To all those IceCaps fans, first the good news: John Albert skated Thursday in a white practice jersey, not the non-contact red variety. Which means Albert should be ready to play after a lengthy stay on injured reserve.
Now the bad news: it’s likely not going to happen tonight or Saturday against the Manchester Monarchs at Mile One.
Albert has been one of those injured St. John’s IceCaps who have missed over half the American Hockey League season, joining Jason King and Hunter Tremblay. In Albert’s case, it’s a mysterious nerve problem in his neck which has shelved him for the past 12 games and counting. The 24-year-old product of Concord, Ohio, just outside Cleveland, initially suffered the injury in late November and was sidelined for 18 games.
He returned to the lineup Jan. 18 in Norfolk, Va., and made a half-dozen starts, only to suffer a setback and return to the disabled list.
“It’s been over a month since I practised with team, and it feels great to be out there,” Albert said. “It’s feels even better not to be wearing a red jersey, to get in there and be involved. I got banged around a bit (Thursday), and it felt good.”
During his stint on IR, Albert has been in Winnipeg, skating with the injured Jets and getting treatment from Winnipeg’s medical staff. He’s been back in St. John’s a few weeks, working with Justin Murphy of the IceCaps’ training staff and skating on his own.
It’s been a trying year for Albert, not to mention the entire IceCaps team. In the 23 games he’s played, Albert has managed only three goals and a pair of assists.
“I wouldn’t say I don’t feel part of the team because I’m in the room joking around with the guys and stuff,” Albert said. “But it’s very difficult and very frustrating when you’re injured. It’s hard watching and not being able to help out.”
Especially when you’ve rarely been injured throughout your career. Albert missed only a dozen games last season, his rookie year, to minor injuries and others as a healthy scratch. However, he appeared in all 182 games over four years with his Ohio State college team.
Albert feels like he could go this weekend, but the IceCaps want to see him in more contact drills in practice next week before it’s determined if he’s ready to play next weekend against the Syracuse Crunch in St. John’s.
“There’s been no loss of conditioning,” he said. “I’ve been working out, on the bike, skating. The legs are there. It’s just the contact that’s kept me back.”
With only 20 games left in the regular season, Albert hopes to return to the lineup soon and salvage something from a miserable year. Not to mention the fact he hopes to make a final impression on the Jets.
Albert, who signed a one-year contract last summer, will be a restricted free agent July 1.
“I don’t really want to think about that right now,” he said. “I’m just trying to get back in lineup and make most of what’s left in the season.”