Monday, April 4, 2011

Mark Streit: A Season Lost

There was always hope that Mark Streit, the diamond in the lump of coal that was the Islanders 2009-2010 season, would be able to play at some point before the regular season end. Well, for the fans at least. Perhaps Mark actually knew better.

It took five months of physical therapy after shoulder surgery to be cleared just to skate with the team. But he knew if he wasn't cleared for contact with enough of the season left, there really would be no point.

Along with the physical aspect of a player injury rehab, there is the mental aspect that has to be far worse. As Mark Streit told the media a few weeks ago and reported by Dyan LeBourdais, "It's tough. You realize how much you miss hockey. It's been a long year. It was tough, but it made me realize how fortunate I am to play this game."

Knowing the season is was ending, I made the financially irresponsible decision to head to practice on Saturday morning, full well knowing I'd have to drive all the way back there at 5 pm. That's 110 miles on my car and $20 in gas (or two drinks at the Coliseum.) But after I sat in on Jack Capuano's pre-game Q&A and watched Deb Placey do her thing with the MSG cameras, I went back out to the ice.

Rick DiPietro, who knew he wouldn't be the starting goaltender for the game against the Hurricanes was in net with Mike Dunham to his right. At the blue line was Mark Streit under the watchful eye of Assistant coach, Scott Allen. There were small orange cones set up and Streit had to skate around them and shoot on Rick. I watched and took photos, but I noticed they were taking it very seriously. Over and over Mark skated and RDP went down to block the shots. One or two even got by him and hit the back of the net.

When Rick thought they may have been done, he skated towards the gate. No such luck. Allen called him back and the resumed the drill at the other end of the ice. It's a long and arduous process coming back to peak form after surgery. But the Islanders know that better than anyone.

Kyle Okposo was luckier than Streit. He did make his return to the roster. Doug Weight and Streit did not. Mike Mottau's season was cut short along with Mark Eaton's. You could honesty say if not for bad luck, this team would have no luck at all.

When Rick was finally allowed to leave the ice, I asked him how hard it is to work at rehabbing and not actually playing. "It's terrible. It's the worst thing in sports." And losing a corner-stone of the team for an extended period of time just wasn't easy.

"It's rough for everybody. I went through the same thing. You rehab as hard as you can with the hope that you'll get a chance to come back, but at the end of the day it's more tough mentally than physically. (Mark's) dealing with a lot of it now. The disappointment of not only not getting a chance to play, but not making the playoffs. It's just been tough all around. Period. I think the mental aspect of professional sports is the hardest to cope with."

I tend to believe him. The first year I was blogging, I mentioned countless times how hard it was to watch Jon Sim stand in the tunnel and just watch the game through the glass, night after night.

"The common misnomer that people talk about is that guys can't stay healthy. It's not like guys go out there and try to get hurt. You play hard and things happen. Unfortunately for us the last couple of years, not just myself, but pretty much 90% of the team has had to battle through almost season ending or half season ending or some kind of serious injury. That's the way things go. Especially for us." Said the man on the NHL team with more than 550 man games lost to injury. Yeah. Especially to them.

"But you try to keep positive." They all try. "It does give other guys an opportunity to try to step into roles that otherwise they wouldn't be playing in. It was a chance to develop the young talent." Young players who made a lot of people stand up and take notice of them. One player's misfortune is another player's opportunity.

Would 20-year-old Travis Hamonic been given the chance to be half a first line defense pairing if not for necessity? Hardly.

So like the fans, Mark Streit will set his sights on next season and the hope it brings. But the for next few days, I think he'll still be skating with conviction, even if it's just around little orange cones in an empty arena.

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