal-scoring breakout at home against Dallas in its recent 5-4 overtime defeat, and Atkinson was one of the goal scorers.
You know, sitting out the 13 games, theres nothing worse than watching from the stands, he explained. I feel that being in there, even if the injury isnt 100 percent, I can help the team produce on the offensive side. Thats what Im trying to do, and I know I have to take the time to prepare the ankle and just get through it.
Despite missing more than half of the teams games this season, Atkinson said his timing and endurance have been fine. So the only issues now are managing the injury and helping the Columbus Blue Jackets find a way to turn their painful string of one-goal losses into a streak that can propel the team back into the playoff discussion in the Western Conference. He thinks its no coincidence Columbus is playing so many elite teams so tough.
I think were a great team, said the native of Riverside, Connecticut. We can play with any team any single night. The scoreboard pretty much shows that. Obviously, we havent gotten the wins, but were losing by one goal pretty much every single game. Theres absolutely no quit in our team. I dont know what were missing, or if were even missing anything. We just have to come together as a whole and get this thing moving in the right direction.
When the Blue Jackets do turn it around, rest assured it will be because players like Atkinson battled through the adversity and put in the time make that extra time to make it happen.