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Komets at Gwinnett
Faceoff: 7:35 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
During each recent Komets home game, there are five extra assistant coaches sitting in the press box. The players on injured reserve can't help but shout instructions at their teammates seven floors below on the ice, and it's a lot easier to see the plays develop at the top of the building.
``Skate!'' they'll yell when they see an opening up ice that they know their teammates can't possibly see. Marco Cousineau, Eric Giosa, Ryan Hegarty, Chris Auger and Nick Boucher are all dying to help their teammates in some way.
When trying to overcome long-term injuries, the battle is as much mental as physical.
``The best thing you can do is have a good support system around you and stay positive, which is easier said than done,'' said Giosa, who is battling a stress fracture in his ankle.
``In-season is harder. You are at the rink every day around the guys, and all you want to do is get out there and help as much as you can. You basically feel useless. You can't do anything except get treatment, and the guys are out there battling and fighting and you want to be part of that and help the team.''
All five Komets have had to sit out significant time previously for long-term injuries, but this is not something that gets easier with experience.
``Getting all worked up and anxious is self-defeating because it's not going to make the time go any faster,'' said Boucher, who is sitting out after summer surgery on both hips. ``You try to stay busy. I've come to the realization that it's not going to go any quicker just because I want it to. There are steps to the process and you have to go through them. There are no shortcuts.''
It's also only a slight help that there are other teammates going through the same thing. There's a support group, but that only helps so much.
``You can make jokes and make light of the situations throughout the week and try to have some fun while you are trying to get healthy at the same time,'' Giosa said.
Hegarty, a defenseman, is recovering quickly from a broken hand. His first long-term injury was a broken neck suffered during his sophomore year at Maine when he was checked from behind into the boards. He was out two months that time.
He's spending his days riding a stationary bike while the Komets are practicing, then skating hard after practice and going to the gym in the afternoons.
``When you are not exercising as when you are when you are playing and practicing every day, you really have to find ways to keep your heart rate going,'' Hegarty said. ``I've been trying to keep my conditioning and keep my feet going quickness-wise. As much as it's frustrating to have an injury, I'm pretty fortunate that it's a hand and it didn't need restructuring or anything.''
Hegarty said his injury has been a blessing because he's been able to work on small details in his game that had been bothering him.
Sometimes long-term injuries can also recharge a player's passion for the game.
``I've learned I still love the game,'' said Cousineau, a goaltender who is recovering from a groin pull. ``Whatever happens, even if you are on a bad team, the game is the game and you need to enjoy what you do in life.''
That's part of what Boucher is learning this year. At age 31, he could have retired after winning four championships in five years. He's discovered he misses being around the locker room and on the road trips as much as he does playing the games.
``I don't even consider myself part of the team,'' he said. ``I don't think most of the guys even know who I am. There are several players if I bumped into them I don't think they'd know who I was because I haven't been around.''
Because of the hip surgery, Boucher has not been cleared to skate yet, so he's been doing his physical therapy away from the rink. He's guessing it's going to take at least two months of being able to push pucks around the rink before he'll be cleared to put on pads again.
He also has to retrain his body. After walking around on crutches for 12 weeks, his muscles have atrophied.
``I'm trying to get back to where I'm going to be at a level where being on the ice again isn't going to hurt me,'' Boucher said. ``My feet hurt, my hip hurts, everything hurts on that side, so I don't want to do something to myself when I start skating again.''
But Boucher knows he's building momentum in his recovery. He can feel the improvement daily.
``It makes you stronger mentally going through something like that,'' Giosa said. ``You have time to think and reflect, and when you train and build back up that muscle, you need to go a little harder and come back a little stronger.
``Playing this game, injuries are just a part of it.''