Angered by second straight knee injury, IceCaps’ rearguard chose to focus on a quicker rehab
In his third game after returning from a surgically repaired knee, the St. John’s IceCaps Derek Meech went down with another knee injury that could have sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The Winnipeg native turned his frustrations towards the weight room and returned to the lineup for the team’s last three games. — Canadian Press file photo
There may be some Bruce Banner in Derek Meech.
That’s the Dr. Banner of comic book fame, whose alter ego is the impulsive, raging Hulk.
Now, nobody has witnessed Meech in shredded shirts or with a green pallor to his skin. And during his short time with the St. John’s IceCaps, he has been just an advertised — an asset on and off the ice, solid and thoughtful and polite.
But apparently Meech can get angry.
And this season, he had reason to be.
Last summer, Meech signed as a free agent with the Winnipeg Jets, providing the former Memorial Cup champion and Canadian world junior player an opportunity to play in his hometown. It also looked to be a chance at nailing down a full-time NHL job after seven years in the Red Wings system with a lot of bouncing between Detroit and its AHL farm team in Grand Rapids.
But in October, he underwent knee surgery. The recovery extended into the New Year, when he was assigned to St. John’s, only to re-injure the knee just three games into his IceCaps tenure.
“The first one was the meniscus,” said Meech. “It didn’t heal properly the first time and I had to get the surgery done again, so that was frustrating especially because an opportunity (on the Winnipeg blueline) opened up just after the injury.
“But you can talk about what might have been and all you are doing is wasting energy. So I put my energy into a rehab.”
Finally, in January, he was cleared to play and was sent down to the IceCaps — “I was excited, ready to get back” — but in a game in Bridgeport, took a hit that put him right back the shelf.
“I landed funny and was hurt again and in total disbelief after it happened,” recalled Meech. “So after talking to the doctors and learning I was looking at another long rehab, frustration kicked in again and I was feeling a little sorry myself. I think people would understand that.
“And I got angry. I think people would understand that, too.
“The challenge is to get on an even plain. That’s important. But I think there are times you have to get angry. And I was.”
But he didn’t punch walls or curse his unlucky stars. Instead, he took his rage to the weight room.
“I used that anger to fuel my return,” said Meech, who said he never considered not playing again in 2011-12.
“My thinking was almost the opposite. All I had been doing was rehabbing. And to go a full season of just rehabbing and then go right into an off-season of doing basically the same thing, working out and whatever? I didn’t want that.”
Meech recovered in time to play in St. John’s last three contests of the regular season and has been described by first-hand observers as one of the best IceCaps in the first two games of their opening-round American Hockey League playoff series against the Syracuse Crunch.
Count St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge in that group.
“Five-on-five, he’s really solid. He’s controlled and poised back there and he adds a good second layer of attack on the offensive side. And his leadership on the bench and in the room is important... he’s a real welcome voice for us right now,” said McCambridge, alluding to the absence of captain Jason Jaffray, who won’t play again this season because of a neck injury.
“From what everything I heard about Derek Meech and from the games I’ve seen him before and from those games we had in the regular season, he’s exactly what we thought he would be ... and then some.”
The smooth-skating Meech had a goal and an assist and a plus-three rating as the IceCaps and Crunch split the first two games of their series in Syracuse over the weekend. The best-of-five series finishes up at Mile One Centre this week, beginning with Game 3 tonight (CJYQ 930 AM, Rogers Television, TSN Radio 1290 Winnipeg). Game 4 goes Friday and if necessary, will conclude Saturday.
But Meech is counting on it not concluding for St. John’s. For one thing, it’s been a while since he played in the post-season — the last time was the 2007 Calder Cup playoffs with Grand Rapids — and of course, he’s looking to make up for the lost time of recent months.
In total, Meech played only eight regular-season games — six with St. John’s — in 2011-12. But he never felt like a man without a team.
“First of all, beginning in training camp, you’re part of the Winnipeg organization and that group up there is, and was, an unbelievable character group. That includes most of these guys down here who I got to know back then. Obviously, there is a competition level. You’re battling for spots, you’re fighting for jobs, but there’s a sense of team throughout and you can see where that’s extended to here.
“How I would fit in is not something I was ever worried about.”
firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter@telybrendan