EL SEGUNDO, CA — To say that the 2017-18 season has been a tough one for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Kevin Gravel might be understating things just a bit.
But Gravel’s demotion was mostly a long-term conditioning assignment after he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease last summer.
“Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease,” according to the renowned Mayo Clinic. “It causes inflammation of [the] digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people.#rdquo;
“The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissue. Crohn’s disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications. While there’s no known cure for Crohn’s disease, therapies can greatly reduce its signs and symptoms and even bring about long-term remission. With treatment, many people with Crohn’s disease are able to function well. Indeed, after diagnosis, treatment and recovery, Gravel had to work his way back into shape.”
“After the initial [disappointment of] getting sent down and going through that, then you get to playing and you realize, ‘wow, I’ve got some work to do,’” said Gravel. “It was a little frustrating [to have to go back to Ontario], but I knew that, after going through training camp [and coming to grips with his physical condition] that it was going to be a little bit of a process, so I just tried to stick with it as best I could.”
Gravel knew he had a lot of work to do because the disease robbed him of more of his strength and conditioning than he thought.
“Health-wise, I felt OK, [when the season began],” he noted. “I was still on a few medications, but I’m only on one medication now. I felt healthy. I was able to do the day-to-day, normal stuff. But in terms of speed, strength, and conditioning, I was farther off than I thought I was going to be.”
“At the beginning of the year, I’d go out there and after 20 seconds, I’d be huffing and puffing,” he added. “Everything was just shutting down. I didn’t really feel like I was back to 100 percent until around the start of December, in terms of going out on the ice and not feeling completely winded at the end of a shift or at the end of a game.”
A couple of weeks after getting back to 100 percent, Gravel was called back up to the Kings, but has played in just 14 games with games, his last action coming on February 7, a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
But now, it appears likely that Gravel will return to the lineup tonight, when the Kings host the Arizona Coyotes, and if his number is called, he says that even though it has been about seven weeks since he’s played, he’s ready.
“If I get the chance to go to tomorrow, it’s been a long time since I’ve played, but I’ve been doing my best to get my work in in practice,” he said on March 28. “Trying to stay sharp during games—just get my work in when I can. If I get the nod tomorrow, I’ll be ready and I’ll do whatever I can to help these guys out.”
Indeed, being out of the lineup for such a long time, staying sharp has been a challenge.
“It’s not easy being out of the lineup for that long,” said Gravel. “It’s hard to simulate a game. You can’t really replace a game. Things happen out there that you can’t [replicate] in practice. You try your best to stay sharp, both physically and mentally.”
“It’s kind of a cliché, but you try to stay as sharp as you can, because [players suffer injuries], and someone else has to go into the lineup, or there’s a coaches’ decision, and you’ve got to go into the lineup,” added Gravel. “You never really know what’s going to happen.”
As much of a challenge that trying to stay sharp must be for any player who isn’t playing regularly, they have to figure out how to be ready when they’re called upon.
“We’ve told [Gravel and Paul LaDue] to make sure that they’re practicing hard, staying ready,” said head coach John Stevens. “So when the opportunity comes, they’re going to be ready. They’re excited about the opportunity to play in some important games.”
“[Gravel has] been in all the meetings,” added Stevens. “We’ve put those guys in warmups, so they’re part of the preparation—getting ready to play games. We’ve had a lefty and a righty here, depending on the need, all along. They’re totally abreast of any changes we’ve made, corrections, the team game.”
“Kevin has been here long enough. He knows exactly what’s expected. He’s played games against these teams, and he’s got enough experience in this league that we expect him to come in and play in situations that he’s capable of playing in. He’s played on the power play before. He’s killed penalties before. He’s been partnered with Drew [Doughty] before. He’s been partnered with [Christian Folin]. He’s played in lots of situations, both this year and last year, where we think a young guy like him can come in at this time of the year and perform.”
Coming back into the lineup after not playing for nearly two months with the Kings in a dogfight for playoff berth just adds to the challenge…and the excitement.
“I think it’s an exciting time of the year,” Gravel observed. “You want to be able to play in big moments, right? Every game for us now is a really big game and [tonight] is no different. If I get the opportunity to go, it’s obviously a big game and it’s an exciting time to play. You grow up watching the playoffs, so I’m excited to, maybe, have the chance to help the team push for it.”
“It’s unfortunate that [defenseman Jake Muzzin] went down,” added Gravel. “[That’s] a big loss. Whomever goes into that lineup [tonight] is going to have a big opportunity and is going to have to pull their weight and help the team out.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Kevin Gravel (center), shown here during a recent practice. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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