It had been about 2 1⁄2 months, 76 days to be precise, since Albany defenseman Raman Hrabarenka had been on a sheet of game ice.
In the Nov. 29 win over the Utica Comets, Hrabarenka ripped a shot from the point in the third period just before getting clobbered by Darren Archibald. The hit came high and from just over the defenseman’s right shoulder, dropping Hrabarenka to the ice, bloodied and broken. He had a concussion, needed stitches above his right eye, and had facial fractures that needed surgery.
The third-year pro had been enjoying his best season. Even though he missed 27 straight games, he still is 10th in point production on the Albany roster. He returned to play all three Devils’ games last weekend, and said after Thursday’s practice that while his early stats were nice, his focus is elsewhere for the remainder of the season.
“We have another two months,” Hrabarenka said. “My goal is still, in my head, just working hard, improve myself, be good every night, be good every practice and show my best to help the team win. That’s what I want to do right now, make the playoffs. That’s the most important thing right now. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, I have to get more points.’ My job is to play good defense, that’s the first thing, and if I can score, can make a good play, I can do that.”
The Devils have another three-in-three this weekend, all on the road, playing at Syracuse tonight, at Utica on Saturday and at Springfield on Sunday.
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said while he thought Hrabarenka did well in his return to game action, he saw, understandably, a tapering to his energy as the weekend wore on. That in-game conditioning, though, should help him better maintain through this weekend.
Hrabarenka wanted to come back a week earlier than Kowalsky thought wise.
“We kept him an extra week, and we beat on him pretty good. I had ‘Sarge’ [assistant coach Sergei Brylin] take care of him,” Kowalsky said. “We knew we had the week off, and we gave all the guys Monday off, but he went on the ice with the injured group. I saw him after and asked how he was doing. He said, ‘I’m ready, I’m ready.’ I said, ‘We’ll see by Thursday.’ I kind of let him know that he needed to show me something in the next couple days, and he did.”
It was an improvement from when he first came back to work out and skate with the team, when Kowalsky said his hands and his footwork both seemed rusty.
That is to be expected, though, since his injury involved a concussion. To keep his blood pressure from spiking, he was not allowed to do any conditioning work for the first month.
“You can’t do any workouts,” Hrabarenka said. “You just have to wait. It’s tough doing nothing.”
As a further precaution, he continues to wear a full cage in practice and in games, and will for at least the near future, though he said he will welcome the day he can be free of the cage.
Then he’ll be just about back to normal. Just about. One thing he has lost that won’t likely come back is the memory of that third period against Utica in November.
“I remember the first two periods, I remember I was in the locker room after the second period, and then it’s just, ‘psht,’ and I don’t remember anything after the second period,” he said. “I woke up after the hit in the medicine room.”
Archibald was suspended by the league for three games because of the illegal check to the head.
Hrabarenka watched video of the hit. He said he accepts injuries as part of the game. It happens, sometimes, when athletes are flying around at full speed. This hit, though, was harder to accept.
He joked that Archibald would get his, in return for what he called a dirty hit. Joking or not, the Comets should at least expect Hrabarenka to be finishing his checks well on Saturday.
Being a large defensive obstacle, though, is exactly what Kowalsky wants from him.
Through his first 20 games, Hrabarenka had four goals, 10 assists and a plus-1 defensive rating. He was an asset on the power play and had grown more reliable in his own zone.
Each season, Hrabarenka has taken a positive step. For the same to be said about this season, Kowalsky said he doesn’t have to see more goals or assists, just more of that reliability. After that, the rest will come.
“He was headed for, potentially, an All-Star season, at that rate, before he got injured,” Kowalsky said. “But for me, if he just comes back and — because he can shoot the puck and the way he’s found a spot for us on the weak side of the power play — I think he can be a factor. But his five-on-five play, penalty killing, being hard to play against, that’s all we’re looking for.”