It had been 56 games.
Before Sunday’s 3-0 win over Syracuse, it had been 147 days since Albany forward Darcy Zajac took the ice with the Devils.
He made his return from a shoulder injury that had knocked him out of commission just five games into the season.
“You know what? It felt great,” Zajac said. “It’s been a long year for me. A lot of practicing, a lot of rehab. It just felt good to compete and be with the team, play together and contribute to the win.”
If Albany coach Rick Kowalsky keeps Zajac in the lineup, he could play again tonight against the Binghamton Senators at 7 at the Times Union Center.
A fourth-year pro, he spent the entirety of the last two seasons with Albany, playing in 133 games in that time and posting 17 goals, 24 assists, 172 penalty minutes and a plus-five rating. In his 180 total AHL games, he has 21 goals, 30 assists, 248 penalty minutes and a minus-seven rating.
Sunday, Kowalsky had Zajac skating as a winger with captain Rod Pelley and David Wohlberg.
“We wanted to get him in. I thought he did a good job,” Kowalsky said. “He looked a little more comfortable than I thought [he would] on the wing. Obviously, Rod Pelley is a pretty easy guy to play with, as well.
“We’re going to need numbers and bodies. He’s a right-hand shot, so that’s important. Mike Sislo’s our only other [right-handed] guy, as a winger. I thought he did a good job, considering how long he’s been off. It just gives us some more options. He’s a faceoff guy, he’s a guy who can move to the center.”
Zajac also brings a toughness and some energy to the table. Playing with Pelley and Wohlberg was right in his comfort zone, which helped in his first game back.
“That’s the style I like to play, up-ice, a lot of pressure, anticipating, finishing checks because you know where your linemates are going, you can just hit those holes,” Zajac said. “Just competing. That’s the part of the game I love.”
Thinking about what part of the day stood out most — the first hit, the first shift, his first touch — he went immediately to the best part for everyone, then to the realization he wasn’t huffing and puffing when he came off the ice.
“I think it was just the win,” Zajac said. “With my role, you don’t expect to do a lot every night. You’re just going to do the simple things. But I felt like I wasn’t a step back. I felt like I was right where I left off, if not skating better. I think just being around the guys the last few weeks helped me out.”
Actually, Zajac had enough wind left after the game that he went directly to the weight room.
He has worked so hard at his rehab, maybe he just doesn’t know how to give it up.
“You would think I’d be a little shaky or a little slower, but I think the adrenaline took over,” Zajac said. “I busted my butt here for the last four or five months, skating in the morning extra with Sergei [Brylin, assistant coach]. It just felt good to get out there.”