Cam Atkinson understandably choked up when discussing how this season went for him. Going from being one of the Flyers’ star players to being out of the lineup entirely can certainly frustrate a player.
Add on not knowing exactly what was going on for a while and you will really have a player looking for answers anywhere.
"“It’s just the emotion of, like, not being told what the hell is going on when I know I’m not feeling good and that was the crappy part.”"
Atkinson discussed the long road in finding out exactly what had ailed him throughout the season. While he did not appear in any preseason games before the season, he had been skating at the time. There was even optimism from John Tortorella that Atkinson would be ready for the season opener.
And then he wasn’t.
"“Where do I start? Just wasn’t feeling well at the start of training camp. Got a couple of different MRIs and a couple misdiagnosis. Finally, I saw someone that told me that I had a herniated disc in my C6-C7 and that I needed to get surgery right away.”"
Surgery wasn’t something that Atkinson was too keen on at the time, especially having to go in through the neck. He returned to Columbus in order to see some other people that he knew and trusted. Rehabbing naturally for a while had Atkinson feeling good. And there was another chance that he could’ve come back, this time in December.
But again, that wasn’t meant to be.
"“Thought that I could kind of return to play in December when we went on that road trip to Vegas, Colorado, Arizona, and then New Jersey, I believe, and just the process of the return to play. I just, I couldn’t get through a practice by myself.”"
That is when a decision had to be made. Atkinson ended up going to see Alexander Vaccaro, the Philadelphia Eagles spine consultant. He was the one who ended up convincing Atkinson that surgery was the way to go if he wanted to play again.
"“He pretty much reassured me that if I don’t take care of my atrophy in my left triceps, that I probably wouldn’t be able to play again. So, I got surgery three days later. I woke up and felt unbelievable. All the pain that I couldn’t sleep was gone.”"
That was when Atkinson finally felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. He has been skating a lot the past few weeks and should be in the process of getting fully cleared. Atkinson stated during the Flyers’ end-of-season press conferences that he was hoping to be cleared in the next week.
In trying to deal with the numerous amount of injuries that the Flyers had last season, they began reshaping their medical department. That included the hiring of Ian Mckeown as vice president of athlete performance and wellness. They also brought in Tommy Alva as their head athletic trainer.
It’s a medical department that has undergone a lot of scrutiny over the past few years. It’s an area the team is continuing to work on.
"“I have all my trust in Tommy and the team that’s here now. It obviously took a little bit of time just because, like, I was going through things that I’ve never experienced and listening to this guy, that guy, people telling me this, someone telling me that — it was just kind of a gong show. But it definitely has gotten straightened out and it’s going to continue to get better. I’ve been rehabbing here since my surgery for the last couple months and trust them.”"
Being out for that long and having to deal with surgery can be tough to handle mentally. But Atkinson spoke with different players around the league who have different injuries and the process of getting back. It’s also about staying in a positive mindset as well, something that goes back to Atkinson’s college days and reading books about mental toughness.
But now he’s back to feeling the best that he has in a long time. And he is ready for this summer of training.
"“It just was a crazy year. I’m just looking forward. I’m glad selfishly that the season’s done, so I can focus on the summer and doing what I need to do to get back to that elite shape and form that I know, and everyone knows that I’m capable of doing. Like I said, I haven’t had any setbacks at all. I feel really good.”"
And you can count Atkinson as one of the players who believe this team isn’t far off. He cited the combination of young players taking off and the injuries to key players that the Flyers dealt with this season.
"“Seeing these young guys obviously, some guys take a huge step forward, it only fuels me to push myself and push the young guys. I don’t think we’re as far off as people think. Especially if guys are healthy and certain things happen this offseason.”"
Those “certain things” that Atkinson mentioned are likely to be the subtraction of more than a few players. None more likely that Kevin Hayes, one who picked up the message loud and clear about the team’s future plans. But regardless of what this team looks like next season, Atkinson is just hoping to be one of those players who can push this team and be a part of the solution for the Flyers.
"“I know this is a huge summer for me and I want to be part of the solution. I’m going to push myself more than ever. Seeing these young guys take a step, some guys take a huge step forward, it only fuels me to push myself and push the young guys.”"