Blue Jackets winger Atkinson embraces time to rejuvenate, heal

Feb 7, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (13) attempts to shoot the puck against San Jose Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart (7) and goalie Antti Niemi (31) during the first period at SAP Center at San Jose.

Ed Szczepanski/Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

At the Columbus Blue Jackets late-morning practice Tuesday, it was everyone on board, except for one injured guy (Fedor Tyutin), who was not able to skate at all, and a rehabbing guy (Jared Boll), who hit the ice a little later than all his teammates.

That’s the way it’s supposed to be for hockey players in February – get on the ice and skate hard. From the time they strapped on the skates at whatever age it may have been, February is hockey time, whether they were playing tournaments as youth players or battling for the playoffs later in their careers.

Every four years since 1998, though, February has featured a built-in vacation/mini-training camp stretch for NHL players who didn’t head to the Olympic games. Call it the spring break they never used to have.

It’s called, of course, the Olympic break, and for Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson, it’s the first time in his hockey career he has had any prolonged time off in February. Professional athletes are notorious for sticking to their routines, their regimens. So, what did Atkinson think of his first Olympic break? He’s a fan.

"I actually embraced it and took advantage of it, for sure," said Atkinson. "I think everyone for the most part, and especially me, I needed that time to rejuvenate and take some time away from hockey and just relax and I guess heal all the wounds. I think that amount of time is perfect, a week, week and a half to get away. It makes you excited to start playing again, to see the guys."

For his break, Atkinson headed where most of his NHL brethren head every four years in February – to a warmer climate. He spent a week in Jamaica and three days in Florida. He was a man in search of that elusive Vitamin D, elusive at least in mid-winter around Central Ohio. And with those critical Vitamin D levels replenished, he’s ready to focus again on hockey.

"I got a little bit of sun. I think that Vitamin D kind of helped a little bit," he laughed. "It was good. I think I’m more excited to start playing games and make the playoffs and go from there."

The break wasn’t all fun in the sun for Atkinson and his teammates. Even before they reported back for practices last week, they were following a training regimen mapped out by Blue Jackets strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins. For Atkinson, that meant some dynamic work on the treadmill, running hard for a minute, off for 20 seconds, then right back on for another hard minute, and so on.

"It’s not hard to stay in shape, since we’re only off for a week and a half," Atkinson explained. "And now that we’ve been back, we’ve had some really good practices and have gotten better every day. Today was another step forward. I thought we had a good, hard practice. We’re all excited to get going."

What Atkinson was saying, basically, is the Vitamin D quest is now on hold. It’s time for an intense stretch of NHL hockey to close out the regular season. And for those playoff contenders – like the Blue Jackets – who come back from this break most rejuvenated, focused, and ready to compete these final six weeks, time in the sun may be very rare for months to come.

And that’s not a gloomy thought at all.