PITEAIt's been 412 days since the last time he played a game in the NHL. And months of rehabilitation still remains.
But Mattias Ohlund, 35, is still hopeful about making a comeback on Tampa Bay's blueline.
"It feels a little better. It's going in the right direction at least", he says.
It was prior to the past season Ohlund underwent surgery in both his mangled knees. At that point, both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ohlund himself were counting on a comeback later during the season.
It didn't turn out that way and late in february Ohlund went through another surgery in his left knee.
The last time Mattias Ohlund played was in the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, when Tampa Bay lost the seventh and deciding semifinal game against the Boston Bruins.
Will miss camp
Since then, 412 days has passed. But the soon 36-year old defensemen is still having his hopes up.
"It feels a little better. It's going in the right direction at least", he says
The family goes back to the U.S. in early August and in September the NHL team's Training Camps and Preseason begins. Ohlund is not counting on being back then.
"No, I'm probably not. It's about months and not weeks. But it's hard to say. There's no exact date or anything like that and the doctors haven't been able to give any clear information on that."
Tampa Bay's Genereal Manager, Steve Yzerman, wasn't expecting Ohlund to be back this fall either. The club, which missed the playoffs the past season, has signed defensemen Matt Carle, Philadelphia and Sami Salo, Vancouver during the summer.
"I think it looks really good on the backend where we might have been a little weak the last few years. And we have a new goaltender as well. It feels like we have something exciting going on, even if we're probably still a little behind the best teams. It's looking good, but in the end you gotta get it to work as a team as well".
Mattias Ohlund had a Swedish teammate from before, defensemen Victor Hedman. And for the upcoming season another fellow swede comes along.
The team's new goalie: 24-year old Anders Lindback, previously backup in Nashville.
Q: What do you know about him?
"Very little actually since he played in the Western Conference before. But I know that the team believes a lot in him".
He knows a lot more about Sami Salo. The 37-year old fin was Mattias Ohlund's teammate during six years with the Vancouver Canucks.
Q: Did you have anything to do with that signing?
"Nah. Well, I talked a little to Tampa Bay about him before, but I think they were in on him either way. He's an underrated defenseman and will surely turn out a good acquisition for us."
Four years left
Yes, Mattias Ohlund has pretty good knowledge about the most recent transactions in the NHL, but is spending most of his summer home in Pitsund on other things.
"Obviously, I have three kids so a lot of time goes to my family and friends. Meanwhile, I'm working out a lot, mostly rehab", he says.
His right knee is in pretty good condition. It's mostly his left one that's bugging him.
Currently, Ohlund has four years remaining on his contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Q: Whenever you retire, do you think you'll still work with hockey?
"I don't know really. But whenever it's over I'm probably going to step away for a while and help my son (12-year old Victor, in his hockey career).
Q: But you are still hopeful at this point?
"Yeah, I am. But I try to take it one day at the time".
From Lightning D Mattias Ohlund, rehabbing from major knee surgery: "Mentally, do I have a dream to still play hockey? Yeah, I do. Nobody has told me this is impossible ... I'm slowly getting better and better but I don't know what the end result will be."
Good for him. I doubt we see him come back but great that he is trying. Imagine if he was healthy. Our D would be looking pretty good. Then again, who knows if we would have tried for Salo or Carle. I think we still would have.
In two months, Mattias Ohlund has increased from 10 to 20 the exercise repetitions he can perform with his left knee.
A 30-minute walk with his family is no longer a test of how much pain he can endure.
"And I'm not laying on the couch with my knees up and ice packs on them," Ohlund said. "My daily activities are perfectly fine."
As much progress as he has made, there still is no timetable to get Ohlund on skates. Ohlund isn't even jogging and admitted there is pain in his knee which might never fully disappear.
He certainly won't be ready for the start of the season, and general manager Steve Yzerman said he put together next season's squad "with the assumption (Ohlund) wouldn't be ready to go."
Lightning assistant athletic trainer Mike Poirier said Ohlund, who last week returned to Tampa after rehabbing for two months in Sweden, is at least headed in the right direction.
"Significantly improved," Poirier said. "When he left me he could only get to 10, 12 reps; it was painful. Now he can do 15 to 20 reps without pain. The next step is to build him up even more."
"Have I thought about not being able to play? Absolutely. But at this point my focus is to get better tomorrow and the next day. I can see improvements. I'm not sure where it will take me but I'm quite positive about how I feel compared to a couple of months ago."
I really hope he can do this, even though it's a hellova longshot. Teemu Selanne's knee and his career were effectively done following the 03-04 season, but he used the lockout to get himself fixed up and play at top level again so it isn't impossible.