The Islanders’ return to training camp on Monday provided another step closer to hockey, but it also brought the added boost of the team getting its two biggest contributors back in center Casey Cizikas and defenseman Adam Pelech.
Cizikas and Pelech re-joined the Islanders at camp after recovering from injuries suffered before the coronavirus pandemic which originally would have put their seasons in question under normal circumstances.
However, the fourth-month pause gave both players ample time to recover where they are expected to give the Islanders a sizable boost heading into their qualifying postseason series against the Florida Panthers beginning on Aug. 1.
“The leg’s doing well,” Cizikas, who suffered a laceration to his leg after being cut with a skate, said. “I had a lot of time here to make sure everything’s well with it. I had that extra time which helped me a lot to get that strength back and get that power back in it.”
“It’s been almost six months since I skated with the guys so for me to be out there was just fun.”
To the casual fan, Cizikas’ numbers aren’t necessarily eye-popping with 10 goals and four assists in 48 games this season, but the high-intensity center is the core of the Islanders’ fourth line, considered the identity line for the defense-first club.
That defense, though, was spread thin after Pelech went down with an Achilles injury shortly after New Year’s during pre-game warmups.
“Doctors said it could’ve happened walking down the street, that’s how much of a freak accident it was,” he said.
Without his efforts on the blue line, the Islanders continued their swoon following a hot start to the 2019-20 season, meandering away from their staunch, resolute brand of hockey that became a trademark over the previous year-and-a-half.
“It’s never fun to be away from your team, it really sucks being hurt,” Pelech said as his side went 10-13-7 during his absence. “The way things didn’t go too well over the last couple months of the season made it extremely tough for me.”
The 25-year-old was originally ruled out for the remainder of the season but hockey’s hiatus gave him a chance to get back to the ice.
“When everything happened in March, it was kind of a turning point where we thought I had a chance to play,” he said. “Now we’re just over six months [since the injury], which was that original timeline. I’ve been feeling good for a couple months now.”
They won’t have much time to re-acclimate to the heavy workload that comes with being in the NHL as training camp will last a few weeks before the Islanders’ postseason starts.
“This training camp is going to be massive for us,” Cizikas admitted. “There’s no dipping your toe in… We’re there for one thing and one thing only and that’s to win hockey games.”
For Pelech, it’s an opportunity to get the Islanders back to their stalwart-like ways under head coach Barry Trotz.
“I think against [the Panthers], we just have to find a way to get back to our style of hockey which is hard-nosed, defensive,” he said. “Hopefully, throughout camp, we’ll get back to our identity.”