It was Game 5 against Anaheim last spring when Andrej Sekera gained the centre red line, gliding on one foot as he pumped the puck deep into the Ducks end.
Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf finished his check on Sekera, a clean, simple part of playoff hockey. It resulted in a torn ACL that ended Sekera’s season, an injury from which he will finally return to the Edmonton Oilers lineup tonight.
Of the many things that have gone wrong for Edmonton this season, not having their No. 3 defenceman this season has been just another match on the fire. But Sekera is finally back, paired with Matt Benning tonight against St. Louis and expecting some power play time as well.
"I feel as good as I need to feel to be playing at this level," Sekera, 31, said. "I’m ready. I’ll go out, play hard and try to help this team win a game.
"Guys are already 34 games in and I’m zero," he joked. "I just want to play a hard simple game to make sure (his teammates) like me on the ice and will play with me."
Every player knows how long the road back from a serious injury can be. For Sekera, it started not long after the Oilers were eliminated last spring, a full seven months ago.
"It was a little bit difficult because after the surgery there are only certain things you can do and (the rehab) gets old," he said. "But after every stage of the rehab you start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
"You just have to stay on top of it and be positive — do all the things you need to do to come back healthy and be ready to go."
Sekera is an important power play presence for Edmonton who plays the game the way today’s defenceman is supposed to: by quickly moving pucks in the right direction, making sharp passes on the tape that allow a team to break out cleanly.
"He’s a first-pass guy, always makes the simple play," centre Mark Letestu told Post Media. "He does a lot of things that go unnoticed that make him so solid, and when he’s gone you recognize the void he leaves, how good he actually is and what he means to the team. When we get him back it will be a big lift."
With Oscar Klefbom on injured reserve, Sekera will walk into some extra minutes already tonight. He can expect some power play time, and likely some penalty killing work as well.
"The plan is to use him in those situations, but his play and his ability to read and react and the pace he plays at and how he feels physically will dictate how much he gets," said head coach Todd McLellan. "We want him up and running as quick as possible so he’s going to need to experience the power play and the penalty kill. But if it’s not clicking for him right off the bat, we’ll cut him back."