EL SEGUNDO, CA — After being a healthy scratch for four consecutive games, right wing Jonny Brodzinski returned to the lineup on March 23, when the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Anaheim Ducks, 4-3, in a shootout, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Brodzinski was held out of the Kings’ previous four games due to the coaches’ decision. Much of that is because Brodzinski, who suffered a severe shoulder dislocation on September 24, during a 4-1 pre-season win over the Vancouver Canucks in Salt Lake City, Utah, is still working to get his game back on track after more than five months out of the lineup.
Brodzinski indicated that he knew right away that the injury wasn’t a minor one.
“We were up, 3-2, at that point,” he recalled. “[Adrian Kempe] won the draw back to [Alec Martinez] and he threw it up to the red line. I met the defenseman and just went to chip the puck deep [in the offensive zone]. He clipped the back of my heel. When I went to chip the puck in, I fell forward, head first into the boards. But I cushioned my head with my arm and my shoulder locked and dislocated. It was pretty nasty.”
“I knew right away because they couldn’t put it back in place right away,” he added. “I had to wait a long time before they could even get the doctor down there. I wanted five, ten minutes—it seemed like forever. I was sitting there on the table with my shoulder dislocated and in so much pain.”
“I had to lay down on the table and have someone under the table pulling on my shoulder to put in back in. When he put it back in, the doctor said that he heard a lot of cracking and popping, which isn’t usually a good sign. He said that I was probably going to need surgery.”
After surgery, Brodzinski got the bad news—his recovery would take four-to-six months, not the four-to-six weeks that had been originally projected.
“As soon as I found out that it wasn’t going to be four-to-six weeks, but four-to-six months, it was just get on that train—figure out my timeline and when I was going to be able to start working out again,” he said. “[I had to figure out] when I was going to start lifting my arm over my head again, when I was going to start workouts with my arm, when I was going to start passing the puck, light shooting, hard shooting, slap shots—all that stuff.”
“It was a long process and while everyone was on the road, I was here [at the Kings practice facility in El Segundo, California] by myself,” he added. “It was a very long grind. But I put my head down and chugged through it. It was definitely hard, but I had guys here to help me out. [Craig Johnson from the Kings development staff] helped me out a lot. He pushed me really hard in all the skates to get me back to where I needed to be.”
The road back was anything but easy.
“After about a month, I was able to start rehab, and even then, that was just working on the scar tissue—little stuff, just trying to get my arm up and moving, a little bit,” he noted. “It was such a long grind with a lot of tiny steps. Every day was something new. It was every day with a hew exercise, so it wasn’t the same thing for days and days. They kept it fresh. Every day it was something new that I couldn’t do before.”
“About the three-month mark, I was finally able to do some stick work and handle a puck,” he added. “I mean, for three months, I couldn’t even lift my arm over my head. I couldn’t shampoo my hair with my left arm. It felt fine. I just couldn’t lift [it past halfway]. It was pretty tough.”
After five months of rehabilitation work, Brodzinski was activated off of injured reserve and was assigned to the American Hockey League’s Ontario Reign on February 14 on a conditioning assignment. One week later, he was back with the Kings and oh what a relief that was for him.
“It was awesome,” he observed. “That first road trip I was on—I finally felt like I was part of the team again. For so long, it was that they were going on another two-week road trip and I’m sitting here—things can just drag on and on. It was great to get back with the guys, practicing and being part of the team again.”
But even though he was back with the Kings at 100 percent, physically, that wasn’t the case for his game—he was rusty.
“Being out for five months, you lose a lot of the technical stuff,” he noted. “It’s not so much the physical and the conditioning. You get that back pretty easily [depending on the injury]. So it’s really just the mental game. When you come back, you really have to remember all the system stuff and that’s the hard part.”
That brings us back to the last handful of games, with Brodzinski having been a healthy scratch since March 14, when the Kings suffered a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators at Staples Center.
Interim head coach Willie Desjardins indicated that it takes time for an injured player to get back to the top of his game.
“I’d say ten games, with everything,” he said. “There’s so much. You probably get 80 percent after two games. The first part comes quick. But the little details keep coming [gradually], so I think it takes a while before you have it all. For example, you might go on the penalty-kill or the power play after five games or four-on-four. It takes a little bit of time.”
“I don’t think I’ve even reached that point yet [where he feels like he is all the way back],” said Brodzinski. “It’s all the little things and defensive zone coverage. A lot of little stuff that you learn and have it pounded into your brain the whole year and towards the end of the year, you’re so rock solid on it that it’s second nature. It’s mostly little stuff that I need to start clicking on. It’s just very small, little details. I’ve got the structure stuff down.”
Desjardins noted that he isn’t down on Brodzinski or his work to get his game back.
“When [Brodzinski] was rehabbing, he worked so hard,” he said. “He got himself in great shape and he has a good shot. An excellent shot. We put him in with Kempe. That was a great place for him. But I don’t think he found a way to create enough on that line.”
“Sometimes, a guy gets singled out for a line’s performance,” he added. “I just thought we could get more out of the Kempe line, so we made a change and it’s not really a reflection on him. It was just a way to get that line going.”
As reported earlier Brodzinski returned to the lineup on Saturday night against Anaheim. In 8:58 of ice time, he skated eleven shifts and was credited with five hits.
“He was pretty good early,” said Desjardins. “Before, he was more—just a scorer. [Tonight], he played a better all-around game. I thought he [was] more physical, I thought he tried to do more things to keep himself in the lineup.”
With just eight games left in the Kings’ season, Brodzinski will continue to work on getting his game all the way back. But these games are also an audition, of sorts, as he could be in his final days of wearing a Kings jersey—he will become a Group VI unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Group VI free agency applies to any player whose contract has expired; has completed three seasons in professional hockey and has played in fewer than 80 National Hockey League games.
Although becoming an unrestricted free agent was certainly not in Brodzinski’s plans, that is the reality for him, and the Kings, this summer.
There has been no word from the Kings regarding Brodzinski’s future with the team after July 1.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings right wing prospect Jonny Btodzinski (right), shown here during a recent practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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