About 40 minutes into a workout on Monday morning, Erik Gudbranson made himself at home at center ice, plopping down to rest by using the dasher boards as back support.
It was obvious Gudbranson’s first on-ice workout since September had taken its toll.
“I’m not going to lie,” the Panthers’ 20-year-old defenseman said, “this is tough.”
Gudbranson, the third overall pick of the 2010 draft who completed his first NHL season last year, joined a number of his teammates at Glacier Ice Arena in Lighthouse Point for the first time since he injured his shoulder.
Gudbranson says he has been working his lower body since having surgery at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, but he hadn’t strapped on the skates in almost three months.
He might have been gassed but seemed happy to be back on the ice. Gudbranson didn’t do much more than skate as he gingerly lifted soft shots toward goalies Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun.
“It felt really good to be out there. I’m a little surprised at how good it felt,” Gudbranson said after the workout with teammates such as Tomas Fleischmann, Ed Jovanovski and Stephen Weiss as well as NHLers Marian Hossa and Radek Dvorak.
“Things are coming along. The training staff I’ve been working out with at home [Ottawa, Ontario] are great. This is a tough thing, but I’m excited about it getting better.”
Gudbranson is still a long way away from being hockey ready, although he says his legs have never been stronger, adding 10 pounds of muscle since the injury.
When he’s able to play — his timetable is sometime in January — Gudbranson is expected to start the season with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio even if the lockout is over.
Had Gudbranson not gotten injured, he likely would have joined the Rampage for training camp in September. Gudbranson is now eligible to play minor league hockey even during the lockout.
Only Gudbranson got hurt. And, because the injury didn’t happen on the ice, he’s locked out — and not being paid — like everyone else.
Gudbranson’s injury had been shrouded in secrecy as teammates declined to talk about it, saying “you need to speak with Erik.”
On Monday, Gudbranson finally came public about how he got hurt, telling The Miami Herald it happened while wakeboarding on a lake in Ontario with his buddies.
“I wasn’t being stupid; it was just an unfortunate, awkward fall,” Gudbranson said.
Gudbranson said he talked to general manager Dale Tallon about the injury, stressing to Tallon alcohol played no role in the accident. Gudbranson said he and his pals have wakeboarded — which is a combination of surfing and water skiing — for years.
The accident, Gudbranson said, happened early in the morning on the first run of the day. He pulled up when the rope he was holding onto, while being pulled by a boat, slacked up. Gudbranson slammed into the water and dislocated his shoulder in the process. “I should have let go,” he said.
Gudbranson is very contrite about the injury and said he has repeatedly apologized to the Panthers — and called each of his teammates individually after it happened. Gudbranson said his wakeboarding days are done. He even sold his wakeboard.