Coming back from an injury takes more than just healing your body.
The Blue Jackets have faced a rash of injuries this year, and as players return to full health, they’ve worked to ensure their minds and their emotions are as strong as their muscles and bones.
Jackets forward Cam Atkinson suffered one of this season’s more frightening injuries when Anaheim Ducks player Ryan Kesler accidentally sliced Atkinson’s face with his skate. After confirming he could see and the wound was closed, Atkinson’s next thought was to manage the emotions of the situation and share that he was all right through phone calls to family and putting a photo of his face on social media.
"I got a hold of my dad pretty quickly and my family," Atkinson said. "It was amazing how many people reached out, friends, family members, and fans. I tried to thank everyone on Twitter and Instagram, I appreciated all the support — it was really humbling."
Thank you everyone for checking in on me. Luckily the skate just missed my eye. Really appreciate all the LOVE. pic.twitter.com/5PpcDzO6nn
Atkinson, who has five goals and two assists this season, missed the team’s next game in Los Angeles, and flew home with a patch over his eye to minimize swelling. While his body recovered quickly, Atkinson did admit that returning to play raised some questions in his mind.
"I only missed one game, but playing my first game back, you’re maybe a little timid at first because it’s such a fluke accident," Atkinson said. "You wonder what if it happens again, what if you get hit there again. As the game went on, I got more relaxed and played my game."
Another concern for Atkinson was that as he continued to play, a stitch might break.
"Where they put the stitches in it’s still pretty tight," Atkinson said. "I was not afraid, but more worried that some of the stitches would have popped and I’d have to do the whole process over again which wouldn’t have been fun."
Atkinson still feels some numbness on the top of his head and admits that freaks him out a little bit but he’s been able to stay calm in part due to working to calm everyone else down from such a scary experience.
"People were obviously very worried," Atkinson said. "But letting everyone know that I was ok and my eye was fine — the experience scared some people but everyone was happy that it turned out well."
Meanwhile, forward Boone Jenner had to work to prepare for a return to the ice after just over five weeks away after breaking his hand in practice.
Jenner scored 16 goals and earned 29 points last year in the regular season for the Jackets and was anxious to contribute to again this year. For the 21-year-old, waiting for his body to heal built up some emotion before his first game of the season on Tuesday.
"There’s always nerves, I’d lie if there wasn’t," Jenner said. "I think I get nervous before every game but I’m pretty excited and a little bit anxious — it will be good to get going."
Jenner not only had to manage his emotions, he had to work to keep his mind in game shape even when his body wasn’t.
"I studied some film, and talked to the coaches, just trying to get familiar with everything," Jenner said. "As much as you practice it’s still not like a game."
Jenner was able to travel with the team on every road trip but one, and that helped maintain his connection with teammates. He practiced for a week-and-a-half with the team before coming back to play, and took the last few practices at 100 percent in part to ensure he wouldn’t favor his hand in game action.
"I tried to get a little bit of that in practice, test (the hand) out," Jenner said. "In a game you’re not really thinking about that. When you get in a battle you want to win the battle you’re not really thinking about where you put your left hand and what you’re pushing off of."
Jenner played just under 18 minutes over 23 shifts in his season debut, and with the injury behind him, he’s now looking forward to being a difference-maker on the ice.
"I’ve been playing hockey for so long, and then not being able to start the year is pretty tough," Jenner said. "It’s not how I wanted to start the year, I had to deal with it and time has moved by pretty quick. I’m excited to be back and playing with the guys."