Carolina Hurricanes head athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach Peter Friesen has treated many athletes during his 34 years in the profession, and took a little time on Tuesday in Raleigh, N.C. to discuss the offseason rehabilitation of goaltender Cam Ward and captain Eric Staal.
Both players suffered third-degree MCL knee sprains at different points of the year as Ward’s occurred during a Mar. 3 game against the Florida Panthers while Staal’s came during an IIHF World Championship game against Sweden on May 16.
Both players’ injuries were viewed by fans and media on television and showed two different results of impact, but resulted with the same sunken feeling in seeing the Hurricanes’ foundation players fall.
Shock and awe
As Ward dropped to make a save and then moved slowly and gingerly, leaving everyone watching wondering what happened, the video of Staal’s injury that resulted from a knee-on-knee check from Swede defender Alex Edler, also a member of the Vancouver Canucks, left little to wonder about as Staal screamed and writhed in pain upon impact.
Many had hoped that even with the loss of Ward, the Hurricanes could continue to carry the positive momentum they started the 2012-2013 lockout-shortened season with while leading the NHL’s former Southeast Division.
That didn’t happen.
Even worse, it seemed that Ward’s injury brought more adversity to a team that at first looked like it would earning a playoff spot, but instead ended up limping to finish the regular season wondering what had happened.
Staal’s injury just amplified the pain the team and its fans felt during the latter part of the NHL season, and as it happened just barely a month later, the gruesome scene complemented with the scream of the team’s leader was a lot to take in.
The only reassuring aspect of was that Staal valiantly worked to get raise himself up to his knees showing he was down – painfully – but not out.
Fast forward to early August and Friesen pointed out that he has had the chance to work with both players during the summer with positive and encouraging results.
Friesen worked with Ward for approximately six weeks in Raleigh before the netminder traveled to Alberta for the remainder of the summer, and recently made his way back to hit the ice at RCI.
Friesen traveled to Thunder Bay, Ontario to work with Staal.
With both players, Friesen noted the exceptional ability they possessed in working hard to recover from their injuries.
“Everybody needs a little bit of a warm-up time,” Friesen said.
“Cam hasn’t played for a period of time, but as you saw on the ice and I saw in the workout room, this kid’s come ready to participate. If he’s not ready, it’s not that he hasn’t done everything possible to be ready for the upcoming season.”
Friesen echoed similar sentiments for Staal.
The mental aspect
Along with physical injury comes mental trauma and stress, and the manner in which an individual can manage the mental aspect of being injured and working to overcome it, is an area that Friesen stated was key to proper and effective recovery.
“We’re practicing sport psychology with every workout,” Friesen said.
“It’s not just something you read about - you actually participate, acknowledge and overcome. If you ignore the mental aspect of it, you’re just short-changing yourself because at the end of the day, these guys aren’t machines, they’re human beings.”
Staal had never suffered a major injury during his career, so one must wonder how much he has had to deal with mentally throughout his rehabilitation.
“We all saw that on TV - it’s a big deal,” Friesen said.
“There’s a huge mental component with everything. Everybody has a different level of being able to overlook this and sometimes people get stuck on this. I think the best way that I can help them get over this mentally is to keep challenging them with tougher and tougher workouts and also putting their bodies in various positions where they know how they’re going to respond. So, when they are back in an NHL game, they’ve been in that situation, over and over again, in practice and in dry land, and they have the confidence in their body that will respond with in a positive fashion.”
Friesen was quick to point out the uniqueness of Staal’s situation.
“The Staal boys have been blessed with some really great genetics,” Friesen said.
“That’s why you have three of them in the NHL and the fourth biting to get into the NHL. They’re a special family. If anybody can overcome something like that, it would be an Eric Staal for sure.”
Attitude is everything
What Friesen has also been equally impressed with in Ward and Staal, is the attitude they have taken in keeping on pace with and accelerating their recovery time.
“It’s funny you use that word - attitude,” Friesen said when specifically discussing Ward’s work ethic in recovering from his injury.
“That’s what he’s packed into this injury. His attitude towards everything has been so positive. He’s just a great individual to be around and that’s a good sign. When I pick up with a guy who’s working as hard as he is and he comes in with a smile on his face and a great attitude. He spent extra time this summer, you can tell that with the way he looks and the way he’s moving right now. Every day that I’ve worked with him, he’s come in with the greatest attitude I’ve ever been around. It’s a huge psychological component he’s beat right there.”
With Ward leading the way back on the ice in Raleigh, Staal should not be too far behind and ready for training camp.
Good news to hear considering the painful road that both players and everyone around them have and continue to watch them travel along and back from.